A leap into the dark

Room is a word whose diminutive stature and common presence mask its central place in so many of our stories. We're told we have room for improvement and we ask for a room with a view. Not leaving your room for a week generates giggles in one context and concern in another. Attaching a tiny word like dorm to the beginning brings to mind endless faces and stories and clever uses of space. Placing mate at the end recalls treasured friends, dalliances regretted or fondly remembered, and arguments over missing leftovers. Boardrooms, bedrooms, living rooms — all conjure up memories, plot lines, and political arguments.

I'm writing this dispatch from my new room, an office formed out of a mishmash of miscellany. As soon as surfaces were available, a stream of mementos filled them - treasured gifts, Cuisenaire rods, prints and album covers, piles of Uncommon invites and envelopes awaiting assembly, and, of course, a kaleidoscope.

There's something different about a room of your own, where inspirations and little bursts of happiness are everywhere you turn. Then again, whenever I find myself marveling at this haven, I look over at the empty couch and think of people I wish were sitting on it. Every room should have room for others.

Prompted

The latest dispatch asked, What's been your most memorable move?

Lisa wrote:

I can't say whether this move or the last was most memorable, but I think of them as two unexpected curves on the same winding road. It makes me think of a line from Bird by Bird, something about how all you need to write, or to drive in the dark, is just enough light to see a little ways ahead.

Andrew wrote:

Moving to Boulder Colorado was my most memorable and impactful move. Colorado is somewhere I had always wanted to live. I have family here, I visited often, and it appealed to the outdoorsman/cyclist in me. When I finally decided it was time I had gotten out of a long-term relationship that ended in calling off our wedding. After researching, planning, and talking to everyone around I made the move.

My father and I drove cross-country in my Subaru. Dog in the trunk, bikes on the roof, the rest of my belongings somewhere in transit. I couldn’t have been more excited for the road ahead, and my future home. Somehow I had even convinced a friend to become my girlfriend, and visit me a few weeks later.

Fast forward to now and I’ve been in Colorado for three years. My girlfriend moved, she became my fiancée, and is now my wife. We purchased a home in Denver, CO and don’t plan on leaving anytime soon. Needless to say it was the best move ever.

Clare wrote:

My most memorable move? That’s an easy one: days after submitting my doctoral thesis, I packed my clothes and a few key possessions into two small suitcases and got on a plane to the Netherlands. I began my first postdoctoral job in another country, in a city I had only visited once before for a weekend. I didn’t speak the language — there’d been no time to learn Dutch in the frenetic period during which I wrote up my thesis — and hardly knew the city, let alone the people within it. It was, in many senses, a leap into the dark.

The year that followed was hugely important for me, as I learned a new language, a new culture, and made a lot of friends. Living in another country is an eye-opening thing, and I’m grateful for the perspective it gave me.

Mikael wrote:

I moved from a Zen temple straight to Amsterdam. On the morning as I was leaving, my friend, who was the temple's chef, told me that "I hope you spend a lot of time in the Red Light District, and not doing boring stuff like zazen." So I went from zendo in the morning to coffeeshop at night.

Sara wrote:

My most memorable move is the one I'm not making right now. For the last three summers my husband and I have moved to as many different countries. We are staying put this year, and I'm thankful for that. But we have no idea what next summer will bring!

Oliver wrote:

My most memorable move was from Albuquerque NM (where I grew up) to Boston (where I went to college). I didn’t know a single person, I didn’t know how to get around - other than a map and other people’s confidence that I would figure it out - I was starting school in a few days, I was living in an area where I didn’t fit in and couldn’t afford (thanks Granny!). I remember lying in bed that first summer night with the windows open and I couldn’t believe how loud it was out there. It was 1am and I could hear all kinds of activity! Eventually, I made all kinds of friends, grew to know and love the city, and was sad to leave. But I remember lying there staring at the tree outside the window thinking - what the hell have I gotten myself into?

Ryan wrote:

Not long after we married my wife realized she really did want to go to fashion school. Since I was then trying to forge myself a career as a screenwriter and director, we settled on Los Angeles, and once she had been accepted to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, we pared down our possessions, loaded our two cats into the back of our pickup, and drove off into the Indiana sunset.

Nine hours later, as darkness was gathering over Iowa, I heard an odd, irregular thumping noise, which grew in volume and became even more erratic within seconds. A convenient off-ramp beckoned, and I pulled over, then jumped out to examine the vehicle.

The previous day, anticipating the dangers of the 3000-mile journey, I had bought four new tires to replace the aging rubber on the truck, and Tire Barn had warned me, “Make sure you tighten the lug nuts after 50 miles.” This I had failed to do, with the result that the lug nuts had gradually wormed their way loose on the rear driver’s-side tire, which was now leaning outward with only one nut remaining. The severity of the angle had snapped off several of the posts to which the lug nuts are usually paired, so we had to spend the night in the parking lot of the nearest truck stop, waiting until the local Napa opened in the morning.

Let me tell you, my friends: the cab of a Ford Ranger is no place to sleep. This much I can say for sure. I am less sure about what to do on a hot August night in Iowa if a downpour begins while you are trying to sleep—whether you should roll up the windows to keep the rain out and thereby trap your own stifling body heat and breath inside or allow the driving rain to soak your clothes, skin, and hair. We opted for stifling, in case you are curious.

In the morning, the third-shift employee at the truck stop, who was just clocking out, drove me to Napa. Apparently you need an impact wrench to properly seat a new post into the wheel, but with the help of a friendly truck driver who spoke only a bit of English, we were able to at least get the wheel back in place long enough to limp to a garage a mile or so farther into town. The mechanics laudably refrained from gouging us, and patched us up for a reasonable price within a couple hours. They also gave us a box full of fresh corn, because Iowa. We climbed back into the truck and turned back out onto the open road, with our exhausted cats still clambering about in the back, trying to eat our aloe plant.

Brad wrote:

My most memorable move is most definitely the trek my wife and I made from San Francisco to Austin. At no other time have I felt the contentment and resonance of a place like Austin: I felt like I was finding home for the first time.

From the foggy valleys of Northern California, through Los Angeles's sprawling megalopolis and into some of our favorite spots in San Diego, the first half of our trip was sort of a “California in review” tour. Breaking out into the California and Arizona deserts, though, is where the change started to feel real. The desert has a way of signaling and ushering in change like no other environment.

We stayed at a lovely desert retreat outside Tuscon before pushing eastward across the great deserts of New Mexico and Texas, arriving in Austin in late October. It was the start of a new chapter for us and was quite possibly the best decision of our adult lives. We call Austin home in an even more permanent way today and are loving every minute of it.

Chandley wrote:

On June the 11th, my boyfriend and I were offered jobs in Belize. The catch....they needed us there on July 10th.

We had 29 days to divest ourselves of our home and a very large portion of our stuff and things. We never really considered ourselves particularly acquisitive or consumerist but my 37 years and his 42 years of accumulation added up rapidly.

As we had only a general idea of where we would be living when we arrived in a country we had never before visited, we didn't really know what we would need. But we did know that customs duty would have to be paid on anything we brought. So things had to go. The furniture was returned to my great-grandmother's country home for the most part or sold. The bulk of our clothes went to the goodwill (I wasn't going to need my "lawyer clothes" thank goodness). Our crystal, silver, china and art were parceled out among our closest friends so that they might have the enjoyment of it rather than it sitting in a box in a storage unit. In the end, we managed to reduce three thousand square feet (plus an attic & a basement) of goods and chattels to 149 boxes....many of them quite small boxes. We were proud.

I will admit that I cried over the books, all of the books, so many old friends. In the course of that same 29 days, my boyfriend became my fiancé and then my husband.

So, we have been in Belize for 40 days and married for 50. Both of these things have required major adjustments. This isn't the first time I have lived abroad but it is the first time I left the States with no intention of returning. It's a different state of mind entirely. There is no concept of if this doesn't work out we can just ditch and go back. Marriage, it turns out, is much the same state of mind. We have been told that we are amazing, and adventurous, and just plain crazy. We are all of those things. And we are more, we are growing and adapting and, mostly, we are just damn lucky.

Uncommon reads

The Future Happens So Much, a talk by Sha Hwang:

What are you striving for? Is it worth what you will give up to get there? When you get there, will you be satisfied? Will it be enough? And if not, what then?

Even Children Get More Outraged at 'Them' Than at 'Us' by Alison Gopnik:

Even young children are more indignant about injustice when it comes from "them" and is directed at "us." And that is true even when "them" and "us" are defined by nothing more than the color of your hat.

Less internet – but more of what? by Crystal Ellefsen:

So, if you’re already convinced of the value of shifting some of your compulsive internet habits and you want to stop mindless scrolling and limit the time you spend hunched over a screen… what should you replace it with? I would like to suggest that you read poetry instead.

Your turn

What's your favorite room, past or present?