Moving House

Anyone who has ever moved house knows the distinct unease of that particular transition: the peeling away and packaging up of all that is familiar, the extended in-between moment of blank walls and disarray, and then, finally, the tentative sending down of new roots to re-create multiple layers of home, center, and self.

My recent move from Los Angeles to Long Beach, though welcome and much anticipated, was a challenging one for me. It was drawn out over several weeks, and it triggered deep fears of losing control and of financial insecurity. I’m slowly learning to accept these specters as old crazy relatives who come to visit from time to time, but I still wince at their sudden and unexpected jabs. I also felt incredibly grateful for help offered freely by friends in the area. I am at the tail end of the process now, urging my selective memory to re-stitch these events in a soft palette, but a few dots on the timeline still stand out clearly.

First, there was the initial search for a new place, which brought with it a heightened awareness of having and lack. I confronted my own level of discomfort with certain sizes, shapes, and conditions of apartments while simultaneously feeling ashamed of having greater means than so many others. I struggled, and continue to struggle, to accept the paradox of my own desires for beauty, safety, and space alongside the reality of unequal access to those very things, both locally and globally. My feelings, themselves, are indulgent though, and do not make the world better for anyone. The freedom and possibility I wish for myself I also wish for others, and I am slowly learning to accept that those twin wishes must move forward together, or not at all. In other words, I can’t actually do any lasting good in the world if I neglect or deny my own longings, regardless of where they fall on the spectrum of affluence.

Once the new lease was signed, the packing began. In a mythic sense, the home represents the self, and as I filled boxes, lifted down paintings, and disassembled furniture, I felt the whole process like a slow evaporation of my identity. Who was I now, without these things? As the pile grew in the center of the room, I hated the weightiness of the stuff and wanted it gone. At the same time, I felt invisible without it, and resented that too. “I am not a pile of things!” a part of me cried out. The other part, though, mourned the loss. Where is my spatula, my desk, my sweater, where am I in this world? It seems melodramatic, but on a primitive level, this is indeed how I know who I am, by creating a microcosm that changes very little from day to day. I am the person who sleeps in this bed, eats at this table, writes at this desk.

As we returned our old apartment to a neutral, empty state, I felt, to my surprise, sadness. It was not a reluctance to leave the neighborhood or the city itself, but rather a subtler whisper of existential grief. Whatever concept of my life I had held there in mind, heart, and body was rapidly floating away like smoke. The disoriented “I” standing in the doorway watched that West LA life go, climbed into a truck, and drove south.

You might assume this story ends happily and, ultimately, it does, but the final stage of moving has not been a piece of cake. For me, it is unfolding as a series of tentative steps that reveal either a new delight (who knew lining a old dresser with paisley paper could be so satisfying?) or an old panic button (why does a mop cost $9???).

The truth is that I absolutely LOVE our new place, and daily meditation and writing does much to even out the waves of thrill and distress that accompany any transition. Mostly, I feel astonished at our good fortune in landing upon such a charming spot. Built as a single-family house in 1908, the structure was converted into a duplex sometime later. We have the entire first floor, complete with wrap-around sun porch, stained glass windows, original crown moldings, and a dedicated office. It feels expansive and a little intimidating, but I am excited by the prospect of growing into it on all levels.

I’ve made a personal commitment to beauty in this house, which is something I deeply wish to be present both in my performance work and in my teaching. My new home is training ground to practice cultivating and expressing that quality, so that I can more firmly support it for others as well.

What is important to you about your physical home? And how does it inform who you are? Please share your stories in the comments.