View from a neighborhood walk

View from a neighborhood walk

About that book I read and that book I’m– sort of kind of god I can’t say it yet writers don’t talk about their books in early stages—wanting to write (and maybe have written a bit of that maybe sort of could possibly be something one day)…

I’ve been thinking a lot about home—what that means to me, what it means to others (guessing those aren’t the same); where one makes a home and why. In not unrelated thinking, I’ve also been thinking (dwelling on? Obsessing over?) the idea of belonging somewhere. Or even just the concept of “belonging.”  Part of this is caused, no doubt, by the fact that in this past year I realized my family has dissipated. Nobody died, everyone is still around (both parents are still living and I have siblings), but at the same time everyone is far away (geographically and emotionally). And in large part this thinking, pondering, unmoored feeling, I’m sure is coming from the fact that Chris and I split our time now between Paso Robles and Riverside. He’s more often in Paso and I’m more often in Riverside. We’re working on us both being more often in Paso Robles, but that’s a process.

I’ve never really been able to choose where to establish my life. Not just “live” but really make a life. I’m guessing perhaps not many of us do. We are raised somewhere, live there when we’re grown because that’s what we’ve always done, or left to go to school, maybe returned (because hey, free rent!) or went where a job took us, or a partner’s job took us. In my case, up until this house in Riverside that I’m in (where I’ve now lived for  13 years), I had never lived in one house or city more than 5 years. With my parents divorces and re-marriages, my family changed, my houses changed, my “hometown” changed (note the quotes? I couldn’t name a place I’d consider my “hometown”—I generally just go with “La Habra” because that’s where I went to junior high and high school…sort of) and my friends changed. Then I went to school in a variety of cities (Stockton, Santa Barbara, then Los Angeles, if you’re keeping track). Then my own job changes and my own divorces caused more moves.  I’m a bit un-rooted, but I know no other way. Circumstances dictated the moves. So this idea, this opportunity, to say “this place—this is where I want to live and this is where I’m building my life” and head out in that direction—that seems big. And “This is what my life will look like?” Wow. Scary, but exciting. And I’m in awe and a bit overwhelmed as to how to make that happen.  We’re not retiring—far from it—we’re starting a new life over the next few years. (Also, totally expecting the universe to laugh at me, and quite possibly punish me.) Then I think of these folks who sell off all their worldly possessions and travel the world with a backpack or on a sailboat. Okay, that’s big. Moving 250 miles away, eh, not so big. And yet…

There’s that old, familiar feeling/panic of “will I belong there?” Will it feel like home? And what, exactly does that feel like? I will be 55 years old next month. I should probably know these things. But I don’t.  So I’m now fascinated with this idea of belonging and “home” and yes, even “family” as well as the idea, again not unrelated, of making big life changes (when we move toward something do we necessarily move away from something else?) Do we all struggle with those concepts? Nah, I expect many people are quite clear on home and family and belonging somewhere. I envy those people, but like I envy physicists—which is to say I’m sure it’s great but I have no idea what you do on a daily basis or how your brain works, and I’m fairly certain I don’t work that way.  

I’ve met so many people in Paso Robles who did what we’re trying to do—just uprooted their lives and moved to Paso Robles (or somewhere nearby) to start a new life. Kind of a merry band of ex-pats. Some took years to do it; some did it seemingly overnight. Some brought their families with them, some are building a powerful network of friends who are becoming family, and some are just trying to figure it out as they go (I’m in the latter camp, though not even living there full time yet and certainly not going anywhere without my family—by which I mean Chris and the beagles, of course). Part of my thinking and figuring things out involves, naturally, reading. Lots of memoirs on people making big life changes, of course, and that naturally involves having to “fit in” somewhere new. But then in one book (“The New Old Me: My Late Life Reinvention” by Meredith Maran) I read about another book (very meta, no?) called “This is Where You Belong:  Finding Home Wherever You Are” by Melody Warnick.   You can see why the title appealed to me, right? And then here’s the description:

“The average restless American will move 11.7 times in a lifetime. For Melody Warnick, it was move #6, from Austin, Texas, to Blacksburg, Virginia, that threatened to unhinge her. In the lonely aftermath of unpacking, she wondered: Aren’t we supposed to put down roots at some point? How does the place we live become the place we want to stay? This time, she had an epiphany. Rather than hold her breath and hope this new town would be her family’s perfect fit, she would figure out how to fall in love with it—no matter what.”

Well, first, let me just tell you that 11.7 times in a lifetime stat made me feel better. I should be done soon! I’ve moved 14 times already! I should be landing at “home” soon! And while we’re already in love with Paso Robles and not needing any help with that, the book was really informative about how one gets to know one’s community (so the physical surroundings and the people too). Like a road map for how to belong!

One of the suggestions was to get out and walk. Not drive. Not even bike ride (though that might work too), but walk. The pace of walking allows you to look around more and appreciate your surroundings and really take things in. Again, this is probably something I should know by now, but honestly, I think I’ve had my head down working, “achieving” (in quotes because who knows if that’s really what I’ve done!), planning, worrying, moving forward, taking care of whatever needed taking care of, just getting through, for so long now, something as simple as walking and enjoying fresh air and nice surroundings is foreign to me. Plus, I’m lazy. When it comes to physical stuff I mean.  But then I have this broken back thing and the doctor says “get out and walk.” In my wine barrel back brace, but walk. It was like the universe conspired—walking would be multi-tasking! I’d be doing a project! Two projects! Three if I count walking the dogs! It was perfect!

And there you have the mystery behind Chris and Daphne and Percival and I all out walking these nature trails and exploring our communities (both of them). It’s been fabulous. I can’t say we’ve actually met people on the walks (in part because I’m so out of shape I’m gasping for breath as we go, which makes talking awkward), but I think it won’t be long before some of our friends, old and new, join us on our expeditions. And I feel like we’re getting to know both communities better—even Riverside, and I’ve worked there for 30 years and lived (in various homes) there for 20. Another great part about walking? Plenty of time to think and contemplate. About writing.

So, I’m exploring creating a new life at mid-life, what that means, how one goes about it, what one leaves behind, and of course how our dogs (and a lot of wine!) are a huge part of that. And I’m writing about it. Not sure what it will be yet, but I’m realizing this concept of “belonging” and finding one’s place has been something I’ve been pursuing, wanting, trying to figure out for a long time. I suspect I’m not alone. The entire travel memoir I wrote (that sadly no one wanted to publish) was really about trying to belong somewhere. To fit in. (Spoiler: I never did.) Yeah, I know. I should head back to therapy. But for now, writing will be my therapy. And walking with Chris and the dogs–you know, my family.

I’d love to hear your stories and thoughts, especially if you’ve made a big life change or if you are a magical unicorn and have been given the mythical power of “belonging” somewhere. What’s the trick? How does it happen? And it involves dogs, right?

P.S. Daphne is home from the vets and her surgery. She’s doing great! Thanks for all your good thoughts for our girl.