Anne Notations

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Sand in my shoes

Oh, I was a rammmmm-blin' girl. Which is to say that my parents and I had relocated seven times by the middle of my freshman year of high school. My brother, born more than five years after me, experienced fewer uprootings and remained in the same school system from third grade through 12th. Moreover, he and his family have lived in our Massachusetts hometown for nearly 20 years, and for the past eight have occupied our late parents' house – our childhood home. Whereas I have stayed in Rhode Island all my adult life but am now on my ninth home since I graduated from college in 1973.

Fascinating, then, to read in the New York Times about a study, “Residential Mobility, Well-Being and Mortality,” that appeared last month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Among the findings: "The more times people moved as children, the more likely they were to report lower 'well-being' and 'life satisfaction' as adults." Introverts seemed to suffer the most long-term damage, and the study's author cautions, "Parents who are considering moving need to think about their children’s personalities and the potential risk.”

There are a number of reader comments on this article. I was most struck by those that confirmed what I've long suspected: My ultra-mobile childhood has made me restless and residentially fidgety. Not only did I apparently became inured to frequent moves, as an adult I have craved them. I can't seem to make it a full decade in any domicile; nine years has been my (and by extension, Michael's) limit.

Also, I have long wondered why I have only a small handful of true, lasting friendships. In the comments, I read of others who likewise feel deficient in sustaining deep friendships over long intervals. Well, duh! We never stayed anywhere long enough to cultivate them properly, and/or we have subconsciously shied away from the prospect because it wasn't part of our early development. Now, as I approach my 60s, I find myself wanting to hold friends closer, both emotionally and physically. I crave the comfort and connection of friends, particularly those with whom I've shared important life experiences and milestones, friends who "get me" as I believe I "get them."

Here's my response to the Times article. (below)

I was an extreme introvert (read: painfully shy) as a child and adolescent. My father's job for a large corporation kept us moving – 7 times – until midway through my 9th-grade year, when we made a last move and I finished high school in the same town where my parents retired finally.

But: I found that perhaps because of the frequent need to survive those fearful first days in new schools and neighborhoods, I began to morph into an extrovert. I became adept at adapting to my environments and eventually had close friends in several "hometowns." By the time I went away to college, I was good at the process and even relished it.

The downside for me hasn't been a difficulty making friends (I'm extremely sociable,) but … in maintaining long-term friendships except through social media. What I have struggled with even more noticeably is staying in one place. My husband and I have lived in three apartments and five houses in the past 3 decades – all in the same state. I get bored or stifled or claustrophobic after about 7 years of living in the same abode, and begin combing the real estate ads and driving around different towns and neighborhoods and going to open houses. Consequently, as we near retirement age, I do not feel firmly rooted anywhere, although I love the actual relocations, fixing up houses, and discovering new communities, stores, roads each time.

Perhaps I'm simply more comfortable with the role I played in my first 15 years: The Eternal Newcomer.

What about you? Is "home" still the same town where you were born and raised? How has that stability or its opposite – a childhood of frequent moves and changes – affected your choices in life, your relationships, and your personality? I don't regret my own experience; I believe it made me flexible and friendly and socially brave. I hope our kids, who at least always stayed in the same schools, don't feel they have suffered from living in three different houses.

Blessings 7-9-10

My first full week as an unemployed person has ended, and I'm still not sure how I feel, besides adrift. Being part of a working community for years and suddenly finding myself utterly on the outside is as poignant as I'd expected. I knew about the "out of sight, out of mind" phenomenon, but still I can't get over feeling that I've stepped from sunshine into a silent night.

I need to clean out my browser's bookmarks folder soon: The links are still there to log into my Brown email account, to password myself into edit mode on Today at Brown and the approvals screen of Morning Mail, but I'm nobody now; the university network has total amnesia where ADiffily is concerned.

It's OK; I'm keeping busy, albeit in a disorganized fashion. My office/workroom here is still a mess, so I must get serious about that. I did empty, declutter, and organize two large storage closets last week, which felt great; and I've delivered bags of clothes and miscellaneous household stuff to the Salvation Army. I've bought pretty much everything Kevin will need for his freshman dorm room next month, plus new bedding for Melinda. I'm working on a small copyediting job with a designer friend, which I'll finish tomorrow. The three-month temporary editing position I'd been called about turned out to have been filled before I ever heard about it. Good practice in rolling with the punches.

With the future a blank, this is a good time to resume counting my blessings.

1. Friday movie night at home with two kids and my husband. Tonight we re-watched Miracle yet again, and again we were impressed with Kurt Russell's portrayal of hockey coach Herb Brooks. At a key moment when Brooks was haranguing his young players to psyche them up, Daisy raised her head and gruffly commented: Wwrrooof.

2. July 3rd at home with dear friends from Connecticut: beer and cookout in the back yard, a stroll to the beach, the city fireworks viewed from our top deck, topped off with a late-night viewing of The Princess Bride. Lisp along with Wallace Shawn: "Inconthievable!"

3. Sunsets like this one on July 4:

Go ahead: Click this photo to make it bigger. You won't be sorry.

4. Putting away warm, freshly laundered clothes, sheets, and towels; later, after a shower, getting into a bed made up with clean sheets.

5. After days of temperatures in the high 90s and even over 100, today's gray blessing as I walked the dog along the beach.

Early Morning Fog

Cool, damp...
A cloud leans down
To kiss my sunburned shoulders.

6. The simple fun of Fridays with Caroline. She gets so much pleasure out of the small plastic wading pool that I set up and fill on our front walkway; the bright plastic fishing set; a pail of water sprinkled with cut grass. (Soup!) I sit in a plastic chair and do nothing but converse as she plays. Nothing but be here, for her and for me.

Monday, July 05, 2010

One enchanted evening

A friend posted on her blog about a "single, perfect evening" she experienced a few years back. It got me thinking about perfect evenings.

My all-time favorite evening took place 25 years ago on June 28, 1985, in the seaside city of Agrigento, Sicily. Even the name enchants me to this day.

I was, unbelievably, in Sicily on a magazine assignment, covering an archaeological dig unfolding on La Muculufa, a barren, "razor-like crest" in a remote Sicilian plain. The dig, which was excavating the site of an early Bronze Age Castelluccian village dating to the end of the third millennium B.C., was directed by a popular Brown alumna/professor and staffed by her students, both undergraduate and graduate.

I had never been anywhere quite so different from my world of the American North. Much of the island of Sicily is desert-like, with scrubby vegetation and reddish soil, although crops such as olives thrive in thickly clustered rows. In the cities and villages, everyone pulled down heavy blue metal window blinds at the sun's first light to keep their houses cool until evening. Like typical dumb Yanks used to onshore breezes, we kept trying to leave the windows in our hotel room uncovered when we left for the day, but the determined chambermaid put a stop to that.

Michael was along for the ride, and he did his part by getting deep into the dig trench every day and carefully unearthing gorgeous shards of terracotta-colored pottery decorated with black designs. The site was loaded with these treasures, some featuring amazing artistry and suggesting that this was perhaps an important destination back in the third decade B.C. – maybe a shrine? As happened frequently during our month in Europe that summer, I got shivery – despite the choking heat – from brushing up so close to truly ancient history.

Here I am (left) digging alongside Martha Joukowsky, the dig director, and a handsome Sicilian worker (and rugby player!) named Giuseppe. Please note that I represented Louis' Restaurant on College Hill by wearing my "Lou and Dom" tee-shirt!

We were with the crew for five days, and on our last evening together La Profesora escorted us and a handful of the students to the Valle dei Templi in Agrigento. This splendid succession of seven ancient Greek temples reflects Grecian occupation of the region in the fifth and sixth centuries B.C. At night, the temples are illuminated with floodlights, creating a stunning panorama from many vantage points in the city.

Here, then, is my perfect evening: With my adored Michael two weeks before our 10th anniversary, on a gorgeous, historic island in the Mediterranean among affable, smart art and archaeology scholars of varying ages. We went from the temples to an outdoor rooftop restaurant, which I think today may be known as the Hotel Villa Athena, and proceeded to have one of the most delicious meals of our lives. Better yet, the night was magic.

I kept a travel journal that month, and here is what it says about the evening of June 28, 1985:

"Mom" [Professor] Joukowsky has worn everyone out with her exuberance as hostess and tour guide. After a grueling 10-hour day at the site in hot sun and murderous wind, we had time for a shower at the hotel (ah! the exquisite pleasure of rinsing layers of grime). Then John, Martha, and Misha picked us up in Gertrude, the old Renault, for the hour's ride from Canicatti to Agrigento.

Compared to dusty little Canicatti, Agrigento seemed like a resort, like a Newport. It's a sizable city, and the temple area is a long compound on a high ridge. Most of the temples survive only partially; some are simply columns standing in centuries-old vigil.

Martha (right) and me near the Temple of Concordia, Agrigento.

We bought postcards at the kiosks in the parking lot, then walked up to the best-preserved building, the Temple of Concordia. It glowed a luminous reddish-ochre in the setting sun's rays. From our perch next to it, we looked off a bluff at the dusty-blue smudge of the Mediterranean in the distance, beyond which lies Africa. Africa! A larger-than-life half-moon hung above us as the park began to close for the night. Martha took us posthaste to see the Temple of Jupiter, locked behind an iron fence and in great disrepair – but even a glimpse of one great column and capital was amazing, the latter big as an elephant.

We met the rest of the dig group for a late dinner on an outdoor plaza overlooking the Valle dei Templi. Half-moon above the terrace … Elegant service by a tuxedoed maitre d' … Directly in front of us, now aglow with lights, the magnificent Temple of Concordia. Martha told us it is one of the best preserved of its era in the world. It is a view I will never, ever forget.

Drinks and aqua minerale all around … delicious appetizers or first courses of pasta or risotto – my pasta had meat, eggplant, tomato, and spices on it … Brilliant purple bouganvillea spilling in profusion over the stone railing and still glowing in the near-dark … Tall palm trees with bases that looked like monstrous pineapples … Gentle, often funny conversation. Michael, with his knack for drawing people out, had Martha telling the story of her courtship and marriage to Artie. She is one of the loveliest, most generous and intelligent women we've ever met.

For dinner: veal saltimbocca. Usually I boycott veal, but when in Sicily …

After this prolonged, civilized dinner, Brian drove us in Gertrude from Agrigento to Catania, where our flight to Rome would depart early the next morning. The moon rode above our little car in the black velvet sky as we passed exit signs for Canicatti, Enna, and other now-familiar towns. I dozed in the back seat, sated and feeling blessed.

That, my friends, was a night.