Friday, January 22, 2010

Packing up your personality

I've done laundry at the laundromat. I've shoveled the driveway and my car. I've been lost in Fairborn, biked the bikepath and had breakfast at Clifton Mill. I've washed my car at the dog-and-car wash. I've had a vegetarian calzone at Ha Ha Pizza, spinach-and-garbanzo-bean soup at The Emporium, hot chocolate at Dino's, and ice cream at Young's. I've received an overdue reminder from the library's automated phone service.

When people ask for my phone number, I give them the last four digits. I attend the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and Little Art Theatre, shop at Tom's Market and work out at the Antioch gym. I've wasted sunny days waiting for the cable guy. I've attended a lecture at South Hall. I've joined a writer's group.

It would seem I have arrived.

I moved to Yellow Springs on Feb. 2. Before that, I lived in the mythical-sounding town of Downers Grove, Ill. Resumes had been going out to jobs outside of Illinois since June 2002. I researched the various towns by going to, a website that lists all the liberal-friendly places in the country. Yellow Springs is on the list. Downers Grove is on the liberal-unfriendly list.

You learn a lot about yourself cleaning out your house, weeding through possessions, and packing up your personality. When I told girlfriends I was searching out libraries, parks, bike trails, Thai restaurants, independent bookstores, Unitarian churches, and voting demographics, one responded, "I don't remember ever doing that. I just went wherever my husband told me we were moving."

While packing, I took a lot of side trips down memory lane, pausing briefly to play in the sentimental goo before tossing the damn thing out. I threw out a shoe box of responses from a classified ad dating stint and an orange crate filled with three years of Vegetarian Times magazines from my life as a typesetter. I packed four large boxes of videos -- three of the four were from my days of teaching gender studies and human sexuality. The fourth is my public speaking career on tape.

I tried to be ruthless throwing things out. My Yellow Springs home is significantly smaller than the home in Downers Grove. My furniture, 75 boxes, and a piano are in a storage unit in Downers Grove until I feel confident enough to go through with the move permanently. I needed to buy some time.

It's amazing what you discover about yourself as you toss out your old life and try on a new one. Deciding what's expendable and what's essential and choosing which items would be brought over in one '88 Camry carload forced aspects of my personality to fight with one another.

The packing of the car started out with careful and considered arranging of the assorted boxes. Six hours later, I was frantically stuffing dresses under the driver's seat, wedging books into the glove compartment and locking all the car doors. The possibility of the car's contents exploding onto the highway like an overpacked suitcase posed a genuine threat the entire drive. A last-minute decision to cram one more bag into the car before pulling out of my driveway ended up being my saving grace the following morning when I woke up in my new apartment. Still in shock and disoriented, I reached for that bag and pulled out a jumbled mix of homemade curtains and started hanging them. They instantly transformed a lifeless and unfamiliar house into a colorful and cozy home.

What items are essential for you? The answer is as unique as the individual. My list includes: curtains, candles, computer, sewing kit, answering machine, vacuum cleaner, TV, VCR, frying pan, plates, air mattress, and art. Also a large stained-glass window, "naked-lady lamp" and chili pepper patio lights.

Back when I was teaching "Intro to Public Speaking," one of the games I would play with my students was called "Tornado Drill." In this impromptu exercise, each student would stand in front of the class and tell the group what they would risk retrieving out of their home if a tornado was bearing down. You were only allowed three items.

At first, everybody picked their family members, which didn't make for a very exciting game. So I changed the rules, assuring everyone that their loved ones and pets were safely housed elsewhere. That's when the game got interesting.

My three choices changed every time I played. Today I would pick piano music, hard drive, and gender studies videos.

Like the tiny green buds breaking out all over town, your personality can't help but emerge no matter what the circumstance. Your life has got you all over it. You can box it, bag it, store it, trash it, or put it out on the curb -- your personality will find its way back. Every time.

When people ask me why I moved to Yellow Springs, I tell them I was one of three feminists living in an ultraconservative suburb of Chicago. I moved here completely by myself, not knowing anyone, in search of a better fit. With one foot in Illinois and one foot in Ohio, I've been straddling Indiana for four months and it's getting quite uncomfortable. The decision to go through with this move is not with the clear-cut confidence I had anticipated. It's more like a hunch.

I have a hunch that Yellow Springs will be a better fit. I'm sending for my furniture.

published May 29, 2003, in the Yellow Springs News.