“It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends.”
Shiv and I flew into Houston on Saturday, a quick trip, a stealth one. Shiv visited friends and I helped Jill work on our old house, cleaning a LOT of tile grout in order to get the house ready to put on the market. On Tuesday, the three of us flew back to Phoenix, and as soon as the mountains came into view, I distinctly felt that we were home.
Strange but true, Houston is now a Place I Used To Live, the setting for a chapter of my life that stretches nearly as long as the time I spent in Memphis, the Place Where I Grew Up. I know that this sense of delineated geographic and chronological territory is not at all unique to me, that plenty of people move all over the country and the world, and much more frequently than I have, but this shift is a novelty to me. I’ve been so focused on the beginnings that this move has created that I forgot to look for the endings inherently tangled up in it.
For the past four years, I used Joan Didion’s essay “Goodbye to All That” as part of the nonfiction unit I taught in my creative writing class for seniors. The piece (if you haven’t read it, it’s worth your time) describes Didion’s arrival in New York City as a wide-eyed twenty-year-old, her subsequent enchantment with the city and the life she built for herself, and finally, manages to capture the experience of falling out of love both with New York and with the person she had become while living there.
It was usually around this time of year that we’d approach the essay, me reading it aloud in class to help students immerse themselves in Didion’s language, and also to evoke the tone of reflection that always struck a chord with my eighteen-year-old students, right on the precipice of a great life change of their own, but uncertain as to what shape that change might take. Which friendships would last? Who would they become in their new environments? What would they choose when the majority of their choices were no longer dictated for them?
These are questions I’ve been asking myself recently, observing how what I want and what I’m interested in have shifted with my environment. It’s fascinating data, expanding my sense of who I am and oftentimes surprising me with the results. Our surroundings necessarily impact how we show up, pulling us into new adventures, like the hike that Jill and I went on this morning, on a trail quite literally five minutes from our house. And our communities call us into being inside of relationships and the histories those relationships contain—which is why, comforting as it is to be known somewhere, to have a dozen or more years of history to lean on with those around you, it’s also tremendously freeing to start from scratch. I am a different person than I was at twenty-four, when I started my last job; I have far more experience and far less to prove.
Turns out that much of what I had decided was the “norm” in my previous life was a standard of my own creation, one that I built in good faith but grew to feel stuck inside of. Both my calendar and my mind are much clearer these days, and I am grateful for the chance to create a new sense of myself.