My first semester in college, I participated in a pilot program called Search for Community. I don’t actually remember too much about this aside from the fact that we attended all of our classes together in an old bungalow, and we read Watership Down. But the gist of the program was a study of how mankind seeks and creates community, that this has been part of our essence since the dawn of humanity, although the ways that various cultures go about forming their communities can vary greatly.
I hadn’t given this much thought since that freshman year long ago, but lately, the phrase “search for community” keeps floating through my mind. Because I feel a bit adrift from my community, that circle that always surrounded me, made up of family and friends, all people who knew me and loved me, who I could count on, and who could count on me. And while I may talk to my best friend and my sister and my dad and my brother and several other members of that core team, just as frequently as I ever did, the truth is, it’s not the same.
Let’s suppose that tomorrow you were going to pack up your belongings, and maybe a little dog, and move across the country, leaving everything and everyone that you knew behind. How long do you think it would take you to build a new life? A new community? To feel like you belonged? Obviously, this isn’t really hypothetical, it’s what I just did. And this week passed the 4 month mark since my move from California to Massachusetts, so it seemed like a good point to take stock and consider what I’ve accomplished thus far (a lot) and what I need to keep working on (a lot more).
Since I moved, I’ve started a new job, survived a few tumultuous months of work related uncertainty, been promoted, and taken on far more challenges and responsibilities than I had ever expected to happen, especially in such a short time period. It has not been easy, at all, and there were times when I had my doubts, but I am very happy with the way things have turned out. My career has certainly had its ups and downs in the past decade. Wonderful bosses. Horrible bosses. A lot of stress and strife. Two layoffs, periods of unemployment followed by periods of under employment. Dozens of interviews. So much insecurity. Through it all, I’ve tried to follow my own personal creed for business: work hard, be easy to work with, don’t let your work be defined by your job description, pitch in and do what you can. Sometimes that has worked magnificently. Sometimes it has resulted in abject failure. I still make mistakes and I still have a lot to learn. But finally, I can take great satisfaction and some pride in the fact that I am back on track. It’s a great relief.
I’m a creature of habit and routine, and I’ve started to cement my routine for this new life. I’ve got my car wash, my grocery store, my route to work. I just started house hunting, which is going to be challenging, this is a tight, expensive market, shockingly so even for someone used to pricey California real estate. My weekends are spent much as they always were, running errands, listening to NPR in the car, a nice dinner on Saturday night, usually followed by a recent DVD. It’s not like I was a social butterfly. But I did love meeting up with this friend for breakfast and pedicures, and seeing this friend for 10 minutes at the dog park to catch up. Hanging with my sister and my bff. Going to our favorite sushi spot, or checking out the latest gastro pub opening on Ventura Blvd. Laughing our asses off at nothing, just because.
That’s what I miss the most, that comfort in having people to hang with. Knowing if I got sick, someone would volunteer to run over soup. An invite, that I may or may not accept, to watch the Academy awards. I have made friends here, and I expect to make many more. But you can’t create those relationships that were forged over decades overnight. It’s going to take time to form a circle who “gets me,” especially since there’s a bit of a disconnect between my casual Valley girl ways and the more reserved New England personalities. It’s a tough nut to crack. But I know it will happen.
In the next few months, I will have several visitors from the place I still consider home. First, the bestie comes, and I am literally counting the days. I think I will probably cry when I see her, and will certainly cry when she leaves. Then my parents come, followed by a brother and sister in law. I’ve already had a quick visit from my oldest brother and my niece; it was so wonderful to see them. I’m lining up tours and activities and things to do, but the best part will be just being with my people, the ones who really, really know me, and love me anyway.
I’m proud of myself for what I’ve accomplished so far. I’ve been braver and more adventurous than I ever expected to be. And I’m happy I made the move. It’s a good life, so far. But the adventure isn’t over yet, perhaps it never ends as long as we are alive. I’ll continue to round out this life, fill in the empty cracks with people and relationships and love and laughter. The search for community continues.
The end, for now
I’m about to say something that feels a bit dangerous. And perhaps even subversive, but maybe it just needs to be said.
Wait? You thought I was going to say something political? About the current political landscape? About the nasty, distasteful, harrowing, embarrassing election process we are currently in? Nope. Not going to go there. I find myself embracing that old adage that religion and politics are not things discussed in polite society. Or you know, on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, which seem to have pretty much replaced the functions of polite society. Except for the polite part. To be clear, I’m not ashamed of my politics, or my religion for that matter. I’m a lifelong Democrat, and certainly a lifelong Jew. If you want to know my specific thoughts on how each of those things shapes my thinking and decisions, and who I’m voting for, call me. Happy to discuss, respectfully, courteously, intelligently. But I’m not going to post anything insulting the opposition, as much as they dismay me. Nor am I going to assume if you disagree with me, that you must be wrong. Not how I roll.
Okay, back to my initial statement. Here goes. I’m kind of disappointed in this whole winter thing. I had built it up in my mind as this big scary drama, and it turned out to be more like a weenie little skit. I mean, I was a Girl Scout! I was an earthquake phobic living in Southern California. Be Prepared was not only my motto, it was stitched in my psyche! You Guys, I had pots of soup in the freezer! Emergency ice cream supplies. A battery operated radio. Batteries. A lot of wine. A lot!
I confess, my visions of what winter would be like might have been based on skewed data. First of all, the last two years, especially last year, have been some of the harshest New England winters on record. Last year, there were 106 record breaking, soul crushing inches of snow. Roofs collapsed, power was lost, people died. It was serious.
My other concept of winter was based on The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote the Little House on the Prairie series. But this is no gentle story with Pa and Ma and the girls romping around in the Big Woods. This is the somewhat harrowing tale, based on Wilder’s true life adventures, of the winter (1880-1881) where she and her family almost starved to death, as unending blizzards cut her small town off from all supplies for 8(!) months. Here’s a quote to make you shiver:
“There were no more lessons. There was nothing in the world but cold and dark and work and coarse brown bread and winds blowing.”
So, let’s talk about this winter, my first real winter, ever. Southern California doesn’t have winters, just days that are hot, days that are very hot, days that are warm, and days that are less warm. We get excited if it drops down to the 60s and we can wear those cute sweaters we couldn’t help but buying. I actually bought a warm coat about 20 years ago (I was traveling back East) and it’s still like new, it’s been so infrequently worn.
I’m not saying there hasn’t been cold this winter. There has! For a few days around Valentine’s Day, the temperatures were below zero, during the day. I didn’t think it was possible for humanity to survive in weather that cold, but we all did. And there have been many more days in the 20s, 30s and 40s. There have been some snow storms too, a few really good ones and several more that covered the ground and caused traffic hassles and had me shoveling. We’ve had a few “snow days” where we all stayed home and worked remotely because it wasn’t safe to be on the roads. So winter has come, but it was one of the warmest and mildest in history. And now, according to the news reports I watch so anxiously, it’s almost over. And surprisingly, at least to me, it hasn’t been that bad. I expected to have a much harder time acclimatizing.
It sounds weird, and ungrateful, and even, as I said up top, a little dangerous for me to say this. Far be it for me to taunt and tempt the weather Gods, but it’s a little anticlimactic. I thought it would be more, bigger. I was pretty scared going in, with those Long Winter ideas in my head. I anticipated days at a time, stranded. Having no power and having to huddle in a blanket and read by my handy electric lanterns (repurposed from the earthquake supplies). And while I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to that, there was a certain coziness indicated that seemed compelling. I didn’t want a repeat of last winter, by any means! But I may not have minded a few days of enforced inaction. As long as the food supplies held out. And the wine.
This is all a bit tongue in cheek, of course it’s a very good thing I was eased in to this new climate. I’m sure if we have a harsh winter next year, I will be complaining loudly, and whimpering for warmth. But it kind of reminds me of the fig tree back home. For 2 months every year, it was a nightmare of plummeting figgy fruit. A huge mess and inconvenience that had to be dealt with several times a day. I lamented, I bitched, I moaned, I swore to cut the tree down and be done with it. But then the season would be over, life would return to unsticky normalcy and I would forget all about it.
Like the fig season, winter comes to a gentle end, and spring waits to unfurl. Soon I can put the gloves, shovels and mittens away and enjoy the beauty and warmth that New England has to offer. I can’t wait, but I swear I won’t forget that winter will surely come again, and next time, it could be a doozy of a long one.
The end, for now