The Year Of Magical Unthinking

As I've mentioned in the past, I'm big on anniversaries. Not super obvious ones, like one of the eight million days Sean and I got together again after one of the eight million times we'd broken up (honestly, there are too many anniversaries there to count), but little ones: the day we left for our three-month jaunt around Asia, the day we got back, the day I left my cushy extended vacation in Singapore to move---jobless, apartmentless---to San Francisco.

Which just happens to be, by the way, a year ago today.

Sean had left Singapore two weeks prior, flying to Charleston to pick up my car, then driving it up to Connecticut for Christmas. The plan was that we'd meet in San Francisco---where we'd crash on the floor of our only ally in the city until we found our own place---on the 30th, one day before New Year's Eve.

On December 29th, I was feeling fairly calm. On December 28th, of course---and December 27th, and December 26th; well, alright, pretty much every day from December 15th onwards---I'd been a nervous mess. Moving to San Francisco? What the hell did I think I was doing? What were we doing? Hadn't we had a perfectly nice life in Charleston? Why weren't we going back there after all this gallivanting around the world; why had we so presumptuously sold stuff, packed stuff, stored stuff, dragged stuff across the country, expecting to set up a whole new life a whole coast away from the one we'd known? What could have possessed us to think just arriving in San Francisco would be enough?

I've told you about my Pavlovian response to the Golden Gate bridge. Every time I saw it on TV for pretty much the entire month of December, my stomach did flips and I got the sort of first-day-of-school jitters that make you think you're going to start dry-heaving over the arm of the sofa in a minute or two. Despite all the places I'd lived, all the places I'd traveled, all the times I'd moved, I was petrified.

On the morning of December 29th, my dad and I drove to the grocery store to pick up the ingredients for the Thai basil chicken I'd requested for my Last Supper, as well as some bread for the sandwiches my mother would make me for the plane journey that night. The store had a particularly fancy bakery and I remember my dad telling me I could pick out any bread I wanted, yes, even that expensive loaf of ciabatta, what the hell, it was a special occasion. I knew right then that it was bad, that the parting was going to be awful. Allowing the overpriced ciabatta? It was the equivalent of the doctor giving you a lollipop, the ex-boyfriend letting you keep the espresso machine. Nothing softens a blow like a baked good.

The thing is, when you're bracing against something, when you're resisting it so hard, when your expectations of how it's going to be are the worst you can possibly imagine: well, something happens. It's never really that bad.

On the way home from the grocery store, hopped up on nervous energy about my late-night eighteen hour flight to a city I could only very tenuously call home---and only then because I knew I had a floor to crash on---I might have seemed a little anxious. While I was resigned to the fact that I was leaving and there was nothing I could do about it---the ticket was booked, the arrangements were made, the ingredients for my farewell Thai basil chicken had been bought and would soon be assembled---I was still just a hair's breadth away from hyperventilating every time I thought about the momentous switch I was flipping, that can't-go-back hysteria I was only just managing to suppress.

My dad, always a calm man anyway (the perfect counterpoint to my mother's slight neuroticism---oh, alright then, my slight neuroticism too) was even calmer for being caught in the eye of a storm (an unpacked storm who actually, come to think of it, wasn't quite sure where she might have put her passport.) There is a way my dad has of taking things in his stride---and this might sound weird, but Sean has exactly the same quality---that immediately makes you, the panicked party, stop to reassess just how bad things are, and discover, pretty much unequivocally, that they're not nearly as bad as you think. If only I knew the secret of this capacity for calm---this human embodiment of a tab of Valium---I would bottle it and make millions. (Then I would, of course, worry about those millions, because, you know: lead a horse to water and all that.)

In the car on the way back from the grocery store, my dad---sensing my anxiety at leaving the family fold, though really, I'd been doing it over and over for years---told me again the story of how he'd moved from suburban England to big city America to take his first overseas assignment. It was a big deal in those days---well, it probably still is a big deal in these days---to move so far away from home, to separate oneself from one's family with oceans and landmass, to choose an entirely different continent in which to buy one's milk and make one's bed and pay one's taxes. He was 23.

"But Dad," I said, "at least you had a job. I don't have anything in San Francisco: well, savings that'll last me a few months, I guess, and a kind friend with an air mattress. But otherwise, it's just me, Sean, and Craigslist. And nobody will stop telling me how San Francisco is the most expensive city in the world, how even the air costs more there."

And so, by way of further reassurance, my dad revealed that he'd moved to the States with only a hundred and fifty bucks to his name, an amount which, even in 1974, wasn't exactly a fortune. Sure, he had a (new and scary) job---and even some temporary accommodation a step up from an air mattress on a friend's floor---but still, getting on a plane to a country you'd never been to before with only a suitcase, a guitar, and $150 in your pocket must have been pretty daunting. The man didn't even have any posh ciabatta sandwiches!

(A few weeks later, by the way, my dad's new company sent him a check for $750. Part of his relocation deal had been that they'd either pay to have his furniture shipped from the US to the UK, or they'd assess how much it would cost to ship it himself and pay him half of that amount outright. Well, since my dad didn't have anything he really cared about bringing to the States, he opted for the latter. On the day the movers came by to determine how much it would cost to ship his stuff, he not only borrowed a ton of furniture from friends, but showed them the entire three-bedroom apartment he lived in with roommates, instead of just the one room he rented himself. In this way, he managed to make himself a nice big chunk of change, which, ironically, he ended up using to buy himself a last-minute plane ticket from Detroit back to England a few months later when his best friend was killed in a car crash. The night he found out about that crash, he stayed up all night and drank a whole bottle of scotch by himself.)

As for me, well, you know the story: I got on the plane to San Francisco, Sean and I found an apartment, I ended up with the job of my dreams. And now it's been a year, and I still feel a frisson of excitement when people ask me where I live and I tell them and their whole faces light up with recognition and soon we're having a conversation about cable cars. It's not been perfect of course, this adjusting, this settling in, but it hasn't been half as scary as I thought it would be either. That's the thing about people, I guess, even people like me: we just get on with it.

A few months after I'd moved to San Francisco, I came across the Guardian's Six Word Story challenge; Ernest Hemingway had once said that his best work was a story he wrote in only six words, and so the Guardian had challenged contemporary authors to do the same. Along with "Armageddon imminent. Make list. Tick most." (Ian Rankin) and "Thought love must fade: but no." (George Saunders), the six-word story that grabbed my heart hardest and yanked it around for longest was this one by Ali Smith: "In the end, everything simply began."

I can't think of a better way to describe how that move to San Francisco happened, how things just do happen, no matter how long you lie awake worrying about them. Sure, you can obsess about what you'll do when you get to a city you don't have any ties to, how you'll go about the complicated process of putting down roots, setting up camp, getting over hurdles. But in the end, time keeps ticking, things have to be done, and you do them. You get on the plane. You look for an apartment. You find a job, you go to the DMV, you make some friends to share your secrets with over bottles of wine you can suddenly afford. There's no choir of angels, no thunderbolt from above, no round of applause as you segue from scared to settled. Everything simply begins. And then you just keep going.

Twice Five Miles
Dec 29, 2007

Gorgeous. And thank you for that Ali Smith quote, I needed that today.

Dec 29, 2007

Glad you enjoy the area. We moved here from Iowa, which was scary, too, although not quite as you describe it. I'm glad you're enjoying yourself! And those stories? Great!

Dec 29, 2007

Oh, and Happy Anniversary!!

I do the exact same thing.

Dec 29, 2007

Happy anniversary! I've made a move similar to what your dad did, and it's daunting, but so much better for it. I hope you both enjoy many more years in SF!

Dec 29, 2007

And this, Holly, is your best post ever.

Truly. Happy Anniversary!

Dec 29, 2007

Anxious about putting downroots right now so perfect timing! great read!

Camels & Chocolate
Dec 29, 2007

This post couldn't be more timely. I'm moving to San Francisco in just, gulp, five weeks and thought the waves of nausea and dry heaving weren't the best signs in the world. I do have a boyfriend and house out there already, but no job, no friends (save a stray one here or there who migrated westward after college), no car, no furniture, no health care, you get the picture. The whole thing is more than a little daunting and I am FREAKED OUT. But this helped. A little. The nausea has now subsided to a mere gas bubble, so thanks for that ;-)

Dec 29, 2007

I love this post. You've just reminded me that today is also my anniversary of an ocean-crossing relocation that at the time seemed insane and now seems unthinkable not to have done it. I am amazed that it's been a year already for you and Sean in San Francisco. 2007 has been a fast one.

And that Hemingway story has always made me extremely emotional, all the more so now that I have two healthy babies.

Dec 29, 2007

This is inspiring and reassuring. I'm contemplating a cross-coast move myself, for no good reason other than I need a change, and wondering if I'll ever have the chutzpah to do it. Maybe I will, though.

Terri B.
Dec 29, 2007

Love the Ali Smith quote! I'm the more neurotic-prone-to-panic one and my husband has this deep well of calmness. How do they do that?

Dec 30, 2007

I love the quote! Thanks for that one today!

Bird of Paradise
Dec 30, 2007

Lovely post! Went so well with the Yo La Tengo song playing in the background. You also inspired me to write a six-word story:

'Once upon a...nevermind, it's okay.'

Dec 30, 2007

It kind of sucks starting over and then - usually - it ends up being all kinds of fantastic.

I know that up/down/all around feeling, and that's why I like your blog so much. You're up for having adventures, and the nerves be damned!

Dec 30, 2007 always.

Dec 30, 2007

Holly- I love your writing. That was absolutely beautiful. Thank you for that. Your words make this world a less scary place. Have a wondeful New Year.

Dec 30, 2007

I love that quote, and your writing as well. Thanks for sharing that.

Dec 30, 2007

I feel you - I moved here a year ago December 1st - why not move to San Francisco? That was the feeling I had.

Dec 31, 2007

This was a great post!

I've done that kind of move a few times in my life. And I wouldn't trade any of them for anything. In fact, I'm always encouraging people to do the same.

And as a former NorCal girl, you couldn't pick a better place to end up!

Happy Anniversary! And Happy New Year!

Dec 31, 2007

Today's not technically an anniversary for me. But given that I fully expected to be back in the US at the turn of the calendar from 2007 to 2008, it does mark something of a surprise for me. I'M STILL IN JAPAN!! What am I thinking? I don't know exactly, but the coming year promises to be interesting, at the very least. How can it be anything but? Cheers to both you guys and many wishes for a great New Year.

Dec 31, 2007

Happy New Year!! It must be about midnight there now, right? It's almost 10 am here in Indiana.
This was a great post. I've been so amazed with your and Sean's ability to just make such big decisions and trust that it will work out fine. Which it has, obviously. My husband and I discuss moving back to his native Brasil but it probably is a few years in the future still. Reading things like this, though, make me want to just drop everything and go, see what we find. Unfortunately, I'm often too practical and worriable(is that even a word?) to do it. So kudos to you!!
Also, that Thai basil chicken meal sounds delish! Any chance of you sharing the recipe?

Dec 31, 2007

thank you.
i got a wild hair about running our city's marathon in early may.
i've fretted for 24 hours over this and i'm thinking of all of the scarier things i have done in my short little life and going, "How can I do those and not this?!?"

i'm determined now. and so it begins!

Dec 31, 2007

awesome, awesome, awesome. thank you so much for this post; the timing was perfect. my husband and i are quitting our jobs at the end of february, going to spain for twelve weeks to study spanish and then moving to chicago where we have no apartment, no jobs, no health insurance, but (luckily) three friends! this couldn't have come at a better time nor been written more beautifully.

Dec 31, 2007

What a lovely testimony to the good things change can bring. Eric has been interviewing for a position in various places across the country. We could be moving this summer but we won't know where for another three months. There's a certain freedom to that...sure, it's scary, but new beginnings can be wonderful too. Happy new year, Holly!

Dec 31, 2007

Awesome post again, Holly. That quote at the end made my day.

Dec 31, 2007

Happy New Year, Holly.

I'd never heard of the six-word story. How about: woman moves, scared. But discovers...home.

Dec 31, 2007

That quote was perfect. And now I am thinking I might have to try a six word story of my own. Maybe it'll help me get past the writer's block.

What a spectacular story. Your Dad and Sean are perfect for you and your mother, nice how that works out.

Jan 01, 2008

Lovely post.

She Likes Purple
Jan 02, 2008

One of my best friends who doesn't have a blog but is slowly getting used to this world of blogs just quoted you as one of the most inspirational blogs she's recently read. She just moved to Portland, with no job, a new husband, no friends. And is doing what you did. She just keeps going... and I thank you for writing this.

Lincoln Graves
Jan 04, 2008

Thank you so much for putting to words...exactly what I needed to hear. You've eased my mind.