Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the US. As often happens this time of year, I’m in a reflective mood. And sentimental. (Warning: I mix metaphors and use parentheticals a lot when I’m like this.)
I’ve made no secret of the fact that the last two years have been hard for Dale and me. A bad career move leading to a big drop in my confidence level (which was arguably shaky to begin with), Dale and me living apart for 9 months, both of us living out of boxes for 13+ months, financial trouble… it’s been rough. The whole thing just culminated in a very emotionally draining two weeks, which I can only liken to a fever breaking. That is, it was super bad, but I feel like things are turning around, now. (I am knocking on wood as I type that.)
Things turning around
Our house sold, finally. For the first time in a year and a half, I am not panicked about money—our equity paid off the worst of the last year of moving costs and credit card debt. We’re back within sight of zero, which sounds negative or backhanded to say, but zero (or near it) is remarkably good in America today. Zero, with a good income? We’re OK, 👍.
That includes being able to pay the ransom to get the belongings we shipped from Alaska out of storage. I am so excited to see my pots and pans! (I’ve been cooking with a saucepan and two iron skillets for over a year. My bakeware is in better shape, because we sold/donated/replaced some of it over time; the pots & pans were a wedding present, though, and didn’t fit in the Subaru, so I’ve had to wait.) There’s probably lots of other stuff I’ll be super happy to see, but it’s been so long; it’ll be fun to rediscover it all.
Selling the house also means that we no longer feel stretched across the continent. We don’t have taxes to pay, there, and we don’t have the lingering worry that something will happen and we will be forced to get on a last-minute redeye flight to Alaska. There is no longer question about what constitutes our “permanent address,” because we only have one address. (And we got PA licenses recently, so we’re legit.)
I don’t mean to sound relieved to be away from Alaska. That isn’t it, as you’ll see in a moment. But I am relieved to no longer have that responsibility, or debt, hanging over me.
A photo project (subtitle: the stages of grief)
In a move of stunning-but-accidental brilliance—truly, I wish I could claim it was insight and emotional intelligence that led me to do this, but it was not—I chose the last few days to sort all of my photos from 2009 onward. I’ve been meaning to do it for ages; it’s embarrassing for a librarian’s digital assets to be so messy, and it bothered me.
I was horribly depressed on Monday—”little-d depressed,” I call it, because it wasn’t chronic and happened for known reasons—and at the outset of the photo sorting project, I sort of thought I’d make it worse. I risked it because it was a thing I could do that was useful and that I had the energy for.
Honestly, yes, whole swaths of the photos were sad, upsetting, angry-making. Going through the ones from summer 2014 made my stomach hurt, by turns, with guilt, anxiety, and rage. I couldn’t bring myself to keep the photo of my 2014 Christmas tree, because that was such a dark time for me. I noticed I had taken very few photos in Charlottesville, and I kept far fewer. And, throughout the whole process, I watched myself put photo after photo into a folder titled “alaska,” and I grieved for a chapter of Dale’s and my life, closed.
But then the most remarkable thing happened: in the process of curating my photos, I started coming to terms with the last six years. In sorting those photos that went in the “alaska” folder, I watched us discover beautiful places, make friends*, make a home (with lots of help from said friends), and grow up a little more from who we had been. I relived some successful projects—and some not so successful ones. I noticed that the wonder over Alaska’s unique environment never really left me; I had snow and ice photos from every winter, even the last; inlet (and puffin) photos from every trip to Seward; flower photos every summer; and (crappy 🙂) photos of the mountains around town in every season, every year. I tried to photograph every moose and most flocks of ravens. (I wish I were so assiduous in capturing photos of my friends, but I treasure the ones I did get.)
Our Alaska photos tell a great story, one I’m so lucky to have had the chance to live. Going through them, making sure they were labeled and sorted, was soothing to my soul.
And because my most recent photos were all on my phone, the very last thing I did was go through my photos since July. The drive from Alaska looks fun in retrospect, and I can nearly forget how stressed we were for most of it. 😁 We definitely saw and photographed some cool stuff, anyway.
And then I realized that I had to make a new folder, “pittsburgh,” to put some recent, happy photographs into. And as simplistic as it may sound, that was a pretty transformational moment. Yes, a big, fantastic chapter had closed, and it’s fair to say I’ve lived between chapters for many months; but we’re starting a new chapter, in a place where we already have some roots laid down (though they need watering; if you’re a Pittsburgh friend who is reading this, let’s hang out soon?).
And it could be a great chapter, too. Dale likes his job, and it pays well, relative to Pittsburgh’s cost of living. I’ve applied for a job I’d be awesome at, and I think I have a good shot at it. If that job doesn’t work out, I have a pretty great backup plan: splitting my time between contract work and a kind of solo
Hacker School Recurse Center, so I can fill in the skills I want but don’t yet have. I hear there’s a whole slew of retirements coming up at one of the local libraries, so it’s likely I can get back into librarianship soon, assuming I don’t fall in love with contracting. Maybe I can even manage to talk one of the local libraries into making a 25-35 hour/week position, so that I can keep a little extra “life” in my “work-life balance.”
A list of grateful thoughts
This post hasn’t been what I set out to write, although I think I like what it turned into. I still, as is my tradition most years, want to make a list of the things I’m thankful for. As usual, it’s an unordered and incomplete list.
- Tomorrow we’re spending time with friends who are great hosts, great cooks, and great cultivators of friendships. … I don’t know how else to put that. I don’t just like them (though I do, very much); I also like their other friends. It will be a wonderful holiday!
- Dale and I have been together for a decade, married for four years. He is patient and kind, and although I don’t know how he does it, he seems to love me very much, even knowing all of my flaws (probably better than I do). He is a steadying influence, tempering my tendency to be frenetic and impatient and overly goal-oriented. I still have a lot to learn from him.
- I have four birds who are very funny and who seem to be healthy and happy. The oldest has beaten the average for what her lifespan could be, and I am grateful to have the time with her.
- We’re back in Pittsburgh. This is a good town. Until Anchorage, it was the only place I’d ever been homesick for. (Like, crying during that Batman movie that was filmed here, homesick.) Dale and I met and fell in love here, and this is the second time we’ve come back. I think this might be home.
- I covered this above, but we’re OK, financially. I am so thankful that that’s the case.
- I’m also grateful for friends, new and old, near and far. There are so many people I love and so many who love me. The sadness of missing far off friends is always there, but it’s cushioned by warm feelings. I wouldn’t trade those friendships for anything. Plus, lots of excuses to travel and hopefully get visitors, right?
- This is a little meta, but I am glad that I can find comfort in the holidays. I know they’re hard for a lot of people—they’ve been hard for me, in the past. I’m glad that I like Christmas carols and colored lights and the smell of cinnamon. The boost that I get from the trappings of the holiday season (after Halloween, anyway) helps make winter a lot more pleasant for me.
Things are better for us than they have been in ages. I have finally started to let go of some of the negative feelings I’ve built up in the last two years and to let myself hope and plan. I have a lot to be thankful for.
* Something maybe nowhere else does as well as Alaska: giving time and space and assistance to new folks, so that they have a chance to establish a community/support network for themselves. The South could learn a lot about hospitality from America’s northernmost state. (Yeah, I went there. I’m originally from VA, though, so I can say that.)