I’m standing in a kind of spontaneous Tadasana, feet on the bare wood floors of this, our ninety-year-old house, arms at my sides, before I step outside. These soft floors have held countless feet and now mine stand among them. My heels press down, making an even deeper footprint, my toes spread apart. I take a full breath, inhale and lift my spine, each vertebrae, as I exhale away from my center and back in. The storm’s center is it’s softest point. That’s where I need to be.
We are just home from Hong Kong. My husband, Will, had a second interview for an International Sales Position that would have moved us there.
Last year, his executive job with a major toy company, gone in a day. Ownership changed, new owners cleaned house and Fed Ex knocks on the door, please sign for this, your final paycheck. So holy shit. New house, no job, economy crashing, hell breaking loose, culture of fear, etc…
Out past the porch, the Hastas are crowded around the Sugar Maple soaking up the shade, golden Lilies bloom in the rock beds and Hibiscus in hammered copper pots on either side of the steps squeeze red faces at one another over limey leaves of Creeping Jenny. I thought we might live here forever. At least I wanted to try. Try growing some roots. Like an experiment. The Learning To Stay In One Place For More Than Two Years Experiment.
I have moved in a kind of non-stop way all my life and thought I should stay put for a while.
I had wanted to try out the idea that maybe there wasn’t any better place out there, no clean slates or whatever. That I don’t need external cultural influence to identify my internal – and other tirelessly erudite reasons to Be Here Now. I thought maybe that’s what ‘normal’ people do. You know, Them. I imagined a gene or experience I might be missing, some inequity or inability on my part. So when I got married and we bought this house, I made a compost heap behind the garage, planted stuff and learned to use an electric drill.
Not unlike my own son, I was an intense, dark haired child; my voice was loud but my skin, very thin. My inner world – crowded. I love all things Life, but I’ve never found humanity a particularly comfortable race to inhabit. Other people seem to have a language, a formula I still can’t seem to master. I don’t know the rules of etiquette and inevitably fuck them up, which does not lead to quiet contentment or satiety. Rather, it leads to insatiability, hunger, a deep need to feel grounded.
I require a steady stream of inspiration, to be constantly moved, constantly reminded that I actually exist on this planet, am part of this race. It’s something I have to feel. I know it when my body clenches up with anguish, anticipation, when I see people crying on the street, or stumbling through an awkward moment, heartfelt thanks or unbridled rage. I feel it when I’m somewhere I’ve never been before.
But Being Still was the objective of my practice this time. And although it may not be readily apparent, I got what I asked for; only it came in unexpected packaging.
I am having to learn to stay grounded, stay still while in motion.
There’s this bird, in Alaska (where I lived from ages one to fourteen), the Sooty Shearwater, that flies over forty thousand miles a year. Forty thousand miles in a figure eight between New Zealand, California, Alaska and Japan. That’s the kind of endurance I’m talking about here. Just the ability to stay in flight must take terrific calm, an inherent faith that the ground still exists somewhere-down-there during a time period I can only sight from these last two trips to Hong Kong. The twelve-hour plane rides to that incredible, faded city of lights. A city of density, vitality and olfactory. Geographically, it’s the polar opposite of here. It’s on the other side. These trips were amazing for so many different reasons. Life altering trips.
Lot’s of unexpected packaging.
The outcome even more so.
While I’m pretty flexible for a human, I am not a bird.
The hibiscus continues imploring one another, sticking out their yellow tongues. I take in the yard with its ‘For Sale’ sign pushing out of the grass. The variegated greens are lush and wet, the holly trees erect. Will stands holding the hose, his shoulders rounded, legs planted apart, hair silver and glistening. Our neighborhood is all historic houses, artists and professors. It’s inspiring in many ways, too insular in others.
We owned this bungalow with the wide front porch for only three months when Will lost his job. Despite believing that we would return from Hong Kong with a plan, we did not.
So we will start over.
Try something else.
Look further, think wider. Or, in this case, look closer, think more streamlined.
I can’t say we aren’t deeply disappointed. We gave it effort and attention, enthusiasm and a lot of energy. Going Global was a seductive prospect indeed and I could have slipped into “Expat” like a Shanghai Tang cheongsam, but there is relief, in a way, as well.
This turn of events, this big adventure narrowed things down. This is one really huge thing that we know will not happen out of the myriad things that could. It’s valuable information we didn’t have before.
I feel my feet on the porch and look out at the plants, with their roots burrowing down, their stems raised up and swaying with the shifting wind. They’re a living metaphor.
So we wait and we listen for the next thing to present itself, amidst all the untamed and untethered possibilities; a future so broad and so blank it’s like hanging over a deep crevasse by spider silk. We have moments where we don’t know anything and we feel tissue-thin-transparent, we wipe the desperation off our faces with cold towels and triple our shots of espresso just so we can take as much action as we can muster. Other days we surge with energy, kick our legs and break for air with a kind of tenacity we didn’t know we possessed.
And we breathe.
We take giant gulps of air at the surface because we do exist on this planet. On this great world that spins, sometimes with such speed, such precision that you can be turned completely inside out by the next exhale.
I feel my feet on the porch and think about The Roots Experiment. How I wanted to grow them so badly and thought that it would mean physically staying in one place, homeownership, lawnmowerownership, surety. But perhaps it’s more than that. Perhaps it’s the ability to press down my heels wherever they stand. Perhaps it’s being able to lift them up when I need to.
The smell of grass and mud and promise fill my nose as my sternum slides up toward the canopy of Maple leaves. I press my heart toward the future and imagine that, lodged behind my shoulder-blades, two giant wings unfurl outward with a hefty snap, a whoosh, before they spread wide and catch the air.