I have to move. AGAIN.
That means I will have moved four times in the past two years, and 11 times in the past ten years. Before that, there were a dozen other moves in early adulthood, including a couple to foreign countries.
I’m getting a tad sick of it.
A few weeks ago I learned that my new landlord is renovating this apartment and I’ll have to move (a Very New York Conundrum, I’ve since learned). I cried for several hours, feeling very sorry for myself, and indulging in greater self-pity by looking around finding different things to mourn: the cabinets, my bedroom window, and the cardinal who comes to the bedroom window.
I moved to this garden unit in a Brooklyn brownstone last year, and filled the stagnant winter days with burrowing into my new home.
Adorning a living space is one of my treasured venues of self-expression, but it also serves a deeper purpose: Creating home is self-parenting. I make a home for myself that is as joyful and safe as I can, a refuge for the insecurities of both inner child and adult.
I designed my current apartment in particular to be a sanctuary of healing and comfort. While making decisions about where to put furniture and decor, I would step outside of my door and re-enter as many times as it took to figure out what felt intuitive for me as I came into the space. Did I want to sit down here or there? Where did my eyes want to go? In short, I decorated how I wanted to feel. This home is special.
Do I say that about every place I’ve lived?
Something I know about myself is that I’m very adaptable. I get attached to new places easily and feel comfortable hopping around different cities without too much strain. But maybe I’m only adaptable because I’ve had to be?
It reminds me of a little monologue I read in a children’s novel called Bloomability, which stuck with me since I was 10:
“I’d heard my mother tell Aunt Sandy, ‘Dinnie will be fine, just fine. She’s very adaptable.’ As I stood there in that busy Zurich train station, I was sorry I was so adaptable, and I promised myself that I was going to stop being adaptable.”
As a kid, this made me rethink my malleable nature. Maybe I’m just flexible because I don’t have any other option. Maybe I never chose to be easygoing. Maybe I’d rather be a little more stubborn.
So, I tried out stubbornness when I learned I’d have to move this month. I complained and fussed, and, very much out-of-character, let my landlord know how upset I was (a sentiment which he was terribly uninterested in).
I showed up for my Spanish class the next day, mopey and irritable, eager to share my plight with anyone who would listen, and Andrea was obligated to spend the next hour with me. She very generously listened as I prattled away about the inconveniences of movers and bins and electric companies and how I JUST got to know my neighbors last month.
During our next lesson, she began, “I’ve been thinking about your move, and I can really relate to all the irritations of moving but choosing to do it anyway. Like you, I long to be a nomad and I long for stability.” Then she shared a song called Movimiento by Jorge Drexler, which is a stirring poem about immigration within the continuum of human existence:
We are a species in transit
We don’t have belongings, we have baggage
We go with the pollen in the wind
We’re alive because we are in movement
I’m not from here, but neither are you
I’m not from here, but neither are you
Not completely from one place and
A little from everywhere
After sharing, she said that she hoped it would give me some encouragement in coming weeks: to remember that to be human is to be in constant motion, in perpetual migration. “Whenever you get stressed about leaving your home, maybe listen to this song,” she suggested, “as something to remind you that you’re not alone…you're joining the adventure.”
Or at least I think that’s what she said.
So I thought about how, to be a person, is to be constantly shifting—with seasons, with work, with health, with romance, with the siren song of sunshine or proximity to water. Those of us who can’t sit still may feel like there’s something wrong with us, but restlessness is how our world erupted in varied languages and cultures and dreams.
We are impeccably evolved to adapt; I’m not the only one who can quickly adjust to a new environment. Billie Eilish gave this interview last year about how “it takes one second to get used to stuff, because that’s what we’re meant to do—to adapt.” She goes on to talk about how time moves through waves; things stop and start and stay in motion all the time, and we end up flowing right along with it. Zen Master Billie?!
Funny thing to note: The things that make us feel most isolated in the moment are the things that connect us directly to the human community. A small move, or massive grief, or everyday failure, might make us feel immediately lonely and separate from our circle of friends who are merrily going about their drama-free lives. But, these are the exact things that secure our place in human history.
So, in listening to this song, I eased into the invitation of feeling more like a human than even before: We are drifting, traveling, ever-changing creatures who have never mastered permanency.
The last line of the song goes:
It’s the same with songs, birds, alphabets:
If you want something to die, keep it still
In addition to being tightly connected with humanity, I also like being connected more deeply to songs, birds, and alphabets. We stop living when we stop moving. In essence, we were built for exactly this.
That’s probably why moving feels so invigorating too. I am so sorrowful to leave the memory-soaked walls of my current apartment and all the little things about my building I love: the crooked mailbox, the wobbly front gate, the hum of the washing machine downstairs that makes me feel like I live in a family home and not an apartment building.
And yet, I feel excited by a change of scenery. I daydream about how my new apartment will restructure my routines and moods. We underestimate the effect of environment on our desires and thoughts; I swear I’m a writer because I grew up in a rainy city.
I wonder how a differently-shaped apartment will disrupt and kick-start my rhythms. Right now, my bathroom is attached to my bedroom, so I can easily get up in the morning to brush my teeth and hop back into bed, burrito-ing myself for another hour. Not so in the new apartment; tooth-brushing will be more of a production and naturally lead me into the sunlit living room. Does this mean I’ll be more energized in the mornings? Seems possible!
I wonder a lot about my new kitchen island: the work I might do there in the evenings, the glasses of wine that will be passed over the counter. Will the surface area inspire bigger drawings or more elaborate cooking projects? Will the close proximity of countertop chairs foster more intimate conversations?
Indeed, I do feel a sense of joining a new adventure as I call up my moving company yet again. “Hi, it’s me, the usual, thanks.”
But for now, I’m in a minor mourning period, and I want to give this home a proper farewell before I shift to the next. As silly as it can feel to grieve over a rental apartment, detaching myself from a place of refuge is sad. I return to a text from my friend Matthias, who once sent me this reply when I confessed that I was devastated to be moving neighborhoods:
“Moving neighborhoods is a BIG deal and I imagine brings up so so so much. Like, deeply introspective, melancholy, holy walks of saying goodbye to familiar friendly buildings and trees,” he said.
That’s it. As much as humans are wired for impermanence, we’re also highly observant and highly sensitive to the small things that fill our days and hearts.
When I think about what brings me happiness in my life, it’s a collection of moments that happen at home: taking off my coat when I get in and seeing my cat’s cheerful ears perk up from behind her curled body, spreading too much butter on seedy bread in the morning while I listen to the gurgle of my coffee maker and a familiar podcast at the same time, returning to my soft safe bed after a day filled with shame, scribbling a thank you note for my neighbors who left out a plate of cookies in the foyer, hearing a friend’s voice through my phone and laughing as I press my back against the protective paws of a velvet armchair, seeing dishes construct a tower in the sink as houseguests enthusiastically gobble up the food that I made earlier that day—greatly anticipating the clinking and clanking and other sounds of life and love around my tiny table.
Like all my homes before it, this one has seen a lot. And, as many times as I’ve had to move, it makes me very, very sad to leave.
A few years ago, I received a wedding invitation in the mail that was addressed to someone else; I assumed it was for the tenant who lived in my apartment before me, and I did some sleuthing to find her so I could send it her way. When we finally connected, she messaged me how much she loved the home she left: “I had the best nights of my life there, learned to cook there, fell in love there, became myself there. I hope it’s as magical for you as it was for me.”
I told her that I KNEW someone wonderful must have lived there before because I could FEEL the walls’ lovely energy. And even people who don’t believe in things like a wall’s lovely energy admit that they can tell when a home has been well-loved. Spaces are made of nature's materials: breathing, expanding, living things. They absorb and emit feelings.
For that reason, I do rituals when moving in and out. I have tremendous respect for the space I enter as a new home, trusting it to protect me. And when I leave, I thank the home and ask it to protect the next person.
My current apartment building was built in 1890, and I often let my mind swim through those years, befriending through time all the people who lived here before. I wonder how many cries and coos these walls have heard, how much pain and celebration people have brought through this door.
With gratitude, I'll pass through this space as others did before me. Maybe some day, someone will wonder if anyone had the best nights of her life here, learned to cook here, fell in love here, became herself here. Future tenant: It was me.