I moved. After ten years in one place, I displaced myself. There were mounds of clothes and books and stuff to give away. There were items to sort through—papers, letters, writings. I found over 60 short stories that I had written as an undergrad and later as a graduate student; often, there were endless drafts of each one, including notes on how to rework the stories from peers and professors. I found 100’s of poems, short shorts, and articles. I have been a writer for decades. Going through the papers, I was brought back to my life in Manhattan, the 92nd Street Y/Unterberg Poetry Center, which for so many years was a beacon in my life. The writers and professors I met there pre and post grad school helped me to hone my craft and the laughter and drinks we often shared afterwards made me feel at home in the world by reminding me that although I worked corporate by day, I was, at heart, creative.
There were pictures of old boyfriends, high school and college buddies, and countries and cities I had visited over the past few decades. There were photos of adventures I had undertaken—travels through Europe, with extended stays in London, Paris, and Greece; and shenanigans I had taken part in—college pranks, New York City festivities, and comic Hampton’s 7/11 jaunts. I found letters from friends who I had lost touch with over the years, and treasured cards from my mom. There was never an occasion for which my mom didn’t give me a card complete with a handwritten note.
The heaps of accumulations were overwhelming. I deliberated over books, clothes, chatkas, and letters from old sweethearts. Was it the right time to purge myself of these possessions, or did I cling to them a bit longer? If what we keep tends to bog us down, perhaps what we rid ourselves of results in misplaced memories. We are sensory beings for the most part, steeped in the sights, sounds, and smells of our day- to-day lives. Out of sight, out of mind becomes a reality. When in doubt, I tossed things away. When submerged in memories, I kept them. More than once, surveying my belongings, I thought of the term memento mori—the literal translation: “Remember you must die.” While I didn’t have skulls scattered about to remind me of death, as was the medieval tradition, the accumulation of my possessions made me reflect on the triviality of all of my stuff, and how one day it would be someone else’s job to dispose of what I chose to keep and lug around.
Moving uproots us. It takes us out of our lives. It is unsettling and thought provoking, and fills us with a sense of longing, of time lost, of memories that are ours for the long haul, but that we so infrequently visit with during our day to day. Moving, with its frenzied aspect, roots us, too. It enables us to reflect on our lives and to survey where we have been, where we are at, and where we wish to go. We pause and reminisce before we pack up. And then, at the final hour, comes the just toss it all into a bag or box to be reviewed at some later date, when one is living in a new locale. For once we decide to move, the clock is ticking until we have to get out. Regardless of the structure we may have attempted to impose on packing—the labeling, the organization—when we are crunched for time, it falls short.
My resistance to moving, although I chose to do it, fascinated me. Life shifts on a daily basis—emotions, ideas, the outside world, not to mention business and the stock market. We live in a world built on flux. So why was I resisting transition in my own life? Sure, we get promoted; we celebrate birthdays, watching the years pass along, but real change necessitates a decision and subsequent action—it requires a committed forward motion. Change is a belief in our future. Ten years in one place seemed impossible to me; I remembered moving in as if it was weeks back. But life happens that way—we close our eyes and delve into our existences, and when we open them, we often need to assess what our next chapter will be. When I moved in, it was en route from Key West, and the intention was to spend a year, and then return to New York City, where I had my apartment and my life. Two years prior, I had left NYC kicking and screaming with my ex-husband, bound for Key West, and what turned out to be a great creative opportunity. When I arrived alone in my beachfront apartment in South Florida, I was just through a divorce, and a few weeks later, my mom was diagnosed with Leukemia.
I cannot count the hours I mourned my mom’s illness residing in my South Florida apartment. Between work travel, and traveling with my mom and dad to MD Anderson in Houston for her treatment, each time I returned to my home, I felt as if the world was okay again. Nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the intercostal renewed my faith in the expansiveness of life, the natural beauty and goodness. I logged thousands of miles running along Ocean Boulevard. I learned every tree, every nook in the sidewalk; I knew where to avoid the mobs of cyclists who didn’t always love to share the road with me. My life was a pattern—one that I created over time and enjoyed. But I couldn’t see myself living there forever. It was never home to me the way New York City was. In Manhattan my inner and outer lives often merged; there was always something to stimulate me intellectually and spiritually.
It is hard to let go, to move on, to seek the new, but if we do not, our lives become a convenience versus an adventure. And without adventure, we grow dull and tired with ourselves. Moving propels us into a drifting zone until we ground again. We give ourselves a chance to re-evaluate, reset, and recreate our lives. It is a growth mechanism, and with all growth, there is doubt, fear, and uneasiness before we settle in.
For me, alighting means a place to write, a place to meditate, to read, to think, to be with myself. As I grow older, though, I seem to need less externally to get where I need to be internally. While moving makes us vulnerable, it also makes us resilient, for it requires us to be open to start again, to ground, to find our way. The haphazard routes of life have always intrigued me in their mysterious perfection. My journey began in Brooklyn, led me to New York City, London, Key West, then South Florida. The thing about life is that regardless of our planning, we never know for sure what is next. It is up to each of us to be true to our journey and what we seek. If we stay rooted in one place, there are rich rewards—familiarity is comforting. But if we venture out into the great wide open and carve new paths for ourselves, we gain the opportunity to witness our lives unfolding amidst new and different scenery.