Posted by: patti | July 11, 2010


I can tell you exactly when I made the decision to quit my job and move to California.

Plans to do so had already been in the works, but that did not mean I was decided.  Each step that moved me closer to the Golden State created an imbalance in me.  Thrilled one minute at the prospect of my new life, paralyzed by that very prospect the next.  The sheer magnitude of such a move, the financial logistics of it, my fragile emotional state because of the Librarian — every fiber of me, and every friend I confided in, told me to wait.  Told me too much change at once is a bad bad thing.  Told me I wasn’t thinking clearly.  Told me I was just running away, again, from all the things that hurt too much to face.

But California.  And a chance to write full time, or very nearly full time, and yes, of course I am running away, because, right now, I need a continent between me and the city that holds my heart.

The plans are as solid as they are ever going to be — I have a network of emotional support in place and freelance work arranged for the next nine months.  And here is the best part:  I will be taking care of a friend’s house because his work keeps him too far from home to maintain things properly.  I will take care of his house and garden and live nearly rent-free in Southern California.  This dear, dear friend, who I’ve known almost twenty years, is giving me the chance of my life, for so very little in return.

That is not entirely true, however.  He would like our relationship to be deeper, different, but I am not even close to considering such a thing.  He understands this, and understands that in patiently waiting for me to be ready, he runs the risk that I will never be ready.  In many strange and startling ways, this is the most honest relationship I’ve ever had with anyone, even the Librarian, which is very hard for me to admit.

The plans could not have been more solid.  Even so, fear and doubt ate at me.  I was making plans as if it was settled, but I had not really decided.  There seemed to be as many reasons not to do it as there were temptations to do it.

At the end of May, I flew to California.  My friend and I created a writing room for me in his house.  We put together a schedule for the coming months and finalized the details.  The plan was in place, and as plans go, it is pretty perfect.  I would finally quit my job. I would drive from Connecticut to California.  I would take care of a garden and do yoga and write full time and live in Southern California without incurring major debt.  I was happy.  I was excited.  I was scared, but in a good way.

But still, I wasn’t decided.  It took the airlines and a Chernobyl-sized meltdown to do that.

In addition being on the road something like fifty weeks a year, my friend is also a pilot.  He is an expert traveler; nothing the airline industry does can surprise or upset him.  I, on the other hand . . . not so much.

My flight home was canceled.  They notified me by text message that I had been rebooked on another flight, out of a different airport, the next day. It was extremely inconvenient, deeply frustrating, and just generally angry-making.  But the temper tantrum — there’s no other word for it — I threw at the airline rep and at my friend was completely out of proportion with the magnitude of the disruption.

I am ashamed of myself, remembering how I spoke to that woman on the phone.  She was just doing her job, which cannot be easy, what with having to deal with the recently unhinged like me.  She found me another flight home, with a layover in Salt Lake City.  Unfortunately, taking this flight gave me exactly forty minutes to shower, pack, and get to the airport, which is thirty-five minutes away.

In those forty minutes, my friend the Pilot saw the full-on banshee side of me.  I was angry at the Librarian, at the airline, at the choices I had to make, at the universe, at having to travel with dirty hair.  And I aimed that fire hose of misplaced anger and vitriol directly at the Pilot, whose only crime was actively, patiently, trying to make my dream come true.  It goes without saying that I am ashamed of this behavior as well.

I cried myself to sleep on the flight to Salt Lake City.  My meltdown and the stress of the new travel arrangements had worn me out, but so had the realization that this meltdown was just the latest in a growing pattern.  For months I had been having these types of outbursts, spectacular displays of impotent rage, usually directed at people just like that unfortunate airline rep, usually over the phone.  I was dangerously close to being defined by and ruled by the hot coal of anger that had replaced my heart.

When I landed in Salt Lake City, I woke to find something still and quiet had replaced the anger.  I called the Pilot and apologized.  I found tea, I wandered to the gate for my connecting flight.  And as I wandered, I began to notice things around me, little details I used to collect as a matter of course but had been unable to for I don’t know how long.  The tingle of bergamot under my tongue.  Yellow cap and blue sneakers on a little boy.  The click-tick click-tick click-tick of a luggage cart.  The stickiness of the smell that defines any food court with a Cinnabon and an Auntie Anne’s Pretzels.

But what I noticed most of all was the landscape outside the airport.  Much of SLC is floor-to-ceiling glass, so almost everywhere you walk, you can see Utah’s eerie beauty.  I had never seen anything like it.  I had never seen a place that was both flat and mountainous, that had muted colors giving way to vibrant ones, that was dry and wet, that was simple and magnificent.  I spent my layover in SLC with my nose almost literally pressed against the window, looking out at physical contradictions that painfully mirrored the contradictions lined up inside me.  I longed for this strange new world waiting to be discovered as much as I longed for the familiar old world I have lost.

And so I decided.  I decided I wanted to keep this calm, this peace.  I decided I want to see and do more things I’ve never done before.  I decided that sometimes too much change all at once is a good good thing, if they are the right changes.

So I’m doing it.  At the beginning of August, I am driving from Connecticut to California.  I have three weeks left on the East Coast, weeks that are busy with details and goodbyes and more decisions.  I am happy.  I am excited.  I cannot wait.

I have stories to tell.  Some of them are real, some of them are made up, but as best as I can, at the time of the telling, they will all be true.


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