Another blog absence coming to an end–I have been busy in the real world, scribbling notes in my bedside journal and the moleskine in my bag when I can so I don’t forget any insight I’ve grasped at in the last weeks.
We moved. Again. Actually, we moved home. All through the years we were in Massachusetts, and this past year in Charleston, we never stopped referring to Maine as “home.” It is comforting that we’ve returned to enthusiastic and open arms after so many years away. Though I am a bit sad to say it took a scary car accident and 12 months of melancholy loneliness to get to this point… such are the trials of life. We are happy now which is all that really matters. The past is over, we learned some things, and we have moved on. Moving into happiness is always the goal, right?
Marriage, moving, motherhood–all of these things are loosening my grip on rigidity and perfection. The more I seek perfection the farther away it seems. So I’ve let go of trying to be that perfect girl in my 20 year old mindset (I am 30 now, after all). That 20-something doesn’t have years of independent living in her memories, she does not do yoga, she is lonely and though she may look lovely and beautiful, she is sad. It took ten years of running–literally around the planet–to settle back where I began, but this time it is with happiness on my side.
Happiness currently takes the form of a toddler, a wonderful half Japanese man, a dog with a curly tail, a yoga mat and salty air, a deep bath, walks along the rocky coast. But my experience of happiness is fluid, and I am happy when I am soaking wet in the hurricane-like weather we had last week, running late, splashed with spilled juice, and in uncomfortable new shoes. Because happiness doesn’t really have just one form, or any form at all. It isn’t a big house in the suburbs with a husband making a gajillion dollars a day so we can stay home and eat bonbons and write poetry. It is not traveling around the world, it is not spending every day at the beach until the skin is tanned beneath earnest coats of sunscreen. It doesn’t have a designer logo, and it will never ask for dues. It is not a destination, as the saying goes, but a way of being and breathing.
Happiness is a feeling of peace. It is waking up in the middle of the night and being able to go back to sleep without worrying about the agenda for the day ahead. Happiness is a deep inhalation and a steady exhalation. It is a soft seat for a weary body. It is gratitude and hope and humility. It is quiet pride and loud reverence. Happiness is knowing when to be persistent, and happiness is knowing when to let things be still. Happiness is waking quietly in the morning, and sitting softly beside the bed, honoring another day we have all been granted on the earth together. Happiness is meditation, happiness is action in inaction.
Someday soon this sentence, sunset and life will be over, so what sense is there in crunching up over worries? It seems we’re all on a path towards goodness, and though there are difficult times in life, happiness is always just around the corner.
I am confused! I used to love living in Boston, the construction and the sirens were a charming white noise, and the hot stepping industriousness of the masses excited me, even if I was just pretending to be part of the pack on my way to Neimans. I loved living in a 874 square foot apartment stacked neatly above and beside other square living spaces. It was liberating to go to the grocery store and keep my head down, not making eye contact was part of the game (judge people based on their walk and their shoes, not their facial expression, I learned). I rarely got upset by traffic, I began to appreciate public radio and audio books, I walked everywhere I possibly could, and I outsourced all my errands that there was a market for.
Living in the city, we started to hold hands when we crossed the street, not for safety, but to feel a connection among the multitudes of people we were surrounded by all day. I shared tables at the library, knew where all the free dog bags were, sat rubbing elbows with strangers at bars, and discovered the easiest route across Mass Ave during rush hour. I learned to strip my pants off at the gym mere inches away from other women (it is much more efficient to forgo modesty when you’re changing into a bathing suit).
But something about my attitudes towards city dwelling has changed in the last three months. I guess I’ve gone soft in my new state of semi-retirement and stay-at-home motherhood. I have an expectation that people will return phone calls, & emails, especially when one spends 45 minutes composing the latter to a fellow new mother with solicited advice on things already learned. I have little free time, and believe me, I would have preferred to spend it working on my nano project, taking a bath and eating chocolates, bouldering, or playing with my toddler; not recounting my days with the nightmare inducing medela pump, or reliving my first days of returning to work after maternity leave. Sure, we’re all busy, in the city and in the suburbs, but what is it about some people who have such colossal stores of disregard for other people? Boston traffic illuminates this clearly: try driving near the city on I-93 between 3 and 5 in the afternoon, and please, try to find me one example of someone who isn’t entirely offensive and self-interested. The dudes driving the new mercedes or giant SUVs are on the ultimate ego trips, if you ask me.
Anyways, I recently returned from a ten day trip to New England. We flew in and out of Boston in favor of convenient flight times, and though I had moments of awe as I looked up at the skyscrapers, I was mostly disappointed by what I left behind. I spent six years of my life running in the city rat race, though I didn’t really realize it until going back. I joined in on restaurant week fun, tried not to be appalled when a friend’s husband nonchalantly ordered $100 bottles of wine, shopped for cocktail dresses at overpriced boutiques I’ve only ever worn once, attended various bridal and baby showers at over-hyped trendy cafes. I guess I did a fine job of feigning interest, but I have no desire to take part in those activities anymore. Don’t get me wrong, Boston is beautiful, and I loved my time there, but looking back my attitudes were all wrong and much of the time I was helping to perpetuate the Masshole stereotype. I was pregnant during our last seven months of living in our little apartment on Beacon Street, and in that time my husband and I nested, lived quietly, walked the streets and observed small marvels of life existing there; we grew kinder. It was quaint, and I had as much fun in those months as I had when we were regularly meeting people out on the town.
Living in the South, I think I am starting to understand what the Dutch (and Europeans in general) meant when they said that people get colder the further north you go, and friendlier as you travel south. I don’t know if it is the cold weather in Boston that gets people going on the rude train, but it is a lifestyle I am so glad I am no longer perpetuating. I wish I could go back and apologize to all the friends I cancelled on last minute, all the times I snagged a taxi when someone else five feet away was looking at it hopefully. I want to take back the crappy tips I gave to delivery food drivers for being half an hour late with our dinner because of traffic, and I forgive the pedestrians who walked out in front of me when my stoplight changed before they could halt their stride.
I’m not saying that people in the South are superior. I am sure I’ll find their (our?) faults soon enough, but the common sense of decency, gentility, and genuine kindness here is downright intoxicating. Definitely a pay-it-forward kind of society, whereas in Boston, I look back and see all the times kindness stopped because it was more convenient for someone (myself included) to hang on to it to get a leg up.
Whatever happened to a quick chat over tea? Or shows of thankfulness and appreciation? This is the season for gratitude, and I definitely saw very little of it in Boston. It was barely discernible in Maine which was disappointing to me, Massholes be Massholes, but I expected more from my home state. I had a wonderful trip, all the family and friends I did get to see were amazingly kind and generous, and spoiled my son with more love and attention than I ever thought existed.
But I’m not eager to go back. Family and friends have promised visits here over their cold winter, and this way I can avoid the rude stewardesses who gawk at me shuffling down a narrow airplane aisle with 3 bags and 26 pounds of dead weight. I miss the birch trees, but I think palm trees are a great holdover until we go back.
your ever loyal bloggess
P.S. In case you wondered, I’m taking a little social media (read: twitter and facebook) hiatus for the rest of the year. Time to focus on the family I have here, my projects I want to finish, and the new goals I want to get started on.
The above encompass three cities and six weeks of busy life and change. I have hardly even had a chance to upload the pictures from my camera, so thank god for instagram and phone cameras!
Moving to another part of the country has, so far, proved to be a beneficial thing for my family.
But it hasn’t happened seamlessly. It has been a conscious process of reevaluating our expectations, habits, and priorities. Like not crying over the chip in my late grandmother’s side table that the movers did not pack carefully enough. Or swimming around the really big and hairy spider in the pool. And remembering that the drawbridge (we live on an island) only takes 5 minutes from open to close, because really, it is not like you can be late to buy groceries.
Life is slower here. Illustrated perfectly by the grocery shopping experience.
First of all, let me explain how we used to shop in Boston. Before we discovered the ease and simplicity of grocery shopping online, we dreaded the errand. Even going to our local Whole Foods (which was once a more visceral food shop for me) was an exercise in patience, from selecting the celery to exiting the parking lot. Going at convenient times (after work, Saturday afternoons) was harrowing, no matter what store we picked. Crowds, carts, strollers, traffic…it hardly seemed worth it to be buying less than average peaches or blueberries. We eventually discovered Boston Organics which delivered fresh produce to our door each week, around the time we decided to start using Peapod. Forget the crowds, forget the schlepping of heavy canvas bags halfway around the block; but too: forget discovering that fresh figs are on sale and in season.
Its been an entirely different experience in Charleston. Admittedly, the variables are not all even: I often go in the middle of the day now, and I only shop for a few days at a time. However, the Southern grocery shopping experience is quite pleasant, and I look forward to taking my son to the grocery store to talk about food, and see new things.
It seems expected here to engage in conversation with everyone from the stock boy to the cashier–however, if you’re in a hurry, or the baby is cranky, it also feels acceptable to smile and press on through the aisles. There is a strong awareness of manners and gentility not found in New England. It is standard practice to help you out to your car with groceries, whether you have 2 bags or 20. There is a kindness that to us thick skinned New Englanders can seem almost…aggressive. For example: baby dropped his pacifier in the aisle, and I kid you not, another customer jogged from where he was browsing ten feet away to pick it up for us. Others hold the doors open for you, offer up their discount card if you don’t have one yet, and no one uses their car horn in the parking lots.
The trade off is convenience–its never easy to go get food for dinner in the midday heat that hovers in the mid 90s. Yesterday we went out, and as soon as we got onto the main road we found ourselves ensconced in a torrential rainstorm. Still, I drove to the store, and we sat in the car for 20 minutes hoping it would abate. It did not, so we drove home, and shared a box of Annies macaroni and cheese for dinner. I’m embracing the different forms of convenience: I haven’t eaten a bad peach since we’ve been here, and every store sells washed and chopped kale. Grocery delivery is a remnant of city life, and we’re almost completely weaned off those little luxuries.
But, my ears still ring with tinnitus in the absence of sound Boston used to easily fill. White noise here is not a steady traffic rumble, but a living forest outside our windows. At night we fall asleep to the crickets, or the speckling of raindrops on the window glass. I thought I’d miss my weekly Indian, Thai, and Sushi dinners from foodler. But no: I’m happy to eat simple meals at the table with the baby. Plain noodles and cheese, peaches. I drink my coffee with brown sugar now, because that is all we had when we moved in, and now that’s how I like it. We indulge ourselves with the expensive bottles of wine we’d been “saving” in Massachusetts—-they made it over 1,000 miles! I think we have plenty to appreciate and celebrate. Life is good.
We were in Maine for a modified summer vacation. The original plan to spend a week on the island has been superseded by a cross-country move. Although I am a bit sad there are not days and days of unstructured summer idylls ahead, I am rolling with the change like a true New England girl. I hope this ability to hold fast to my dreams but lightly to the present conditions does not change when my zip code does. This afternoon we had a playful romp in the cool lake waters, which was abruptly ended by the booms of thunder rolling in off of Baxter.
Before we even realized a storm was brewing, lightning struck across the lake. Everyone scrambled out of the water and tucked in for some quaint indoor summer activities–guitar strumming, strawberry shortcake eating, salamander petting–but I lingered on the porch until the torrent let loose. It was really powerful watching the curtain of rain close in from across the lake. If I’d been alone I might have sat on the porch in contemplative observance of the extreme weather that so suddenly displaced the ideal summer day. Then, as unexpectedly as the thunder storm overtook the day, it retreated and gave us back the blue skies, taking with it the languid humidity of the last week.
Any New Englander will agree with me that the first breaths after a summer rain shower contain a kind of electric energy. Air like this is why we put up with all the frenetic weather. Its a shot of life injected into the lungs. Its right up there with the scent inhaled on a snow capped mountain, or the first inhalation of salty ocean air after being trapped in a car for 4 hours on a drive up from the city.
New England is where I was born. It is where I have formed my identity, and it is my standard to which I measure all other locations. New England can be difficult–fickle, cold, unfriendly, extreme, and inconsistent (me too!). But New England is also breathtakingly beautiful, rich with poetic landscapes, overflowing with intoxicating natural scents, and the place I hope I’ll always return to…if only for 4.5 days at a time.