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On settling in
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We are slowly, slowly settling into our life here in Cambridge, although “settling” might be a bit of a stretch. Just this morning, right after drop-off, I texted another mother from the kid’s school: Am I supposed to put her in rain boots when it’s raining, or is that not allowed? The kids here wear very involved uniforms and every single piece is accounted for, down to the colour of the hair elastic, so when we left at 8am, in, ostensibly, the dark, in the pouring rain, and my daughter was wearing Mary Janes and falling-down tights and already wet, I suddenly thought, I surely missed some fucking memo about school rain boots?
But no, I did not. Here they play in the rain in their school shoes. We are not in Los Angeles anymore.
The scope of The Unknown when you move — and especially when you move abroad, even temporarily — is legion, and often comical. The mistakes one makes: in our first few weeks in Vienna I bought what I thought was an ovulation kit but was, in fact, a pregnancy test; here, we are, of course, forever standing on the wrong side of the walkway, unsure how to navigate when a bike is coming at us; I botched our first grocery delivery because there weren’t enough pounds in our British bank account; it’s taken us weeks to figure out our phone plans. I literally spent 45 minutes on Sunday night trying to work out how my number started within Britain if I removed the +44. (It’s zero, if you ever need to know.)
It’s all so elementary and stupid and dull and also, it turns out, vital: the small rhythms of daily life. How to walk, communicate, purchase. Everything is forced to slow to a child’s pace, nothing is on automatic pilot—not groceries, not phone numbers, not routes, not friends to call, not plans to make, not kitchen equipment in the drawers, right where you put it, not ingredients in the pantry. One forgets how automated this all becomes at some point, but in the interim, we start anew.
I’ve been trying to remind myself of this as we move into some semblance of a routine: I cannot expect any of us to drop into the race at full speed, returning to regularly scheduled programming. In fact, one of the reasons I was so eager to come here for the semester was to drop out of the race entirely, to discover an entirely new pace for myself, a slower, softer one I just could not, no matter how hard I tried, fabricate at home.
I was desperate for something less demanding—or perhaps I should say, less demanding in some ways and much more demanding in others: I wanted to write and read way more (all day long, if I’m being honest). I wanted to walk way more. I wanted more time in my body and more time in my mind. Which meant I wanted to be freed from so much of the stuff of L.A. life: driving, traffic, Sisyphean tiny tasks, the meal-making on an endless loop, so many plans, logistics up the wazoo, my phone velcroed to my face, my attention totally dispersed.
What, I wanted to know, would happen with less of…everything? Fewer classes to teach, fewer meetings, fewer friends (?!), fewer obligations, fewer clothes, dishes, less space (our flat is maybe 600 square feet?), less work. Would I actually find a way to scoop up that time and use it the way I wanted to, with hours inside books I wanted to read and write? Would I find those long swaths of time I found in Munich when I was alone in the library, working my way diligently to the 300th page of my MFA thesis, no internet, no distractions, no people I knew, no nothing, except my new boyfriend upstairs, ready to scoop me up for dinner at the end of the work day?
It’s too early to tell, but the pressure I feel to make something of this time is breathing down my neck; as are Laura Zigman’s wise words, which basically reminded me to give my brain time to acclimate and catch up. This early time, she reminded me, is really more about processing, thinking and gathering than writing. In the four free days I’ve had with the kid actually in school, I’ve spent a lot of time eating chocolate Guinness cake, which does, I’ve found, help one land.
These weeks after the holidays are fragile for us all, I think. Much of it has been spent, for us, at least, dealing with the kid’s emotional needs so far from home; and when not processing hers, we have to face our own and each other’s. My husband and I used to host a you-survived-the-holidays party in late January to offset this difficulty, to see ourselves to the other side of The Hoopla, to get us all up and rolling again.
We think, come January, we can dive back in but our minds and our bodies are out of practice, out of shape. We don’t want to injure ourselves and end up on the sidelines. We want to dip a toe in and feel the temperature of the water; we aren’t used to it, cold as it is. It’s okay, it’ll warm up, I keep hoping, one stroke at a time.
ALL THE THINGS Laura Zigman’s absolutely beautiful book, Small World, is out in the world today! (Lauren LeBlanc did a great interview with her here.) I had a piece up on Cup of Jo yesterday about calling a place home. Honestly, all I’ve been reading lately are Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache books (there is surely an essay in that), so I can heartily recommend them as the best kind of escapism when your world is turned upside down!? Also, is anyone going to read Prince Harry’s book?? Truly intrigued. (Sorry/not sorry.)
✨ We’ve started Creativity Camp but you can always jump in now!
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