Over the past two days I’ve had three different conversations about my life in Scotland. By the time I got in my car to drive home, I was deeply homesick for it, mostly the friends and coworkers I miss, but also mundane bits like Christmas Eve in Waitrose, random herds of curious horses, learning how to ride the bus in a foreign land, and frost-covered moss. I was thinking of that moss when I encountered the frost-dusted leaf in this photo.
Homesickness is generally expressed as a one person, one place phenomenon, but I have experienced waves of homesickness for every place I’ve ever lived. I even yearn for Alabama from time to time, especially the late afternoon summer thunderstorms that shake the magnolia trees, all slick green and heavy cream. Does it make me feel fickle sometimes? Sure. Someone once excoriated my use of the word “favorite” because, in his words, “They can’t all be favorites.”
Writing from: a quiet study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: “Trains” by Poppy Ackroyd.
The heatwave dissipated quickly, leaving behind the merest hint of autumn in the air. A few rainy days in a row were enough to wrangle me into heartier outerwear, and as I attempted to shove a wee bag of blueberries into one of my jacket pockets, my fingers caught on a couple of pieces of paper.
I drew them out and smiled. Two tickets from Lothian Buses, dated last December.
In this endless and perhaps ill-conceived push to move ever forward, I had not allowed myself anything more than the briefest of glimpses in the rear-view mirror at the landscape – that stark, lush, unforgiving and breathtaking landscape – that had just been left behind.
This is home, and that was home too. The heart bounces between the two like a pinball made of feathers. Things fracture and spin off. That’s okay too.
Writing from: my study in Portland, sort of. Listening to: “Low Hymnal” by Told Slant.
The woman in line in front of me at the post office told me that she couldn’t put the Ray Charles stamps on her letters home to Tennessee. She told me to look out for the Jimi Hendrix stamps, and I was glad she did because I hadn’t seen them and they’re beautiful.
The woman in line in front of me at the post office kept chatting with me while she was buying stamps, and then thanked me for chatting with her before she left. I know this is normal behavior in this country but I am still slightly flummoxed by it. I may have been blushing.
When it was my turn, I didn’t see Ray Charles or Jimi Hendrix. I opted for the flower drawing because it reminded me of Marianne’s botanical illustration.
Writing from: my makeshift study in the dining-room. Listening to: Maxine’s buzzing masking something on TV in the living-room.
I thought I had prepared myself for possible points of reverse culture shock. Then I wandered into the candy aisle of our local Walgreens, pictured bottom-right in today’s photo. All I wanted was a pack of mints. There were so many different mints to choose from, and they were right next to a million candy bars, some of which I hadn’t even heard of before. We’ve only been gone for four years! How can so much candy innovation occur in such a short period of time?
The other two photos are from Whole Foods, one from the yogurt case and the other from the nuts aisle. I wasn’t able to capture the scale of either section of the store. There were more things to choose from than I was capable of comprehending of eating, and I really enjoy eating.
Many times while living abroad I pondered what it would be like to walk into a supermarket and be able to choose from different types of food that I wanted to eat as opposed to just different types of food that I could eat. (There were plenty of gluten-free crackers and biscuits in Scotland, but I’ve never enjoyed eating either very much.) Back in America, I’ve been bombarded by so many options that I’ve quickly become overwhelmed. I’m sure it will even out soon, and when it does I hope that I’m able to retain some of this awe over just how many options there are for me here.
Writing from: a room with kale chips in it. Two different flavors, even. Listening to: Zen’s chainsaw purrs. (She likes kale chips almost as much as I do.)
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“It’s getting real” is a phrase I unabashedly love. I love it because it’s fun to say and because it indicates a transition from unreality. This unreality is exactly what I have been experiencing in the beautiful enclave of Marin County, reinforced by the fact that I am dependent on others to get in and out of it.
It got real tonight when I took the bus over the bridge, then another bus, and ended up at 19th and Judah, waiting for the N. I snapped a pic on the wheelchair ramp and paused to admire the view. A passerby cheerfully reminded me that I was not in the right place to board the N.
True to form, three inbound Ns came in quick succession while I had to wait over twenty minutes for one outbound. When it arrived, it was packed, but I boarded anyway.
I came face to face with the N-Judah Greeter.
Nothing was different. Everything was different. My belly felt warm, like it was full of hot cocoa.
I took the N to my usual stop and walked to our former home. It was too dark to see if it had been painted a different color. The living-room was bathed in television glow, and different plants were crowded into the meager patch of dirt near the front sidewalk.
Without thinking, I walked to where I would meet my former coworkers for dinner. (The body remembers where it once was situated in physical space.) I sat down at a table set for twelve. (A week ago, I was laughing over lamps in an empty flat.) I am alone in a restaurant full of people. (Text messages ping inside my handbag.)
How has it been four years already? How has it only been four years?
Writing from: Zen’s room in this beautiful enclave. Listening to: laptop fans singing to each other.
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First things first: Zen is safely with us.
When I posted yesterday’s photo, I was pretty worked up about Zen being stranded in Newark, but I knew that I wouldn’t be of any use if I didn’t try to get some sleep until the morning. I had barely drifted off when the landline rang. FunkyPlaid jumped up to answer it. The caller was someone asking if we were going to pick up our kennel (their word) or if they should send it via the delivery service.
In my half-awake state, two things ran through my head:
I mumbled something about not understanding what they were talking about and asking where they were calling from. The person identified themselves as a cargo attendant for the airline at SFO and repeated the query about the kennel, adding the fact that Zen had been there since just after eleven the night before and they usually only keep kennels for four hours.
I was so confused that I asked the person if there was a cat inside the kennel.
“Yep, a big one,” the cargo attendant said. (Hey. She’s not that big.)
I said we’d be right there. The cargo attendant confirmed that they had given Zen a bit of water so she wouldn’t get dehydrated, a small detail that buoyed me. At least someone in that whole transport process was thinking of Zen as a living being and not just some stray bit of cargo.
We quickly got dressed, set up Zen’s litter box, and drove to SFO. Sure enough, Zen was there, in fine fettle and waiting for us. There was some issue with the paperwork – what a surprise – but the excellent folks at the airline cargo place got us sorted quickly and we were on our way home.
When we got here, Zen ate all of the food we gave her, drank a lot of the water, and happily received all the snuggles we could give her.
As she dozed off I wrote yet another strongly-worded letter to the pet transport company. I still have not heard back.
After a few hours of relieved sleep, our first official act was to pick up our new car. During this process I decided that taking a selfie behind the wheel was an awesome idea or maybe just an idea and in my jet-lagged state ideas are in short supply. I didn’t intend for it to be today’s photo but I failed at that so it wins by default.
My one request of the day was a smoothie from Jamba Juice, an indulgence I have dearly missed, so we went there next … via P.F. Chang’s where I ate all of their gluten-free Mongolian beef with quinoa instead of rice. There is so much right in that sentence.
On the way home, we picked up some basic supplies for Zen. And that brings me to the five-hour nap and the present moment.
After an initial bit of turbulence, today has been a soft landing.
Writing from: a guest bedroom in balmy Marin. Listening to: Zen’s purrs.
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I’m not going to bury the lede: Zen is stuck in Newark due to Storm Jonas. I’m distraught both by the circumstances out of our control and by the lack of appropriate action taken by our pet transport company. But with any luck she will be with us in less than twelve hours, so I am resolved to stay positive.
The past twenty-four hours has contained nearly all of the standard range of emotions and some of the limited-edition ones I collected by saving cereal box tops. It started with the lack of sleep: FunkyPlaid did not sleep at all on Sunday night, and I slept for about an hour. Then we gathered up our dear wee calico creature and took her to the airport cargo ‘village’, the sheer preciousness of that phrase making me want to slap something in the face right about now.
This is where all the fun started. Initially, the cargo attendant refused to accept Zen because he said our pet transport company did not file the proper customs paperwork. Attempting to reach the company at 04:30 in the morning was ineffective, even on their emergency line, but the cargo attendant finally relented and said he’d accept Zen and go through all the usual pre-flight procedure with her in hopes the customs paperwork would get sorted before she needed to be on the plane.
I wish I could describe the feeling of white-hot rage at the situation paired with deep despair over leaving my beloved Zen with disdainful, skeptical strangers. But we had to push through it because in the few short hours between dropping Zen off and catching our own flight we had to turn over our flat and sell our car. You know, standard international relocation stuff. A little over an hour later – and still with no word from our pet transport company – the cargo attendant rang us back and said the airline had approved Zen for travel, so not to worry about the customs paperwork. All was well. Or so we thought.
We knew Jonas was on the way, and would likely interfere with Zen’s flights as she had to fly into the country through Newark. I had prompted our pet transport company for contingency plans. (Again, they failed to come through.) I’ve been tracking flights in and out of Newark just to know what to expect. I had hoped her four-hour mandatory layover – a requirement for pets entering the country – would offer some cushion against the inevitable delays. So I was not surprised when we got word from the airline that her flight would be delayed, and we could pick her up five hours after our own flight arrived.
What I did not see coming is the flight being canceled altogether, stranding Zen in Newark overnight. Even better: we didn’t know it had been canceled until I called the airline to find out the exact time of her arrival tonight. If I hadn’t been so persnickety about it we would have driven all the way back to the airport only to come home empty-handed.
The worst part of all of this is that Zen is alone in an unfamiliar place, thousands of miles away, and I can do nothing about it. I’m trying not to manifest that old adage, “Worrying is praying for something you don’t want to happen,” but all of this drama did put such a damper on what was shaping up to be an excellent welcome home. My in-laws are categorically awesome, and we saw the loveliest glimpse of a massive golden moon shining over the city as we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge. Now all we need is Zen with us, safe and sound, and we can get on with the next big adventure.
Writing from: my in-laws’ home in Marin County. Listening to: FunkyPlaid’s breathing as he gets some well-deserved rest.
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A few weeks after moving here, I kept asking FunkyPlaid what that big group of buildings looming over the city was.
Half a year after moving here, I had finally figured out what it was.
A couple of years later, befuddled tourists started asking me how to get to the castle. Me! I could hardly believe it. I must have looked like I knew where I was going, but the truth is that the only place I knew how to get to without thinking and without checking on the blue dot on my phone was home.
This is home to me. This has been my home for four years. This will not be my home tomorrow. All of these facts take their turns flitting into and out of the “inconceivable” box in my brain.
I am ready to leave, and I am not ready too. That’s the best time to go.
Writing from: a home, my home, in Edinburgh. Listening to: all of the subtle noises that I won’t hear again.
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The bed is a borrowed raft, adrift in the empty flat. FunkyPlaid and Zen and I are left, cosy and drowsy in each other’s company. Strange how it even smells emptier. I am thinking of the other leave-taking in this matched set, and how melancholy I felt. This way feels bittersweet as well, for all we are leaving behind, but there is undeniable relief woven through it: we accomplished what we set out to do. (And more. And less. And so we’ll return.)
Zen has already moved on. The raft was always just a bed to her, and her fireplace is waiting.
Writing from: a still-furnished bedroom in Edinburgh. Listening to: the slow ping of the radiator.
But now that Dark Tower was mentioned at dinner, I cannot get it out of my head.
Nostalgia is dangerous. It can seduce us with claims of an unblemished past, suggesting that a portal to this past is within our grasp. But I know – as we discussed over dinner – that the experience of playing Dark Tower now is not the same as the memory of playing it thirty-five years ago. Still, I enjoyed peeping into the portal with this commercial.
I wonder which memories of my time in Scotland will trigger that nostalgic impulse. There will be plenty lurking about my subconscious, I’m sure. Certainly one of them has to be skirting the Links, chatting away with Gav about a story I’m struggling to write.
Writing from: a chilly kitchen, now that the lounge is devoid of furniture. Listening to: that clock that never keeps the right time, still ticking away.
If you ever have to leave a place, I hope that right before you go, someone visits you. I hope that someone visits you and that the someone is still full of wonder and excitement about travel, about newness, about being surprised by a glimpse of a city.
Just like our guest was surprised today as we led him out of Waverley and into this city we will soon leave.
Fitting, really, that of all of the photos I took today it’d be this one that I ended up liking the best. Not the ones of the castle, or of the holiday market just about to close, or of the Royal Mile.
This one isn’t even a good photo, but it evokes the mood I feel whenever I get to lead someone out of Waverley. That first glimpse, bending into something you know is going to result in a breathless noise, not quite a word but its approach.
Sometimes recipes don’t work out. This was a tried-and-true chili recipe that I decided to adulterate when my quest for turkey mince came up short. (I would have settled for chicken mince, but couldn’t find that either.) The cookbook I used has provided me with many excellent meals so I felt confident that I could make a substitution without much loss in fidelity.
Quorn is … interesting. I want to like Quorn because it is a gluten-free meat substitute and I’d like to eat less meat. However, substituting Quorn for meat in this recipe resulted in a bowl of chili that looked right but was texturally weird and pretty bland. If I were a more accomplished cook, I’d be able to determine if this is a Quorn issue or if I could have helped it along somewhat.
Failed recipe aside, I tried to savour the experience of grocery shopping in Scotland today. Perusing different brands of haggis and black pudding in the deli case is something I doubt I’ll be doing back in the States. (Yes, I found vegetarian haggis, but I have yet to find any vegetarian haggis that is also gluten-free.)
Don’t let my failed experiment deter you from Cybele Pascal’s excellent “Allergy-Free and Easy Cooking”. Quite a few of her recipes have made it into our regular rotation, especially the paella. To level up my vegetarian cooking skill, I think I need Anna Jones’ “A Modern Way to Eat” which is filled with gorgeous-sounding vegetarian recipes.
Tell me all about your favourite vegetarian dish.
“If I waited for perfection, I’d never write a word.” –Margaret Atwood
Often I want to say something important in the perfect way, so I keep putting it off until I figure out the perfect way. If the perfect way never occurs to me, I never say the important thing.
The point is to say the thing because there will never be a perfect way. (Thanks, Ms. Atwood.)
So here’s the thing: in January, we are leaving Scotland to move back to the States. After getting our bearings in the San Francisco Bay Area we will likely end up in Portland, Oregon.
I have approximately thirty-seven different feelings about this move. On the whole, I think it will be the best thing for us. But Scotland has been home for four years, and there is so much I love about it, hence my wish for perfection in relating the news.
But it is better to say the thing. We’ll go from here.
FunkyPlaid will be in the States to navigate the store through the holiday season again, so I will have one last solo Christmas in Edinburgh. It will be more bittersweet this time than ever, but I am determined not to spend all of it feeling sorry for myself (or packing, even though there will be plenty of that). Plus, my favourite shark will be visiting for part of December, and I can’t wait to show her around this wonderful place.
I fear there will be no more JDB1745 updates until life evens out sometime early next year. However, FunkyPlaid’s thesis is complete! His viva voce (thesis defense) isn’t until January, though, so no calling him Doc Plaid yet.
Sunday is my last day of work at the weekend gig. Tough to believe that it has already been two years! Time to polish up the CV and start the Stateside job-hunt. Know of any wonderful libraries in the Portland area who are looking for an enthusiastic tech-loving librarian?
Amidst all of the other craziness I decided to attempt NaNoWriMo again this year. It might seem like terrible timing but considering how my mental health improves when I make time to write every day, this will be good for me. I’ve been whipping my writing muscles into shape by participating in daily “dashes” with a group in Second Life called Virtual Writers. My current pace is about 1,000 words per hour. Since my goal is 1,667 words per day during November that means almost two hours of daily writing. I’m excited.
Speaking of getting into shape, it is time for another running challenge! I’m going for a sub-30:00 in the Great Winter Run, my last race in Edinburgh. The course is once around Arthur’s Seat, and it is a great way to start the year.
The “Hamilton” musical soundtrack has been on endless repeat this month. Not much else.
I started listening to the Tanis podcast because it is produced by the same folks who do The Black Tapes Podcast, and that season is now over. I am glad there is something spooky and weird to tide me over, but I am not yet sold on Tanis. I’ll keep listening, though.
FunkyPlaid got me hooked on Dungeon Boss, a battle game with cute retro graphics.
“Homeland” and “Les Revenants” and “Downton Abbey” have all started up again now. Before they did, FunkyPlaid and I started watching “Utopia” (UK version) which is all kinds of thought-provoking and disturbing so I hesitate to call it enjoyable.
I had the huge privilege of seeing my mom in a play called “The Cheek” in Tourmakeady, Ireland – where the play was set! It was a great production and my mom gave a stunning performance. I hope to have some photos of Ireland to share soon, if I can ever stop playing Dungeon Boss.
Photo credit: Autumn arrived at my home in Second Life. I sure do love fall foliage, even the kind on virtual trees.
There are many things I would not recommend that you do on Christmas Eve. Almost all of them revolve around shopping. And yet there I was, in the middle of a good-sized grocery store called Waitrose, cradling an amaretto-flavoured soy latte in one hand and a wire basket in the other, when I was introduced to the full-on HPM (Holiday Politeness Morass).
In case it isn’t clear by now, I deeply appreciate living in a polite culture. After decades of the American “everyone’s your friend, the kind of friend you have no compunction about treating like total garbage if it means you are first in line” faux-niceness, I find the whole British orderliness not only refreshing but salutary to my sanity. After returning to the working world, I realised just how crucial this is, and how miserable I was when dealing with the American public every day.
Here is where I will pause to say that I know that a good amount of my readers are part of the American public and might take this personally. I would urge you not to, of course, and instead attempt to espouse a trait of my sociologist father’s that I have always admired: the ability to consider both the cultural veracity of a stereotype and the personal relevance without taking either as an affront. I’m American, and because I live outside America, I am confronted with my Americanness every day. Some of it is good, and some of it is not so good. I try to take zero of either side as a personal value judgement.
Anyway, back to my story. I got off the bus too early (a common mistake I make on new routes, as if getting off one stop too late is somehow worse) and walked through a very nice neighbourhood, peeking at the brightly-lit Christmas trees through front windows. I was feeling only a little sorry for myself, but mostly looking forward to an evening of cooking and watching holiday films. Thus distracted, I entered Waitrose with no sense of trepidation at all. In fact, I was glad to be there: they have nice food and it was blustery crap outside.
This was my first mistake.
Then I noticed the HPM.
It first manifested as a cluster of trolleys and wire baskets clutched by niceties-muttering poor planners like myself, so I was not afraid. Then I noticed the Waitrose worker in the middle of all of this, wielding a price gun above a pile of packets, the contents of which I still have not fathomed. Whatever was in them was more valuable than gold to the HPM as it seethed and swarmed – really gently, and congenially – at the centre.
I decided to go around this, to go somewhere else. Anywhere else.
But this was happening all throughout the store. Apparently prices were being marked down as closing time approached and, as the saying goes, supplies wouldn’t last.
Earlier, I had the bright idea of making meatloaf for dinner, an idea that was quickly revealed as the worst idea on the planet, ever, as I dared to enter the meat aisle for one minute. The HPM there was too strong. I saw two shoppers get stuck in a cycle of darting forward to grab a packet of beef mince but averting as the other was darting forward for not the same packet but one merely nearby. Fierce apologising began, and then the furtive darting forward again, only to bump hands this time, which set off another flurry of apologies.
You know how this would go down in America. Grab the meat, maybe even the sleeve of someone’s coat in the process, and get the hell out of there. You might open your bags at home to discovered you had inadvertently taken someone’s mitten or small child. Ha ha, you’d laugh. What a crazy shopping trip! And then you’d give the small child some potatoes to peel and start cooking.
So stunned, I scuppered the meatloaf idea and went for a dairy-free, wheat-free, gluten-free cottage pie ready-meal. You can bet there was no HPM hanging about that area.
I also might have grabbed a few other things, like crab paté, that I didn’t really need but wanted. At the till, I chatted with the cashier – another Americanism, but it’s a tough habit to break. As we struggled to fit all of the purchases in my bag, I gave a little sigh and said, “I guess I’m eating my feelings this Christmas.” This earned me the first outright laugh I have ever received from a cashier, which I counted as an early Christmas present.
My second early Christmas present was discovering a completely awesome shortcut from the “faraway” bus stop to our flat. Some cottage pie and crab paté later, plus FaceTime with family, and I’m feeling all right. I hope you are feeling all right too.
Writing from: the lounge, next to the tree. Listening to: “Ghostbusters” on the TV. So much better than any holiday film I had planned.
I’ve never been to Vegas, and I’m not sure if this photo of the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens done up for Christmas makes me want to go or want to stay very far away. But I love that I can look in on it, live, and feel wildly ambivalent half a world away.
It’s been a while since my webcam was in regular operation, but I still peek in on webcams around the world, especially when I am feeling homesick. Here are some of my haunts.
Did you know you can watch Andy Warhol’s gravesite live 24/7? Or dolphins frolicking in a Japanese aquarium? How about Icelandic glaciers or Transylvanian festivals? I found these and a lot more on EarthCam’s list of the 25 most interesting webcams of 2013.
This didn’t make the list, but I’ve been amusing myself by controlling Alek’s Christmas lights for Celiac Disease. (Really. I couldn’t make that up.)
Writing from: bed. Listening to: Macklemore, on Sharks’ recommendation, and really liking it.
My red fleece sweatpants are evil. Wearing them is basically the antidote to any productivity I might muster. As soon as I changed from sweatpants to proper grownup clothing today, I got a ton of stuff done. But listening to Patton Oswalt talking about the miracle of sweatpants made me laugh a lot.
Today I am having a day of expat feelings, so I am going to talk about something I love about living in Scotland and something that annoys me.
I love hearing SSE (Scottish Standard English) every day. In fact, I have done tireless (read: not tireless) research to bring to you the absolute best (read: or just really good) sentence to hear in SSE: “Will you tell the girls about the murder rate of squirrels in third-world countries?” I also love hearing the following words: dreich, guddle, drouthy, numpty, outwith. I hope I didn’t offend anyone by writing this. At least I didn’t say …
Haggis. I am vastly annoyed by the punchline to jokes from non-Scots being, “Haggis!” And I love haggis, so it’s not like I object on culinary grounds. It’s just such a lazy joke, like responding to anything Italian by saying, “Spaghetti with meatballs!”
Hm, now I’m hungry.
Writing from: bed, one electric blanket, two kitties. Listening to: Patton Oswalt.
Sometimes it is enough to know without thinking where the milk is, or the bread, or how to sidestep with a ducked head, “sorry” under the breath to anyone, or to half-unpacked boxes. What a luxury it is to be thoughtless, to grow into the cracks of a place like a weed and not a wildflower.
The second phase of adjustment to expat life has been harder. Little things, differences I once found charming, irritate me or depress me. Turns of phrase I’ve picked up sound fake wrapped in my accent. Running, once a joy, has become a chore. My creative life is clogged, hunched around a few untidy drafts that shake off revisions like a damp dog.
This is all exacerbated by the end of winter, which is going out not with a bang or a whimper but a fifty-foot billboard, a white-tie gala, an open-heart surgery, a not-to-be missed affair attended by its starkest clouds holding something more final than snow.
I am tired of you, not-quite-new life, and I am tired of me too. So it is time for a gratitude exercise, and some hasty snaps from the Royal Botanic Garden.
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Well, my participation in Holidailies wasn’t very participatory this year. No matter. I’d trade a million journal entries for the December I’ve had.
Right now I am feeling low, post-commencement and post-vacation whirlwind, and more than a little homesick. While in Chicago, my mom and I shared a treat of Whole Foods’ curried chicken salad. FunkyPlaid and I used to get this from the deli counter, and I had forgotten how much I love the taste. I vowed to find a good recipe for this when I returned to Edinburgh, so I could make it whenever I needed a culinary hug from home.
This is the best approximation I've found of Whole Foods' delicious curried chicken salad. Thank you, Beth Garrison!
Prep Time: 15 Min
Cook Time: 45 Min
Total Time: 1 Hr
Maybe it was my heart. No, my heart was there, for a time, spread out in beating chunks across the hills and Muni lines and friends and restaurants and libraries and moments I thought I would never survive and the moon so full reflected on Ocean Beach.
San Francisco, you taught me what it meant to expect beauty down every little alleyway, to believe in magic because living without it is dying a little every day. You taught me never to assume that I was alone because I felt lonely. You taught me patience with frustration, and when patience ran out you taught me how to curse it colorfully so I felt that at least I was doing something.
San Francisco, you gave me serendipitous meetings by the truckload if only I would look up from my books. You gave me ridiculous inconsistencies that I had to learn to wrestle, and in learning, let a little of my compulsivity go. You gave me a career direction and a writer’s voice.
I left something with you. I left my friends and I left knowing where to go for the best meals in the world and I left a part of myself, too, I know I did, that part that believes in a transit system and tolerance and a world with poets instead of politicians at the wheel.
But not my heart.
You gave me my heart.
I have a few moments post-packing, post-homework, to write something substantial on What Is Going On.
I’m doing all right. I think the cats are in various levels of “all right” – Torgi is obviously very confused, but Zen is fine as long as she has me around and some kernels in her bowl. Tomorrow the housecleaners are here, and also a wonderful TaskRabbit named Gabriela is helping me take all of the donations to Goodwill. I will make a run to the storage space with some of the little stuff in a Zipcar before I go to my in-laws’ for dinner, my last at their house for a while. This is difficult to process.
FunkyPlaid has been amazing as always, and as supportive as he can be from so far away, but there is nothing quite like being alone in the evenings for this phase of it. Trying to keep up with schoolwork has been tough, but I just received an A on a paper I was struggling with last week, so I must be doing all right.
Le Chateau de Jambon looks astoundingly different without our stuff in it. Torgi is huddled with me on one of the remaining sofas as I write. We are in the room that has so often been filled with smiling faces. I am thinking of the house shows and the parties, and then of the near-silent nights with just soft breathing and cat snores and the foghorns so close.
I am thinking of crying myself to sleep last Saturday night after singing karaoke and then feasting on South Indian food with my friends.
I am thinking of my mom’s voice in my study as we spoke quietly about the future, my future and her future and San Francisco and that I would leave it someday.
I am thinking of my dad’s voice just a few short weeks ago as he sat right where I am now and spoke of this departure in terms of days instead of somedays.
I am thinking of how the house sounded so warm and cozy with all of our stuff in it, and now it is a giant, cold cavern that echoes with every footfall, even the littlest paws.
Melodrama comes easily to me, as does melancholy, so I know I need to be focusing on the wonderful thing just ahead. Still, this house became a symbol to me. The first time I ever saw it, FunkyPlaid had just returned from Scotland in 2004, and he was so excited to be here. I was hesitant and a poor guest because circumstances were different between us, and I had no idea how to comport myself. I was awkward and I stared at the homely tile in the kitchen briefly before running off, then hated myself for it.
I saw this house again when we reunited, and I fell in love with its warmth and luxury as surely as I fell in love with FunkyPlaid. When his home became our home, I could not believe that I deserved such a beautiful place.
I grew to believe it. It took a while. And then, after he left for our new home, I dismantled this one, piece by lovely piece.
The symbol is taunting me. I am seeing it right now not as a to-do list to check off but as a culmination of love, of safety and laughter and home-cooked meals, of a place I always belonged no matter how wretched I felt about the world just outside its door.
It is so much harder to leave than I thought it would be.
The house sloughs off years, slowly exfoliating stuff and dust from every corner. In the middle of the night, I wake up from dreams just turning into nightmares. A cat is crying at the garage door, or shifting around and around in a slow circle, unable to get comfortable.
My right shoulder aches. I must be sleeping on it funny, but I never wake up on my side.
I went to see a movie by myself. The last time I remember doing that was almost eight years ago. That movie was much better than this one, but the Junior Mints were just as sweet.
When I wake up like this, I hear raccoon scuffles, shrill growls demanding obeisance. Our yard, soon to be just the yard, is contested territory.
The entire house is contested territory. Emptiness reclaims whole rooms, swelling and settling. I recycle the box of mints, borrow a glass of water, extinguish lights as I go. Finally there is no restless movement, no sound but the foghorns. Just when I crave a signal, a shriek, a sigh, a symbol – I hear nothing but a dull note as I eavesdrop on the tide.
After seeing FunkyPlaid off on Friday morning, I vowed to have a weekend free of packing and moving. I would like to say that it has been blissful, but mostly it has been sort of pathetic because I have had a headache for the past two days that ibuprofen won’t touch.
Still, it was good to catch my breath, and thanks to FaceTime I have chatted with FunkyPlaid twice already, which makes the distance a little shorter.
The cats are unhappy. Zen follows me around constantly; if I am in another room for more than thirty seconds, she joins me. Torgi, on the other hand, has withdrawn to his only hiding place left, the linen closet, where he sleeps the days away. At night he wanders throughout the house, meowing for his lost parent. He hasn’t gotten the hang of sharing the bed with Zen if I am the only human buffer. Occasionally she will sniff him or lick him the wrong way and he twitches and she thwaps him and then we are all awake.
In just a few days, the fall semester begins. While I am looking forward to my classes, I get sleepy just thinking about homework.
One good thing about living alone: I am fully caught up on sleep, whether or not I want to be. It is very easy to go to bed early when there is nothing else happening in the house.
Zen just sat in front of the door to the empty garage and wailed. I know.
FunkyPlaid’s penultimate day in San Francisco is here! And my title is wishful thinking, a little, because while yesterday was certainly a storm of activity, I do not think either of us will get any calm today.
[caption id=“attachment_7118” align=“alignright” width=“150” caption=“moving face”][/caption] I have not forgotten How I Decide Where to Sit, but the only thing I have been observing during my recent shuttle rides is the inside of my eyelids.
Yesterday was my half-birthday, which FunkyPlaid always remembers, even when he is packing up his entire life to move to another continent. I shouldn’t be surprised by this anymore, but I am. He presented me with the cleverest camera bag I have ever seen. It is a single-strap backpack contraption that swings around so I can open it quickly and grab my camera, even change a lens, without taking it off. It also has a billion other useful features that will come in handy while hiking around Scotland and holy crap we are moving to Scotland.
That happens about ten times a day now. I have packed up and moved so much in my life that the process is no novelty, but then I remember where we are moving to and I get all numb-tingly like I sat funny on my guts and they fell asleep and are just waking up, jangly nerve by nerve.
When I got home from work yesterday, FunkyPlaid and two of our friends were packing up the Uhaul to take our stuff to storage. At our storage place, two more friends joined us, and the whole experience went smoothly and quickly, once again proving that we could not be doing this without the help of so many terrific people.
There will be a few loose ends for me to
knit tie up after FunkyPlaid leaves, but the toughest stuff will be done. I expected nothing less from him; even in the company of our extremely hard-working family members and friends, he is still the hardest worker I know. “Indefatigable” is the only way to describe his work ethic, even if I almost always mispronounce it.
After Friday morning, our home here will just be an almost-empty house inhabited by two confused cats and a bewildered swan, wombling from room to strange room.
All of my books are packed. Such a relief! Everything left at this point is either going to purchases, swaps, or donations.
I turned the nestcam on for a little while today, just to break up the monotony. It amuses me to open a little window into my chaotic world.
[vimeo www.vimeo.com/27997765 w=451&h=338]
Our friend Eric picked up his mountain bike today, and also left with a few games and a tea set I was going to bring to Goodwill. Knowing that he has some of my well-loved possessions makes me happy.
I was bummed to give away my VHS tapes of “The Maxx” and “Hey Vern! It’s My Family Album”, until I found out that they had been released on DVD. Onto the wish list they went! Although honestly I cannot imagine acquiring anything else at this point. The urge to toss everything I own is very strong just now.
Among other bizarre things, I found a wooden box containing coins totaling CAD$3.24, €4.07, £7.52, and 500mk, the no-longer-legal currency of Finland.
The last four days of FunkyPlaid’s preparations for leaving will be intense, so intense that I am avoiding thinking about it. There will still be a bunch of things for me to do after he leaves, plus my semester starts in a couple of weeks, but nothing will compare to this frenetic pace. Leaving the country! It’s a big deal! Who knew?
Everyone did. I was just pretending it wasn’t, nose in my books. Now the books are gone and I have to look at everything just as it is, big and raw and more than a little uncertain.