It’s the first week of school. From a logistics standpoint, it’s been total madness trying to coordinate moving into a new house with a feverish, sinus-infected toddler while also coordinating the first week of school as a manager in a student services offices, professor of an undergraduate writing course, and student in a graduate education course. But despite the slew of scheduling conflicts (wait for the fridge to be delivered or stay late to finish up at the office? take the baby back to the doctor or prepare a syllabus for the first day of class?), the start of a new school year feels like the most appropriate time possible to put myself through a move. Having spent nearly my entire life either enrolled or employed in the education system, more so than my birthday, my anniversary, or even New Year’s Eve, Labor Day has always been the most natural time for me to turn over a new leaf.
New outfits, new three-ring binders, new opportunities – from the time I was a kid I loved going back to school. The start of the school year was also typically when my family was getting settled into one new city or another, or when I was transferring to yet another school in yet another neighborhood. And in a new city or in a new school, I didn’t need a new haircut or a new set of pencils to find those new opportunities, I could just snap my fingers and create a whole new personality for myself, no one would be the wiser. At one school I was a drama nerd, at my next I was an all around athlete, at my next I was brooding and grunge. We all try on different identities as we grow up; I was lucky enough to try them on without anyone ever knowing anything had changed.
In the comments of my post a couple of week’s ago, I had an interesting conversation with my friend Heidi over at the Hysterical Runner. It turns out she has moved even more times than me and has lived in even further flung places, and she had this to say about these changes: “One thing I found worked in my favour when moving around a lot was that I felt I could almost evolve with every move; you can be who you are THEN when you move to a new country, rather than be dragged down to what you WERE. Nobody is there to call you on it.”
Which takes me back to my move. Throughout my adult life, moving has been a way to clear out the cobwebs, literally and figuratively. As a child, I moved whenever my parents dictated it, but as an adult I moved whenever my house, my life, or my heart needed a change. After so much practice with shape shifting, I had become an expert at identifying what needed improvement and what sort of place would be most appropriate to that new self I wanted to create. In recent years, though, I’ve lost the knack. I can’t quite figure out how to fit the same books into new boxes, and unpacking them feels like reinventing the wheel.
I think this is related to a couple of things. First, I’m getting older. Moving is not as much fun when the house is bigger, the muscles get sore faster, and the move is not experienced start to finish while drunk and/or high (which is maybe the reason I used to always declare “but moving is fun!”). Second, I’m just not as clear on what exactly it is I’m trying to turn my life into as a result of the move. I feel that vague need for change, but I’m just not clear on what form the improvements are supposed to take. Am I a reformed writer turned registrar just trying to keep away from trouble, or am I a would-be writer who just happens to have a very good day job? In any given week, I might bounce between these different ideas of myself a hundred different times, but no matter how much I try melting them together, they each stay in solid state, their hard edges grinding constantly against each other.
So here I am, unpacking in yet another house, in yet another neighborhood. Setting up my den and sorting through old photos, through old binders full of old writing, through knickknacks and memories from other eras of my life. And I’m wondering yet again, who am I now? How will I define myself in this new place and in this new era of my life? These same questions have traveled with me all around the world and never seem to change. What does seem to be changing, though, is my response to them. I’m feeling a newfound ambivalence, I find I’m placing diminished importance on this idea of constructing a perfectly appropriate new identity. I find I’d rather just sit on my front porch and take in the view, or go for a walk with my daughter without worrying if it’s a tennis shoe or a ballet flat kind of neighborhood.
I love my family. I like my job. I’m thankful for (if not entirely satiated by) the writing that I’m still able to pursue. I’m enjoying my life and working to be a better person. It may have taken me two dozen moves to understand it, but everything else is just ornamentation.