March 12, 2006

six months in stages

Six months ago today we were in Minneapolis, halfway across the country, midway through our drive from California to New Jersey. Six months. A breath, a hiccup, a sigh.

So what's it like, landing back in a place that's so familiar and yet not? How does it feel to be here and not there?

First stage: We're here? Wow, we're here, we're really here, wow, here we are, look, there are leafy maples and pretty Victorian and Colonial houses and oh, I can get into NYC on the commuter train, wow I'm walking around my city again, wow we're here, we're here, are we really here, wow did we do this? Is this real? Is this my life? Wow, we're here… (etc. on an endless hyper loop)

Second stage: Where is here, exactly? And oh my god, Damian needs socks, where do you go to get socks around here? I feel so lost. Do I live here? But how can that be? Me, I live in a place far away, a place smack in the middle of a teeming city with all the teeming city amenities. Damn, I ran out of conditioner. Is there an Aveda store around here? I swear, if I turn left out of my driveway, I'll be on Melrose heading toward the Beverly Center, except somehow when I turn left, I'm just heading up a leafy street lined with pretty Victorians and Colonials. So where's the Beverly Center? Very confusing.

Third stage: Okay, yes. Here is here and not there. I get it now. Sure. And here has good pizza and bagels and chopped liver and ravioli and cold sesame noodles and apple cider, did I mention the fresh apple cider? Because oh my. And here has people -- or at least the extended metropolitan area version of here has them -- and I keep meeting up with them, people I like and know, people who are family and friends and this is oh, yes, it's good and right and yes.

Fourth stage: I feel so isolated. I feel so alone. I feel like the last person on earth. Why did we do this? Can I hide under the covers until I wake up after having magically, mysteriously created a community in my new hometown? Or slink around in my sweatpants and never venture out the door? Pretend I'm a bear in a cave, yes, that would work. A depressed, lonely, unfriendly, paralyzed sort of bear. Hey, it's snowing! Pretty.

Fifth stage: How is this different, living in New Jersey instead of LA? No, really. Dan's working late. Damian's yelling about needing more time before homework. I scorched dinner and the writing gig I thought I had in the bag came with a draconian contract I can't sign. Life sucks. Doesn't matter where you live. Palm trees or elms, the landscape is secondary to the life.

Sixth stage: No, I love it. Love meeting up with friends at the Metropolitan Museum. Love running into another friend on the front steps as we're leaving. Love finding a fantastic hole in the wall sushi place in suburban New Jersey. Love the drive up the Garden State Parkway to visit Dan's parents and make them my miso salad dressing. Love a leisurely brunch with old friends who now live just up the road as the kids play hide and seek in their country club's huge dining room. I love being here and not there. Love the city after a rain, love the town in the sun, love the sense that life is more full, ripe with connections. All those years in Los Angeles feel present and distant both. A funhouse mirror reflection of a life that was, or was it? This, here and now, is reality and that's just memory, a life someone keeps telling me I once lived.

Seventh stage: Great. Okay. Now how do we make it work? How do we shift our careers enough to make the money to stay? Dan's job is over, how does he get another? How does he build a career? How do I? I've had three writing gigs so far, all handed to me. I have one more potential offer and then I have to go looking. How do I do that? is this really going to work? Because, damn, I want it to. This is where we belong. But how can we stay? We have to. So we will. But, um, how? I'm scared, anxious, nervous, and all synonyms in between. We took the leap and now we land, but our footing remains uncertain, our landing still slippery.

(Note: these stages are approximations of the voices inside my head, roughly chronological but sometimes the stages collide, exist simultaneously even when they're in direct contradiction to each other. Because that too is reality.)

December 15, 2005

baby, it's cold outside

When I came downstairs yesterday morning, I looked at the thermometer outside our window. 12 degrees Fahrenheit. Um, cold. Yeah. When I walked Damian to the bus stop, it had gotten warmer. 17 degrees. Positively balmy. Today the thermometer is flirting with 20, never quite committing. This is the coldest weather I've experienced in 17 years. We didn't tend to leave California much during the winter. I wonder why?

When we told people we were leaving Los Angeles, moving back to the Northeast, they either said (with a wistful sigh) "I wish I was moving too" or they looked at me with incredulity: "You're going back to weather??? Leaving the sun???"

The sun still shines when it's twelve degrees outside. It just doesn't warm you up as much. I've been dreading this weather since we got here. Maybe dread is a strong word. Worried, concerned, wondering how it would feel and if I'd wish for the Golden State and regret moving. Bracing myself for the onslaught of awfulness that memory and hearsay created, the harsh wind that rips through you and makes you want to cry, only the tears just turn to icicles on your cheeks and make you cry harder, which of course just add to the icicle profusion and pretty soon you find yourself a walking, creaking human-shaped tear-flavored popsicle and you have to wait till spring thaw to get anything done like, I don’t know, shopping and cooking and work deadlines. Definitely you miss all your deadlines when you're a solid block of ice.

So, you know, not a good thing.

That was my fear. The reality? Well, yes. It's cold. And if it stays like this until February, I may indeed weep quietly into my scarf, carefully wiping off the tears before they freeze. But so far? Not so bad.

I can't figure it out. Did 20 degrees get warmer while I wasn't looking? Did someone switch out all the mercury in the thermometers around here the way dress sizes have silently eased up the ladder, so you can gain 15 lbs and yet fit into a new size 8? Is this the new 20 degrees? The hip 20 degrees? Or is it that I'd so magnified the chill in my mind this fall, buying the warmest jacket I could find, thinsulate and down, and armed myself with scarf and earmuffs and hat and gloves (and Damian, too, yes, he's covered head to toe or as nearly as I can manage without suffocating him) that I've effectively made us into walking Michelin Tire Folk, ready for the Arctic and no mere 17 degree weather will conquer our layers because we are too strong and too insulated for that. Take that, you winter, you, you can't cow me! I'm powerful in my puffiness, ready for bear. Or at least squirrel. A cute, small kind of winter weather, with a fluffy tail.

When you're bundled up and the wind is light and the sun is out, the chill burnishes your cheeks and chases you playfully down the hill but does no more than that. And you come inside, into the warmth, shedding layers as you go, and then you look outside and oh, it's so beautiful.

The first winter I spent in Los Angeles, I felt like I was cheating. Walking outside in a light jacket in January, they're gonna catch me, bust me, send me back, right? Then I started to miss it. The cold wakes you up, you know? Reminds you that you live in this body, that you feel from head to toe, that you exist. And then you get to look forward to spring, to the flowers and the buds on the trees and the warmth on your face. And then, too, you remember. You're alive. In this body. Of this earth.

It's all good.

(So far. Ask me again in February.)

December 09, 2005

snow day

Turns out the experience of snow is radically different when you don't live in the city. We rarely had snow days when I was a kid. The snow melted or simply disappeared under the force of so many boots. The subways always ran. You could go Riverside Park, bring your sled, toboggan down the schist hills outside the playground. When you live in the city, you can walk to snow. It doesn't live with you.

When it snows in the city, your body doesn't feel the ache deep inside muscles you never knew you had, because when you live in the city, you don't have to brush six inches of that pretty white fluff off your car in the morning and try to scrape compacted snow off your impassable steep driveway in the waning light of late afternoon because the snowplow did such a lousy job clearing it while you were away. When it snows in the city, you don't get snowed into your in-laws' house, who are very nice about it all, but who nevertheless have to wrangle up enough to feed an extra three people for lunch, and of course there's no running out to the store because you are, remember, snowed in.

When it snows in the city, you never get stuck backing out of your in-law's driveway after your father-in-law has blown all the snow out of said driveway and the plow has swept the street clear but in so doing, the plow created a foot-high wall of snow right at the end of that lovely, formerly clear driveway. And when it snows in the city, you don't have to hear your car strain and huff and catch its breath to try again only to fail once again to climb the driveway up to your little house perched way high on the hill.

But when it snows in the city, you also don't get to wade through pristine snow in your boots, feeling them sink into the drifts, feeling like an explorer in exotic terrain, familiar land made new by the thick coat of white, white everywhere, and when the sun comes out after the flakes stop falling, but oh, they were thick and luxurious, those flakes, dissolving on the tongue with a sharp tingle, when that sun comes out, the shadows of the trees on the snow turn blue and the snow on branches becomes backlit and the world is white and quiet and oh so very beautiful.

12-09-003 snow falling on pine

12-09-015 Ugg footprint in snow

12-09-016 our car

12-09-070 snow blower

12-09-079 joy

I will post more of today's snow pictures, the artsier ones if you will, on my brand new Flickr page. (Check there often if you like my images; I'm testing it out now and will probably begin using it as a very-nearly-daily photoblog.)

November 29, 2005

white stuff

Did you know it snowed? Oh, not here. But in the northeast corner of Massachusetts, where we went for Thanksgiving. We woke up Thursday morning to fluffy white flakes floating down like fat dust motes. I immediately remembered the sensation of snowflakes dissolving on my face, chilly little bites. It's visceral, imbedded in the DNA even after 17 years.

But Damian had never experienced snow in his 7 ½ years of life. From LA, you have to go find winter. We haven't bothered in years. We never found anywhere satisfying nearby, not enough to suit our tastes. Vermont isn't exactly close at hand when you're in Southern California, you know? And Lake Arrowhead doesn’t cut it. At least not for us.

Snow. Falling. From the sky. Pretty, soft snow. Damian ran to get me, to bring me to the window so we could watch together but really so he could say the one remaining thing from the list he compiled before moving.

"What's that white stuff?"

And then waited with a smile for me to say, "That's snow, Damian."

He'd gone through the same routine with Dan a few minutes earlier.

Funny kid.

We opened the sliding glass door in the kitchen and scooped snow off the deck. Damian's first handful of snow. He was enamored.

He and I put winter jackets on over our pajamas and went out into the whiteness. The snow had stopped falling by then, but it crunched underfoot and compacted nicely in your mittens and acted in all the ways snow acts and Damian loved it all.

in the snow

Later, Dan went out front and rolled a huge snowball, sculpting it into this:

snow salesman

The strange part, for me, was how not-strange it felt. I think childhood sensations stay with you your whole life, no matter how long it's been. That knowledge, that tactile immediacy, it comes back in an instant, brought forth from whatever part of the brain that has been set aside for deep imprinting. This is how it is. It snows in winter. It feels cold and wet and covers everything in white newness and that's the way things are and were and will be.

snow on branch

October 29, 2005

October air

The car thermometer said 40 degrees Fahrenheit tonight. Walking to the car after dinner we saw our breath, ephemeral wisps of fog. Once we were inside, I touched Damian's cheeks, his skin still cool, air-burnished. The weather is supposed to warm up to the high 60's for trick-or-treating on Monday, which is good, but right now it's autumn in the northeastern US, with a chill that wakes you up and makes you feel alive. I missed this so much all those years in Los Angeles. Every October I'd feel desperately homesick. Every single year. Now we're here and I'm soaking it in, drinking fresh apple cider every day, trying to go for hikes every weekend, walking for miles through the city when I can. Reveling in the crispness of the air, the colors of the leaves, the quality of the light, the faint smell of smoke and pine needles in the air. I know it'll get much colder, I know I'll be cursing the wind in February, but right now it feels delicious.