Pulling up stakes

One thing I hadn’t fully realized before I started planning to move to Virginia: moving any great distance involves a curious combination of practicalities and undercurrents of emotion. The last couple of times I moved, it was only across town; before that, when I moved from Chicago to Collegeville, I had no furniture and I mailed most of my stuff. Now I’m trying to decide what to leave behind and what to keep and how much it will cost to schlep it back east. So I’ve been quite busy with the endless Things That Have to be Done in Very Short Order; at the same time, the impending move has been making me brood over my attachments to people, places, and things.

The thing is, although I’m feeling anticipatory twinges of nostalgia at the thought of leaving my familiar surroundings for somewhere totally new, Collegeville has never entirely felt like home. "It’s a transitional town," a friend once said when I was trying to explain why life here feels so contingent and temporary. She was right; that’s what happens when such a big percentage of the population is university-affiliated. I suspect myself of not having put down too many roots here for that reason. There are certain aspects of life in the Midwest that I’ve just never gotten used to, probably because I was always thinking "I’ll leave sooner or later." And now I really am leaving.

I’ll miss the people I met here. I’ll also miss, among other things: a particular Victorian house with peeling yellow paint, the way the light hits the trees this time of year, my regular pub and its lovely staff and the Stilton-covered fries they make there, the farmers’ market in high summer, the bread from the deli down the street, and the sound of trains going past at three in the morning. But it still doesn’t seem like I’m leaving a place where I was fully settled. It’s almost like being homesick for the feeling of having something to be homesick for. Peculiar.

(An aside: Am I a sap if I say that I keep thinking about this Robert Louis Stevenson poem? I read it years ago and kept remembering scattered lines of it until I finally googled them and found the whole thing. Stevenson isn’t the kind of poet one can admit to liking without some small measure of embarrassment; he’s so nineteenth-century. And he wrote for children. But "Whither Must I Wander?" has been on my mind of late. So there.)

And dear God, the sheer volume of stuff I’ve pitched out. The reams of paper recycled or shredded. (Income tax returns from 1993? Half-done drafts of the first chapter of my dissertation, circa 2000? I kept this stuff?) The clothes donated to charity, the books sold or given away. And then there are all the weird little thoughts that go with that: fear of other people picking up your old books at the used bookstore and laughing at one’s marginalia; familial guilt at discarding items that were given as Christmas presents and promptly stored in the closet; alternately maudlin and irritable reflections on ex-girlfriend memorabilia and what to do with it; mild horror at one’s lack of housekeeping skills.

It’s at times like this that I understand the appeal of jettisoning all worldly possessions. Or, failing that, being a nomad and living in a tent. Provided it’s a big, roomy, well-furnished tent, with wall-hangings and such, like the ones the Romans always seem to have in sword-and-sandal flicks or BBC historical miniseries.

Anyway, I’m off to Virginia this week to spend a few days looking for an apartment there and meeting the people I’ll be working with. More when I return. Hopefully, I won’t be needing that tent.

3 Responses to “Pulling up stakes”

  1. dale says:

    Huh. You don’t have to apologize for Stevenson around *me*, anyway 🙂 I’m an unashamed admirer.

  2. Rana says:

    Hah. I remember all those moving-related emotions. Especially the “I saved THIS?!” discoveries, but also the wistfulness of leaving.

  3. yami says:

    Fear of anonymous humiliation is a big push to non-marginaliating… or maybe I’m just neurotic.