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Moving is a Master Class in Labyrinth-Building

“We are here to build the house.
It’s our work, our job, the most important gig of all: to make a place that belongs to us, a structure composed of our own moral code.”
~ Cheryl Strayed in Tiny Beautiful Things

I haven’t posted here in over three months. That’s what it’s been like to move to Vancouver: busy, disorienting, silencing.

So much is happening. But every time I try to write, here or on social media, even in my journal, I find myself stopped, the words smothered. I can’t even see inside myself ~ the view is smoky and obscured.

Coming to a new city has been hard, but not for the reasons I expected. I was worried about logistics and forgot about the enormous identity shift I’d be navigating. I thought Vancouver would feel like a continuation of our travel lifestyle of the last year, the only difference being that we are staying a little longer.

But in fact, it’s a very different lifestyle. And I am a different person. Again.

I am a mother who is once more on the front-line at home. After fifteen months with Shawn taking the lead on childcare, getting groceries and cooking when I had work to do, I am back to high domestic overhead. I am doing dentist appointments and 3 pm school pickups and play-dates and “Mom, are you coming to my Halloween party?” I am buying toilet brushes and making muffins and knitting mittens. I miss eating out and having my bathrooms cleaned.

I am a person who has had a respiratory infection for over two months. Which is ironic, in light of the illness I had when we first moved to Malaysia. I have not figured out what it means; I just want it to go away. I take antibiotics and get chest x-rays and use an inhaler. I cough a lot. I have good days and relapses. I annoy people at the coffee shop (one of them gave me a card for her acupuncturist ~ so West Coast). I have stopped waiting for my lungs to clear.

I am a writer who has put her personal creative projects on hold while she does work for pay. The move and the illness put me woefully behind on a book I am ghostwriting. I haven’t let myself (or haven’t been able to) write other things in the meantime. It’s like having a marble stuck in my throat, like not being able to breathe.

I am a daughter who has spent only a handful of days with her parents in the last eighteen months and is missing Christmas for the second year in a row.

I am a woman who packed away her platform sandals and tropical-print dresses and needs to buy rain boots and a better umbrella.

I am lonely, more so than I ever was in Malaysia and Holland. Even though I am making new friends and getting reacquainted with old ones, easy connection and intimacy seem to elude me. Even with myself. This new Vancouverite I’m becoming is a stranger. I never planned to be her. I didn’t dream of the day when I would move here, the way I dreamed about Operation Hejira.

Margaret and Mireille, my will and my heart, are not getting along too well. Margaret is busy trying to build new labyrinths, new structures and routines so I can get things done and get my bearings. She writes lists in my day planner and schedules writing sessions. She drags me to the doctor and the physiotherapist (and she’s hounding me about going back to yoga). She insisted that I get some afterschool care for the kids and find a coffee shop I liked to write in.

Mireille is swirling with emotions, grieving the end of travel, enchanted by this gorgeous coastal city, petrified that she will never catch up on the many deadlines. She goes paragliding and cries while watching music videos on repeat. She has fallen in love with Lena Dunham because she also feels lost and raw and alive.

“Mireille is so into herself!” Margaret complains. “She hasn’t said anything about the labyrinth I’m building!”

And what a beautiful labyrinth it is. There’s a gas fireplace and a barbecue, an electronic hot water dispenser and a king-size bed. I can see mountains when I walk to the grocery store. We have the nicest landlords in the history of the world. Shawn has never been happier in his work life. Lia and Nico are like pigs in mud at their new school. I love what Margaret has done with the place.

But Mireille is so bowled over by these competing feelings ~ joy and confusion and paralysis and triumph and fatigue and this-damn-cough ~ that she hasn’t been able to acknowledge Margaret’s work. She’s even resentful that Margaret is just marching on in the face of all this change.

I am coaxing these two to work together. Margaret can take on some of the feelings, name them and organize them, write them out, so Mireille can catch her breath. And Mireille can pitch in with the labyrinth-building: “Oh pretty please, can we go to this hot yoga class with LIVE MUSIC? Can we start a writing group? And I’m dying to go on retreat again.”

I am pretty sure that one of the things I have to contribute to the world is living an art-committed life out in the open where people can see. That’s why the three-month silence bothers me. I know I’m not the only writer or artist who has felt busy, disoriented, smothered and everything else when negotiating a big life change. If you’re there now, will you do this with me?

Close your eyes and imagine everyone around the world who’s wobbly and wants to get grounded, who’s tired and wants a break, who’s lonely and wants to be seen. Reach out to all of those people and wish them peace and ease and connection from the bottom of your swirly, overwhelmed heart.

And then, imagine that all of us are sending that peace and ease and connection back to you. I am doing that right now. I am beaming you the rock-solidness of the mountains, and the nimble current of whitewater, and an enormous West Coast hug.

Ah, this feels good. To speak up, to say hello, to send you some love. I feel like I’m coming out of hibernation.

Thanks for being there.

A few notes in closing (because the world goes on and people do stuff, even when I’m hibernating):

Jen Bulthuis is a dear friend from university who makes remarkable story-inspiring objects (aka toys). She is raising funds for her company, Fidoodle, and I’m thrilled to be a supporter. Campaign ends on Thursday, December 13!

Dale Davidson, who I met at the World Domination Summit a few years ago, did a great interview with me in September: Using Travel to Enhance Creativity. I love how Dale combines travel and learning in such a thoughtful way.

A past client, Laureen Marchand, posted a series of articles in October that I found really comforting:

In her online store, Grasslands Gallery, you can see (and buy!) the beautiful work of Laureen and the artists she represents.

My younger sister, Joanna, is in her second year at art college and she just went public with some of her work on her new blog, joanna.gresik.ca. This makes me so happy, I can’t tell you.

Please say hello in the comments. Consider this an open thread ~ just tell me what you’re up to and how you’re feeling. I’ve missed you!

P.S. Many thanks (and happy birthday wishes!) to Bridget Pilloud for her contributions to this post. xoxo

Image courtesy of aurélien

{ 5 comments… add one }

  • Laureen Marchand December 6, 2012, 9:14 pm

    Oh Alison – even out of your settling and grieving and finding a new way to be, you haven’t stopped giving. I am so grateful for your attention in this time when you don’t have quite enough for yourself. I am also never-endingly grateful for the way you helped me find my way back to creating when I had made my own big move and found myself stopped the way you feel now. It was almost two years ago – you made so much difference. May you breathe, and breathe life into everything you do – not just for others, but for yourself as well.

  • Brie December 6, 2012, 9:30 pm

    I am reading this in bed when I should be sleeping because I am sick. An illness I am convinced snuck in between the stress crack of my new life. And I am sending you a mountain of hugs.

  • Lynn December 7, 2012, 8:41 am

    Ugh, moving is such an upheaval – it’s it high on the list of top stressful events a human can encounter? Sorry to hear it has been rough, but I know your creative side is still sitting there, waiting (maybe not so patiently!). We’ll be here when you’re ready to come back!

  • Ella December 13, 2012, 4:54 am

    Such a beautiful, moving post.

  • lo bil April 1, 2013, 8:41 pm

    we have never met but i enjoyed your story. i sent out love and good healing vibes to you and to all those who are right now feeling tired, lonely, or ungrounded… that’s me off and on, though right now i feel okay so i’ve got some energy to share. i loved your suggestion… thanks for making me smile 🙂 happy rainboots to you m’dear

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