When learn you are moving do you usually think, “Ugh…It’s going to be terrible but I just need to get through it?”
I have had my fair share of terrible moves. The worst might was when my first roommate in San Francisco moved me out by throwing my stuff out the window and calling me fat. Then she changed the locks and refused to give me my security deposit back because I did not clean my room—which I could not do without access to the apartment. Apparently, she decided I could no longer date the man with whom she set me up. No accounting for logic when it comes to love, sex and money.
But it worked out—I stayed with that nice man literally on the corner of Haight-Asbury until he found me another place. Very nice, man indeed…
Since that first post-college foray into adulthood my moves to New York, Paris and DC have been far better.
This one, happening this week, might actually be the best yet.
I am writing this blog because maybe I could help those moving, or about to move, have a better experience.
Through my personal and academic work in narrative, I learned how to write the story of my life before it happens. What would be the perfect move?
When I found out my landlord was selling the apartment, I immediately decided the whole transition would be a gift.
Deciding the move is gift
I told myself that the move would help me let go of stagnant energy and even some poor fitting clothing. Because the move coincides with my doctoral graduation, I decided it was the perfect time to close down this chapter. If I stayed in my same place, I could more easily remain in old patterns of thinking—thinking I developed as student. Not a graduate.
Deciding the move would be easy
After deciding the move would be a gift, I decided that the new place would come to me without effort and that the move itself would be easy and…even fun!
Then that is exactly what happened. A place literally presented itself to me. Then so did the movers, the timing and the parking space. Any time the process became wobbly I said to myself, “Things are always working out for me. This is supposed to be easy.”
So long as I committed to easy instead of effort, everything unfolded. It did not always happen on the timeline I wanted—when I got impatient I just went for a walk.
When I lost my house keys in Europe I said, tant pis. That’s French for, “oh, well.”
You may think this sounds weird, silly, fantastical, or childish—I can only say after years of moving and transitioning this approach seemed to be really effective.
Cleaning with a thank you
I scrubbed my walls, my bathroom, and doors while thinking about how much I have appreciated this wonderful apartment.
I thought of all the great showers took, the amazing walk-in closet I had, and the doors that helped make my space quiet and private.
Leaving with a thank you felt good.
Hope this helps you in your move or upcoming transition. The main takeaway is --write your story before you live it. Focus on how you want to feel during the process versus exactly what you want to have happen. Then turn on your spotify and dance around as you pack. When I'm in a real pinch for inspiration, I lean on Mary Poppins..
No one can deny that Paris is filled with many joys. Paris is also the birthplace of existentialism for a reason. When it rains, is cold, crowded and cranky, Paris can suck delight away as quickly as it gave it over.
Tragic Paris in the Rain
Yesterday offered unseasonably cold day of rain. The weather offered a perfect, if unpleasant, context in which to spend the day with a Holocaust survivor visiting Drancy, France's largest internment camp in a suburb just outside of Paris. She took me and a couple friend around the site, told us how the camp -- now immigrant housing -- held 100,000 mostly Jewish deportees while they awaited their trains to Auschwitz. She also talked about her regular post-war visits to the site to see if her mother was among the returning survivors. "For years, I thought she may have had amnesia and been living somewhere." The government just labeled her mother as "disappeared." Only in the 1990s was she able to acquire a death certificate.
Even though we did our best to bring some humor and levity to the day, the rain and tragedies of WWII loomed heavy. After the visit, I met a friend for an aperitif at the Paris-London brasserie where discussed the Greece's looming debt crisis--the modern economic war in Europe.
When I learned that my 8pm dinner plans would take me on another two trains -- I had already ridden several to reach the camp-- and more traipsing through the cold rain I struggled to find the whimsical joy I had experienced during Paris' fête de la musique that occurred the night before.
On the crammed metro, people looked tired, irritable and wet. I was just about to add my own fatigue and bedraggled state to the sorry looking lot when something shifted in me.
"No," I thought "No, I'm going to find the joy. I'm going to find my happiness in this moment."
So I closed my eyes and just focused on feeling happy and excited for no particular reason.
The sound of a crying infant lurched me out of my isolated zen moment. I looked at this adorable, cranky 1-year-old and decided that we would have a good time. My focus became cheering him up. I started making faces at him and then he at me. His mother, also tired and irritable at first tried to quell his every move. Once he started reaching out for me I told her he seemed to be kind of a flirt-- a drageur. Then she laughed and softened too. She also began to play with her son instead of whacking his hand away from his face.
We all three started having a good time. He started trying to explain something in his not-yet-quite-a-language and I listened with attention, agreed with him and used hand motions to encourage further clarification.
Together we did not cheer up the whole metro we only the ride transformed for us. Instead of following what I affectionately named during my years in Paris, "the Paris Crank" (caused by cold, fatigue, crowded metros and a sour attitude) we chose joy.
Maybe I gained perspective from my research-- no train ride could really be worse than those cattle cars to Poland. Even more simply, joy is more fun than being cranky. I was able to catch my mood and the child's discontent early enough enjoy to turn our emotional train around. On the one hand, this was just 7 minutes on the other hand, life really is just an accumulation of moments, so why not make the best of each one?
Still, as a child, I really did not like the term. Too young to push against it, I just accepted my fate-- tomboy.
I didn't know what it meant or how I was supposed to act. Why did I have to be described relative to the boys? Why wasn't it okay just to love what I loved without being positioned as a wannabe boy?
The word has rather negative roots. It's a pejorative not a compliment.
One of the first printed uses was in 1579,
"Sainte Paule meaneth that women must not be impudent, they must not be tomboyes, to be shorte, they must not bee vnchast."
Even through the middle English you can hear the message-- "women must not be tomboys." The term was not one of endearment, it was one of condemnation. Once society identified a girl as a tomboy, she ought to correct herself and others ought to remove themselves from her company until she does so.
By 1802, not much had improved with the term. The Spirit of Public Journals published this line, "The violent exercise of the skipping-rope, which is..only fit for some Miss Tom~boy."
These women were looked down upon by men-- both elders and suitors. In 1888 Mitford wrote,
"He had no taste for giantesses, and a particular aversion for hoydens and tomboys and women who trespassed against the delicacy of their sex."
Tomboy meant to "trespass the delicacy of their sex" -- and while I'm all for delicacy when it comes to pastry and flowers, sometimes a girl wants to use her legs-- skip rope- do a back flip and not worry that she's branded a hoyden-- a wild threat to society.
Today the use is less pejorative, though still rather unappealing. When little girls start climbing things and playing sports, they are called "tomboys" rather than just athletic girls.
Oh, but I just discovered while visiting a French friend in the Loire Valley that in French the term is far worse. They call girls we call Tomboys, Garçon Manqué! That translates to "a man missing something" -- which in this case is his penis. So in France, girls who are active are pretty much called men without a penis.
I told her that seemed kind of tragic that girls cannot simply be considered active or adventurous. They must be considered in relation to men.
So I'm asking, when you see a little girl doing something that involves mud or athletics just acknowledge her for loving what she loves. Don't turn her into a boy.
I think much of America has moved beyond the original meaning of the word-- but I do hear it from time to time and think we can safely place it in the word graveyard along with hoyden.
A common complaints among my (and probably your) friends and colleagues is overwhelm. So, I wanted to speak a bit to this very scary feeling that might be tantamount to the feeling of physically drowning.
In fact, people experiencing overwhelm might even say, “I feel like I’m drowning.” That suggests a combination of feeling exhausted, hopeless and engulfed. The feeling of ease and comfort seem like remote figments within our memory.
I attended a Buddhist meditation class last week hoping for 30 minutes of quite and gentle breathing. But our monk had a different agenda. We were allowed only 15 minutes of peace before her lesson about how overwhelm and other experiences of emotional pain derive from an obsessive focus on ourselves. She called it “self-cherishing” which she distinguished from “self-care.” Self cherishing, she said is when we think that our getting to work on time is more important than the person riding next to us or when we think our car is the most important car in the parking lot. We almost habitually see ourselves – and what we see as extensions of ourselves whether they be people or objects – as more important than others.
Her suggestion is that we start considering other people’s lives and extensions as important (or insignificant) as our own. This kind of equalizing thought, Buddhism believes will help reduce human suffering.
The next few days, I did start seeing her point. Though realizing my own selfishness only made me more self-focused. What really helps me break out from overwhelm or anxiety caused by self-absorption is wonder.
Wonder, to me, means looking around and saying ,”Hey, that’s fascinating.” Wonder, like compassion may need to be cultivated if rusty. Those with a practiced sense of awe are some of my favorite companions.
Kids & Wonder
Of course kids usually have no problem with this one. They run around the zoo pressing their faces right up to the glass screaming with glee, “look! Look!” Adults will start giving information like, “it says here that’s a red panda. It feeds on blah blah…” But the kind thinks, “who cares, that thing is just cool.” The parent may not really ever see the panda, walking away from the zoo just having learned more about where the bear lives and what it eats.
I don’t have kids so I have to cultivate my own sense of wonder. I have some friends who do this with me. Washington D.C. is filled with opportunities but any place has enough. There are always enough people, books or nature to throw us back into awe.
3-D IMAX movies or planetarium shows about space—dark matter, black holes, and galaxies far far away provide terrific--and relatively easy--access to wonder These films help me get perspective…100 million stars and 100 million galaxies? We take ourselves so tragically seriously.
I sometimes start my conflict resolution 101 lectures with an image of the universe and the famous “tiny blue dot”—planet earth. We need some perspective before we dive in.
Wonder this weekend
This weekend a friend and I popped over to the Folger’s Library to see an exhibit on 17th and 18th century sailing navigation tools. Incredible! Apparently there was a contest in Europe for the modern equivalent of $33 million dollars if you could figure out how to calculate your longitude at sea.
The exhibit was filled with Captain Cooks navigation tools, compasses, and clocks. We were actually ecstatic. (FYI, if you’re reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book the Signature of All Things and live in D.C. please go see this. They have items from the ships she writes about.)
Then we roamed down to the botanical gardens and looked for the most peculiar plants, talked about their medicinal properties and what we would like to grow.
Sarah Federman, PhD
Enjoy these short blogs and videos designed to bring you a little cheer.
My other blog Language of Conflict addresses the importance of word choice and narration in conflict.
Finish and Flourish supports writers struggling to complete projects.