Tue June 1, 2010
I know that some people move every few years, but I don’t know how they do it. How do they face that disruption of an old life, that chaos between living here and living there, again and again? It’s driving me batty.
My move, admittedly, might be more chaotic and disruptive than most, even though the new house is only a quarter mile down the road from the old. In the first place, I’m moving for the first time in almost forty years. That’s a lot of years of accumulation, even in a small house. In the second place, I’m moving, so to speak, from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first. That’s a long span – from life without electricity to life in a fully equipped house with a refrigerator, lights at the flick of a switch, a washing machine and drier, and an electric stove with an oven big enough for four cake pans at one time. That’s what life will be like soon, but right now the chaos of boxes, bags, and bundles stacked past the window ledges, of stuff spilling over floor, couch, table, desk, chairs has me totally discombobulated.
Besides the chaos, I’m experiencing the emotional pull of departure. People say, “How can you leave your little fairy house?” They say, “But you live in such a magical house now!” I feel like a third-world country, about which travelers say, “Oh, what adorable mud huts!” feeling cheated of something unique in the world when those huts give way to modern houses with refrigerators and real cook stoves. I feel like women in African villages who see washing machines advertised on television and start buying them, while tourists and sociologists alike bemoan the loss of the social life centered around the village well. All very well and good, but the tourists and sociologists weren’t washing their clothes at the village well. I want a washing machine, too, just like you.
I do have pangs of nostalgia for the old house with its hippy-funk style and self-created everything. I will miss my broken-plate flower mosaics on the baseboards. I will miss climbing to my bed in the loft on my pole ladder, its rungs polished with decades of rubbing by my bare feet. I will miss seeing the stars when I get up at night to go to the outhouse. Do I really want to trade hippy-historic and funky-charming for architecturally beautiful and indisputably convenient? Is the easier labor of the washing machine worth the loss of gossip around the village well?
Yes, of course – but also no. I have long thought that my living the way I have for all these years has been good for the collective psyche of the human species, that I have kept alive a centuries-old torch vital for today’s human-earth relations. If I can bring to my new house those values, then that life has not been wasted. Just as there are ways to create a social center in the village even when the women have washing machines, there are ways to bring my old way of living into the new. If I open my double-paned window, I can still hear, in the orb of silence, the spotted owl’s call. If I park my car at a distance from the house, I can slow time down by walking. If I turn off the electric lights, the firefolk will shine again. If I apply what I learned in the old house to the new one, I can know the same harmony of human-earth relations the old house so lovingly exemplified.