Moving On

The count down has begun to my moving day. This feels both exhilarating and overwhelming, and even a tad surreal. But I’ve always tried to be the kind of person who looks at change whether willed, natural or unexpected, as a positive and necessary thing. If there is to be life, there has to be change. I can’t say I have lived my life so far avoiding leaps into change and difference: moving from one continent to another, converting from one religion to another, going from single to married to single again; these have all been huge emotional movements above and beyond the more natural but no less grand events such as motherhood, degree-begetting and, alas, “THE change,” (the latter making every day potentially but unpredictably a hot and flashy experience, mid-summer aisde). In less than one week I’m heading north to Maine, but first the journey goes to Israel to write, do research and learn more Hebrew, a dream I’ve had since my early days as a Jewess.

I’m basically an empty nester now, all three sons having graduated from high school and moving on with their life plans, leaving me able to imagine a different dailiness than the one I have lived for the past 28 years in my safe and pretty privileged Connecticut suburb. This is where I moved as a newlywed, raised my children, and experienced an extraordinary Jewish community that I was in many small ways part of building. It’s also where I have lived through the painful process of separation and divorce, and the odd but convenient last few years of living in a condo ten doors down from the large house where I had raised my kids, and where their father still lives with our boys’ step-mom. Both the children and we parents shared the ease of this proximity, since there was no need for the adults to drive the kids to mom or dad’s house, and the kids could just stroll down the street to either home, to fetch a schoolbook or that favorite pair of jeans left behind. The oddity came with remaining so close, too close, to the place and the person I was no longer connected to in that intimate and familiar way; the nooks and crannies of the big, old house, and the movements, habits and sounds of the guy whom I had lived with since I was 19 years old.

But if there is one advantage to being an adjunct professor it is that, professionally, there are no ties, and although the adjunct may be poor as a pauper, she is free as a bird. The other day I was sitting at my kitchen counter, having written out a check for a bill needing to be mailed, and realized that the roll of colorful return address labels I ordered when I first moved into my new condo, over six years ago, is almost empty. While tugging at the now tiny roll nestled inside the clear acrylic dispenser holding the labels, I thought, what a coincidence. Or, good timing! There’s a time to nest, and a time to fly.

I won’t be able to order new address labels yet, since I’m going to live a bit of a vagabond life for a while, but shedding the ties associated with regular suburban living will also mean fewer of those kinds of bills to pay. Away goes the mortgage, the condo fees, the massive property taxes, the utility bills, the JCC membership…Uprooting, even when it doesn’t happen often, is never easy, but it can feel both liberating and destabilizing.

Leaving the place called home, however, has never meant severing the ties to the heart. Although I left Oslo, Norway, 32 years ago this month, my friendships from growing up there remain among my most dear ones. And now, after 28 years in my second hometown, it is not with glee or carefreeness that I up and go. As much as I feel the change that lies ahead is a necessary and a good one for my growth as an individual, a significant piece of my heart will always linger here, among the special relationships and places I have been so lucky to know and love.






When Athens isn’t in Greece

Unless you are one of the twenty four thousand students enrolled at Ohio University, in Athens, or you count as one of the twenty thousand inhabitants of the town which is built around the university, chances are you think, like I did, that Athens is in Greece, and not an hour and twenty minutes south-east of Columbus, Ohio. At first sight, the conference call for papers for the African Literature Association got me excited when I saw that it was being held in Athens, thinking I may finally walk in the footsteps of the fathers of western philosophy, and possibly be inspired by pure osmosis. Of course I was soon to realize that the Athens I was headed for was not in Europe but slightly more westward. I admit my knowledge of names and places in the U.S. is a bit limited, since I still have a hard time dealing with the fact that Paris and Norway are in Maine, and not just two places in Europe where I like to eat crêpes sucrées and herring.

Anyway, after I attended the conference, I learned a few lessons on the way.

Lesson number 1: Don’t assume the shuttle service from the airport will actually coordinate with your flights, but shop for flights that will coordinate with the twice-a-day shuttle service.

Lesson number 2: Don’t get too excited when the domestic ticket seems inexpensive, as America is a place (ok, continent) with huge distances, and so when you travel from A to B, there is usually a C involved, and it’s even further away from A than you had initially imagined, and thus B usually turns out not be your final destination. This I learned after packing at 1:15 am the morning of my 5am flight from Connecticut, as I started cold sweating while clicking my way around the web, searching for alternative ways of getting from the airport in Columbus (B) to my final destination at Ohio University (C). Athens Car Service would take me in what seemed like style, though I didn’t care much about the style part (pictures of limos and sleek sedans on their website) since I just wanted to get safely from A to B, which had now become C.

As I arrived in Columbus and emerged from the baggage claim looking hopefully at the various drivers standing around holding little signs with hand scribbled names on them, my cell phone rang. It was Tony the driver, telling me he was just pulling up to the terminal, did I want to go out to the curb and look for him? Sure, I said, and we stayed on the phone while I made my way outside. I’m the tall blond Norwegian woman with a red suitcase, I said, thinking I’d stick out like a sore thumb with my near six foot frame, forgetting that he couldn’t see the “Norwegian” part. He informed me that he was in a non-descript retired cop car, with the search lights still intact. Ah, I said, I’ve always wanted to ride in a cop car. Tony pulled up and came out to greet me, and immediately offered an excuse for the banged up, dirty and decidedly tired looking vehicle, slightly off from the glossy images on their web site.

Lesson number 3: Don’t believe everything you see on the web. While Tony was shoving junk aside in the trunk to make room for my bags, I thought to myself, ok, Miss Snooty, let it go, the guy’s nice, it’s a sunny day, and after all, your plane landed safely. Tony was a doll; a young, friendly, inquisitive fellow, with a fashionably scruffy, grunge-ascribed amount of facial hair, an overgrown goatee, a generous middle and a few tattoos. I wondered briefly about how he perceived me. Did I seem older, foreign; could he tell I was a mother by the way I spoke, that my heart was broken? We talked about a host of different things on the road from Columbus to Athens; family, love, travel, education, religion, to name a few. You can cover a lot in an hour and twenty minutes when you don’t shut down, and find your fellow humans in general a source of endless inspiration and wonder. Each and every one of us has a rich reservoir of thoughts, ideas, feelings, passions and aversions, in short, a walking story to be told. Tony never knew his dad, and told me he was born out of wedlock. Young people still use those terms?- I thought to myself and listened to his narrative of Scottish heritage, dropping out of college twice, girlfriend woes and dreams of one day traveling abroad.

Almost at our destination, he pulled over to a liquor store, for I had asked him to stop if we passed one so I could pick up a bottle of wine for the hotel. I felt like I had been on a road trip of sorts, and for some reason unknown to me, I bought a bottle of gin also, thinking for a brief, impulsive moment I might want to have some booze after my cop car ride. Perhaps the cultural undertones of Appalachia were calling out to me, since I was after all in the neighborhood, just barely west, and I felt happy and almost excited, as I had enjoyed my unpretentious conversation with Tony.

But alas, I never opened the gin bottle during my stay, and that was probably a wise thing, since drinking hard liquor alone in ones hotel room is not necessarily a good thing, generally speaking. So, I was planning on offering the bottle to Tony as a token of appreciation for our pleasant conversation, when he was picking me up at 4 am a few days later, for the airport run in reverse. This time he had talked about bringing the limo, so that the dame (that was me) could travel in style.

While it is not fun getting up before 4 am, I was soon to enjoy a few smiles when I saw the limo pulling up the morning of my departure. At first I thought my early riser’s vision was still adjusting to the darkness but I soon realized that the blurry image of a long, gray, amorphous structure on four wheels with a grating sounding engine and tinted windows was indeed the royal limo of Athens, the pride and joy of the company, the hip–mobile for special runs and special customers. I imagined Quentin Tarantino or the Cohen brothers getting excited about having this kind of prop for one of their films. To my disappointment Tony had overslept, and in his stead was the company dispatcher Terry. Since I felt a little weird offering a guy I didn’t know a bottle of gin before 6 am, I decided to hold on to it, and gave him some cash instead for tips. Whisking past the sleepy small towns of suburban Columbus, nodding off from time to time with Terry’s radio humming low in the background, I appreciated the quiet and the opportunity to check out, while being transported, perhaps not in grand style, but in total comfort and a certain je ne sais quoi of recyclable hipness, and I was just happy that I was going from C back to B, and then eventually to arrive at A, where my kids would be waiting for their mamma’s safe return.

Thinking about the things I learned as I journeyed, the experiences that never make it onto our CV or matter when we interview for a job, I imagined that this Athens too had inspired me by osmosis. This is the stuff of life that is simply called living, another few days filled with seemingly trivial events as we journey on, insignificant happenings perhaps, but that we may share with our children or friends as we create the stories of our lives.  Every day, different and new adventures, through the letters of the alphabet, from A via B to C, until one day we reach the end. Z.

Except in Norway there are three more letters at the end of the alphabet: Æ, Ø and Å, and I think that’s why I want to retire there, so perhaps I will continue to be inspired, by osmosis, meandering the distance of a few more letters, giving way to another story or two.