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 17, 2005


We went to a holiday party tonight, thrown by neighbors up the street and over a block. Parents we met at the bus stop. And we talked and met people and clicked with some potential new friends, people I'd be delighted to consider part of my social circle, good people, smart people, people who talk about real, chewy matters and have a sense of humor and perspective. And I'm not talking about just one person, one couple, but a number of them. A small number, but it was a smallish party and we didn't talk to everyone. People were introducing us to other people as "They just moved to town," and other people were asking us about ourselves, and it was so easy to talk, so natural. And nobody was schmoozing anyone else, nobody was trying to make the right connections to get ahead in their careers because this is no longer Los Angeles. And we had fun, and the food was superb and all homemade.

Afterwards, as we were walking home, back down the dark street along the row of stately Colonial homes, with the moon so bright filtered through mature shade trees, this picture-perfect town we live in, I felt for the first time like this could be home. Truly, deeply home. A community where I fit. A place we can stay.

I wasn't sure for a while. Montclair has a reputation as an artsy community, filled with musicians and writers and filmmakers. And there are indeed a lot of journalists and filmmakers here, mixed in with the bankers and lawyers and business folk. But I couldn't find any of the scruffy artists I remember growing up in the city. Everyone looks so clean cut, so nicely dressed. There's money in this town, and money changes everything.

But tonight I realized. Maybe I won't find one aspect of my tribe here, but I will definitely find another. The intense, direct, interesting New Yorker. They're here. And, oh, how I missed them.

December 07, 2005

catching up to where I stand

I'm participating in Holidailies again this year. The concept is that you post an entry every day from December 7th through January 6th, giving web surfers plenty to read while everyone else is off doing holiday things instead of diligently updating their sites.

If you're just joining me, I've changed blogs and towns since last December. Postscript changed to Full Circle when this Angelino became a Jerseyite. When people ask me why – and they do, all the time – my shorthand answer is, "Because we missed it." Another, easy to digest answer: "To be near friends and family." The longer version is in my blog writing, here (when we made the decision) and here (a recent look back). And my travelogue of our two week drive from California to New Jersey begins here.

So now you're all caught up. I'm not sure I am.

Sometimes I stop in the midst of my daily routine and think, "How did this happen?" Sometimes I kiss Damian goodbye at school or at the bus stop and walk back up the street and look around at all the pretty Colonial and Victorian houses, at the tree's bare branches reaching to the winter sky as my boots crunch on acorns underfoot and now on snow, crusted like crispy white toast, and I think, "But this isn't my life. Is it?"

We've been here nearly three months. Long enough to settle into a routine of sorts. Dan's working now, and this week that means he's never here. So I have time to be here on my own. To listen to the wind chimes outside, to look out of the second story window next to my small blonde pine desk, the one I've had since grade school, and appreciate the pattern of blue shadows the tree trunks create on still-pristine snow. To pick Damian up, to cook dinner, to sit with him while he does homework. To shop and write and talk and think. In a way, it's not that different from my old life. I shop at Whole Foods, only the store here is far smaller. I sit at my desk and work on my novel, only now I'm wearing extra layers as I do so. In a way, life is the same wherever you go. Because it's your life, your routines, your choices.

But it's also vastly different. I love going into the city. My city. Every single time, I get a catch in my throat that says I'm home. And I love that my college roommate is just three miles up the road, that she can call me on a Saturday night and we can have brunch the next day, spending hours talking with friends while the kids play. I love that I can call Dan's folks and ask them if Damian can stay there while we go into the city for a midweek screening of a film directed by another friend. I love that I can get in touch with an old friend I haven't seen in 20 years and then actually see him a few days later. Because I'm here. So near my roots, my past, my identity.

No question, this works better for me than LA ever did. But that sugar-coats the jolt, the dissonance, the subliminal bewilderment I sometimes feel. I run out of shampoo, where do I get more? Not Santa Monica Boulevard, not anymore. We want to buy an Indonesian papier-mâché flying creature, where do we go? Not the store I remember from the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. Not from here. My old life, my old haunts, they're so close in my memory. Sometimes it feels like I could just get in the car and pull out of our snowy driveway and head into town. Into Los Angeles, that is.

Instead I find myself in Montclair, a town with plentiful charm, to be sure, but a confusing one to a city kid. I look for likeminded folk, and I suspect they're here – at least, everyone keeps saying they are, that this is a town full of creative types – but they're not scruffy artists or intellectuals. They have neatly cut hair and they run off to yoga after they drop the kids off at the bus. It's not the bohemian city life I remember from childhood. Nor is it the dyed-blonde ultra-thin constant one-upsmanship style I remember from LA. It's somewhere in between, and that feels strange.

I'm still feeling my way here. It's good, I think it could be great, but it still feels like a foreign land, this land, New Jersey.

November 17, 2005

one year later

Two months ago today we rolled into the Tristate area after our two week drive from Los Angeles. It feels longer than that, in the way that time stretches when everything's new, every week is not yet choreographed, and nobody's stuck in a rut.

Another anniversary: one year ago last week the people of United States, in a fit of gullibility and appalling social paranoia, re-elected the worst president this country has ever known. Which sent the two of us into a downward spiral of depression and despair. Which, a few weeks later, led to the idea that we could leave this country. Move to Canada. Toronto, to be specific.

As we began to look into it, we realized that we were as eager to be getting out of Los Angeles, finding a way to escape the Hotel California, as we were to be leaving what felt like an ever-more-oppressive regime. Eager to be moving back to the Northeast, with architecture and scenery that feels right in my bones, a drive away from family.

Then a friend – and I will forever be in her debt for this – said, "No, don't do that, come here, come back to New York instead! Dan can probably get work here, they're hungry for editors these days." The thought made me so happy. We'd stayed in LA for so long because Hollywood is the center of film and television post-production, not because we wanted to be there. The move to Toronto was predicated on the idea that he'd begin again, that we'd make it work because we had to, because we could no longer stand being in Los Angeles. In our lives there, to be exact, lives that had begun to feel like an appropriate-to-the-city endless ride on an exercycle: you pedal and pedal for miles against the unchanging, enclosed scenery of a sterile gym.

And now we're here. In New Jersey, sidled up next to New York City. Where we belong.

One year ago I had absolutely no idea we could do this. It turned out to be so simple. All it took was the re-election of a sociopathic jackass and his evil puppet masters.

Do I regret that we're still in the US? Yes and no. As we drove through the country two months ago, I realized that I love a lot about it. Could I feel the same about Canada? I'm not sure. There's a lot to like, to be sure, but this is a personal thing and I'm not sure I feel the love.

Am I somehow less committed to my political ideals because we're here instead of filling out immigration forms and making plans to move north? Maybe and maybe not. It's a tough one. What kind of country will Damian grow up in? Hell if I know.

I choose to believe things will get better now that Harry Reid is showing some backbone in the Senate and democratic governors are being elected by huge margins and Bush's ratings are in the toilet and Fitzgerald is truly investigating what we on the left have known for years, that the invasion of Iraq was prefabricated, planned before 9/11 and then shoved down the throats of the populace (not to mention Congress) with lies, more lies and a dollop of Soviet-style propaganda.

I choose to believe things can turn around. How much? That I don’t know. I do know that this country, my country, is and probably will continue to be more conservative than I think is right, is and will probably continue to deny rights and services to people I think deserve to be treated as equals under the law and in our hearts, is and will continue to be a place I live in with equivocation and doubts. But is Canada the answer?

As I looked into the move, I realized that Damian's services and education would be compromised. That Dan's work possibilities would be severely compromised. And that we'd be starting fresh, creating a social network in a completely new city. The combination was daunting. And it's a country like any other country, with positives and negatives. You have to feel a strong commitment to this particular kind of change to sail past the negatives, it seems to me. To embrace the move completely.

In way, it comes down to this: what's important in life? Friends, family, physical environment, your town, the political climate, quality of work, quality of education? What matters most to you? It's not set, it's an ever-shifting multi-variable equation, and intensely personal.

It upsets me when someone judges me for not leaving the country, stacking me with the hordes of liberals who meant it for one moment, who planned to leave but then got cold feet from inertia and the security of life as they know it. That clearly doesn't apply to us. We did move. Three thousand miles. We just made a different decision about what parts of that equation matter more. For us.

Still, that idea, the urgency of it, the "must go, must go now!" overwhelming need, that did well by us. It got us here. And this is immeasurably better for us than Los Angeles was.

Dare I say it? Dare I think it? Can I possibly, in some selfish part of my brain, be glad that Dubya got re-elected? We needed a catalyst. When the heavy weight of a multi-ton vehicle is embedded deep in a ditch, when your wheels are turning but have no traction, you need a really big force to haul you up out of the muck. Was there another catalyst that could have done it? Damned if I know. Interesting to contemplate.

Glad we're here, though.

October 31, 2005

six weeks

Yesterday my cousin came out from the city and we all climbed into the minivan, heading to Hacklebarney Farm in Morris County where we walked the corn maze, drank fresh apple cider, ate cider dogs with cider kraut (unexpectedly delicious), and picked pumpkins from one of three fields. I thought back to last October, the West LA parking lot that had been turned into a pumpkin patch complete with pony ride and stacked hay bales. Rolling country hills versus sprawling city. West coast versus east.

It's not that one is intrinsically better; last year was fun in its way and we signed up on the vendor's email list to get notified about this year's celebration. I'm not here to tell you that life is richer in every way now that we're here. Except, well, it kind of is. I don't know that it's the locale as much as it's us. I feel motivated here. I want to figure out what we can do on a weekend instead of falling into the same old rut. We have no predetermined rut, that helps. And I want to find opportunities to see my friends here instead of passively continuing inside the three-of-us cocoon we'd built ourselves there.

Did I know people in Los Angeles? Did I have friends? Some, yes. Could we have reached out and made ourselves a richer social world there? I'm not sure. I know I tried. At various times and in various ways. And it always felt like I was swimming against the current, my own personal swirl of water pushing me downstream, toward the ocean. Alone.

I don't know what might have been possible there if I'd tried harder or in different ways. All I know is that it's easier here. This past Saturday we had lunch at Dan's parents' house and spent the afternoon lazing and talking with them. Yesterday, another comfortable social connection with a beloved relative along with an apple-infused meal on grass dappled by sunlight and shade and then the crunch and rustle of dried corn stalks, followed by a hike in the woods nearby. Tonight we'll go out trick-or-treating with friends. This coming weekend we have a hiking date with different friends and tentative plans with still other friends. All people I really like, people I've known for a long time, people I'm glad to have back in the weave of daily – or at least monthly – life. And I'm getting to know some parents in Damian's class and liking them. Budding friendships? Maybe one or two. Too soon to tell. And I'm in no rush, though I would like to plan local play dates for Damian, and soon.

Life is not perfect here, I don’t mean to sound like a Polyanna version of myself. I have worries about how this will all fit together, whether and how we'll buy a house again, how we'll make money, how Dan's commute will turn out once he has work, how I'll thread the disparate strands of work and my fiction and parenting into a whole once he's away in the city and I'm semi-single-mom again. And this is a fairly wealthy town and that carries with it its own oddness, because we're not as well off as many families in Damian's class -- nor as poorly off as others, I should add, which leaves us in a strange in-between state once again. So it's not like we stepped through a looking glass and now our lives work fully and completely. But we've only been here six weeks (as of today, in fact) and it already feels like more of a life than we had there. And that's remarkable to me.


October 26, 2005

why move?

Today at the DMV -- excuse me, the MVC (Motor Vehicle Commission) – Dan and I were filling out license transfer forms when a MVC worker came by to make sure we had everything we needed. Okay, first of all? This would never happen in Los Angeles. Is it a city versus suburb thing or a California vs. New Jersey thing? I'm guessing the former.

We told her we'd just moved from Los Angeles and needed to transfer driver's licenses and car registrations. She checked to make sure we had the right forms and then asked, "Why are you making the move? Why New Jersey?" A legitimate question. People here sometimes do seem surprised. Leave the Golden State for this homey place? Why would anyone do that? But we talked for a while and she told us that she likes to ask people coming in from out of state what motivated their move. She's curious. She said she's recently seen a lot of people migrating from California and from the South. Particularly Louisiana and Florida, for obvious reasons. But I asked her what reasons people give for leaving California. She said they say they're sick of earthquakes, sick of flooding and fires. But a lot of times they simply wanted to come home.

Like us. We wanted to come home. So simple, really, when you put it like that.

October 09, 2005

stage two

Stage one of moving to New Jersey:

Bemusement. We're here? We're really here? We did it? This is so strange. And yet it's not. It's so normal. How strange that it's normal. Are you sure we're here and not imagining it? It doesn't feel as different, as extraordinary as I expected. I walk around New York and don't feel that intense longing I'm used to feeling. Is this a bad idea, then? Is it different enough? Am I overthinking it? It just feels like, well, life. How can it feel so normal?

Are we really here?

Stage two of moving to New Jersey:

We drive up the Garden State Parkway to Dan's parents. We see trees tipped with yellow, a hint of autumn. We see trees, just a few, striped with brilliant red like someone spilled a can of paint on a swath of leaves on the still-green tree.

We kiss Damian goodbye, he trots off to enjoy his grandparents, we slip outside. This is why we came, one of the many reasons. That we can do this. That we have family.

We drive into Manhattan. Down the Henry Hudson (formerly known as the West Side Highway), memories of driving home to the Upper West Side after a summer in the Berkshires, gazing at the Hudson River, at the Palisades hills of New Jersey, at the backs of the stately apartment buildings along Riverside Drive, at basketball courts. We've done this drive as visitors. Are we still visitors, then?

We park in Chelsea, walk down along a row of restaurants, choose one. Dark inside, British-pub-feel, but also so New York. Pressed tin ceiling, Tiffany lamps, wood paneling. Quiet. A sense of history. A sense of place. This I missed, this feeling that the outside and the inside matched, that you can walk from an active, alive street scene into a restaurant that felt like part of the community, a continuity, rather than driving in a sea of traffic to a mini mall standing like an island isolated and alone, which in retrospect describes most of Los Angeles to me. You swim from island to island. In New York you walk on pathways through woods, a complete environment.

We go to a friend's party, a crush of people in a loud room filled with leather (leatherette?) benches against brick walls. I watch the animated faces. It's a film party but very few of the people here are too pretty. Very few are too blond for their skin color. Very few are done up. Most of the women are as ethnic looking as I am. Some of the men look at me, notice me. It's been a long time. I began to get used to being invisible in Los Angeles. I looked different, outside the definition of the feminine. Here I fit. Female, human, part of the group, part of this world. I watch the faces. They look right to me. Incredibly varied, this is not about one ethnicity or another. This is about something else. About being home. That must be it.

We leave the party, walk into the warm night, head back to the car and back to our child, sleeping peacefully in the room his aunt slept in as a teen.

The next morning, Friday, we get in the car, drive down the Parkway to get Damian to school. As we enter Montclair, our new town, I look around with the beginning tingle of this is home.

Stage two of moving to New Jersey: happiness. I'm finally beginning to accept the fact of the change. And it feels so very right.

October 05, 2005

caterpillars and snow

TC asked how we're doing. I usually don't do update type of posts, but hey, this is different, isn't it? This site is now a blend of writerly thoughts and friends-and-family updates. Hmm.

So. I'll give it a try.

Damian's school is excellent, really good. More on that soon, it deserves its own space.

Cocoa hopped out of the carrier as soon as we brought him home and started exploring right away, as is his wont, but took a few days to truly acclimate. Now he purrs and sprawls and suns himself and acts like this is home. He seemed very happy when he found the ottoman, one of his favorite beds. I imagine it feels much like it does for us: our stuff, our home, and yet, well, not. Not quite yet.

A funny moment from a few days ago: we have big picture windows on one side of the big downstairs room. Cocoa spotted a wooly caterpillar on the outside of a window. He stood up on his hind legs, reached waaaay up to swat at it, slid across the glass to the left edge. Reached up again, swatted at it with his other paw, slid across the glass to the right edge. Did this a few times. Looked like a strange sort of dance. Never caught the caterpillar, of course.

It's not yet fall here. If I look past the fence into the neighbor's yard, I see one tree with delicate yellow leaves. The rest are green, but sometimes as we drive or walk through the trees, they seem sun-bleached, faded. As if they're rusting before our eyes. I'm both impatient for fall and glad to put it off a little longer. Right now the temperature is no shock. This could be Los Angeles, though perhaps LA in December rather than October. I find myself picturing snow and slush and reddened noses with a shiver of fear, but maybe that's just because when I told people in LA we were moving, they almost all said, "What, and go back to weather?" I shrugged and said I looked forward to seasons. And I do. And yet. What will it be like? I worry, just a little.

I found out a few days ago that Damian thought winter = snow. He thought that come December, we'll live in a white world. I explained that snow is like rain that way. But now I find myself thinking about that too. How will he react? He's done wonderfully so far with this move in so many ways, but how will he handle winter? Then again, snowmen and snowballs and snow angels� maybe he'll fall in love with it all.

Work� well, it's early days yet. I'm still working on my little freelance gig and not yet looking ahead. Dan's got an agent who is sending his resume out and about. We're feeling our way step by step.

It's hard to say how this move is. Because it isn't, not quite yet. It's still a beginning, and a tentative one, at that. But the signs are good so far.

October 04, 2005

to begin again

So what is it like to be here after all? To be in New Jersey, near New York, after so many years in Los Angeles? Does it feel like home? Is it good? Great? Scary? Freaky? How does it feel?

I'm not sure I can answer. I thought I could. When you look forward in time, when you imagine yourself in a place, in a time, doing an activity, the future you has a very specific emotion, knows how that feels. But when it's here and now and real, it's far more complex. In a way, it feels right and real and normal to be in this living room, to be surrounded by trees, to have friends nearby. To hear people speak with New York accents. To be here. In a way, we slip into this new life as if it were our only existence. In the way that life is an eternal now and this is us. Here. Now.

In another way, though, it feels like an extension of our two week trip across country. Another pretty town, another city with so many activities awaiting us. Another hotel, this one a cabin among the trees. And yes, this one has more of our stuff, not just a few suitcases this time but an entire truck-full of furniture. But still. It's new enough that I fumble for light switches in the dark on the wrong side of the doorway and I marvel one morning when I get up and look outside and the trees are shrouded in fog. It's all so new, even my vision. Like when you travel and you notice more than you might at home, that's what this is.

And yet I do know. And sometimes, like last Thursday, sitting on the commuter train heading into Manhattan or a bit later, sitting on the subway watching the bored faces, the New York faces, listening to the clack-and-roar that rushes through my bloodstream and is now surrounding me, sometimes I do know with a shock of surprise that we're home again, only in this new configuration. And I feel again how strange that is.

I know the feeling will fade, this bemusement with moments of renewed shock. But right now this is my reality, inside and out. Newness and oldness combined. Family, friends, comfort. Searching for fish markets and home furnishing stores and where was that damned post office again? The general is familiar, the specific town so new. Much to explore. Much to do.