In Transition

There I was, in the Portland Airport stocking up on healthy (chocolate) snacks for my red-eye flight back to DC. Late on a Saturday night, the concourse wasn’t exactly humming with activity. The lady who rang me up was friendly, and asked about where I was headed and how my time in Oregon had gone. Because nobody else was in the shop, I asked her, “So how are things going with you?”

Writers do this. We invite complete strangers to confide in us.

She looked at me like, “I’m going to answer honestly even if you were only being polite,” and told me she and her hubby had just made the decision to buy land near a town up along the Columbia River gorge. She was a-quiver with both joy and anxiety, because this step involved leaving a happy situation for a potentially happier one–some loss, but also many dreams germinating. I Do Not Sleep on Airplanes, so I had a lot of time to consider this little exchange.

I thought about life transitions, and how I tend go about them. I’m struck by how SLOWLY I make most changes. It took me three years to get free of the practice of law after it became clear my services were no longer needed by the State of Maryland. When my former spouse proposed, we had a year-long engagement…. just because. When I started writing novels, it was–again–years between “I’ve written a book!”and “Maybe I could get this thing published?”

My style with a big change is cautious and noncommittal, which contrasts with my oldest sister’s approach. Once that lady makes up her mind, STAND BACK. She focuses on what has to be done to get from point A to point B, and knocks out that list boom-boom-boom. I have the same list, but I’ll take care of one or two items at a time while sticking to my general routine.

This topic is likely on my mind because several family members have lately asked, “When are you going to get the heck out of Maryland?” My daughter left thirteen years ago and has come back three times (once to look at a sale horses). I no longer practice law such that admission to the bar matters, I can write books anywhere. What is keeping me here, where I have no family, no job ties, and my house is approaching the money pit stage?

I will continue to visit Oregon (and the Portland Rose Test Garden), trying to hit every season as I do, and nosing around for areas where I feel at home. I will continue to whittle away at my property’s feral cat challenge, and I will continue to debride my house of the stuff that magically accumulates after three decades in the same location. But I’m probably not going anywhere soon. Probably.

How do you change course? How do you know a major change is coming up, and have you ever pulled one off particularly well (or not well)? To one commenter, I’ll send a copy of the RITA-award winning Duke in the Night by writin’ buddy and all around lovely person Kelly Bowen.

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27 comments on “In Transition

  1. 1
    Brenda U K says:

    Many years ago(25)to be exact I put a question to my husband that resulted in the end of our marriage.That question was”how can we accept the invitation of his parents to pay for a big family party to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary when the state of our marriage was not good.The kids had grown and flown the nest.He wanted to go ahead and pretend,I would not.We were not happy with each other and often when I tried to talk to him he would go into a rage.We got nowhere.So in the end we told the family,they were all shocked and upset,but I could not live a lie.Many years later I often think starting over was a big risk and so many things could have gone wrong but I worked hard and now have a wonderful retired life in my own apartment by the sea.With family and friends.Sometimes a major change forces us to take a risk and go in a certain direction.Life is a roller coaster.Hold on tight and be true to yourself.For me it is the only way.

    • 1.1
      Grace Burrowes says:

      Wow, an example of a big change that probably smouldered for a long time, then burst into a bonfire, at least on your end. He might see it differently, but that party could have created a “no turning back” sense of obligation.”They went and spent all that money just last year, how do I tell them we’re getting divorced now?”
      Took a lot of courage to stick to your guns, Brenda. I admire you for that!

  2. 2
    Mary T says:

    This post really struck a nerve with me. I dither a lot. I too, am slow to make changes.

    Ever since I retired over ten years ago, I have been trying to declutter my house. I’m not a hoarder, but I do tend to hang on to things as long as I have room to store them. When I clean things out by myself, I usually discard very little.

    But I have found the answer – my younger sister. She is the opposite of me – a real no-nonsense kind of gal. We recently cleaned out my linen closet. Had I been doing it by myself, very little would have gone away. She would hold up an item and ask me if I really needed it. If I didn’t answer right away she would throw it in the Goodwill bag. We filled a couple of bags for charity and threw away a bunch of stuff.

    It seemed so odd to me that I could not do that myself, but didn’t mind a bit when she did it (smile).

    • 2.1
      Grace Burrowes says:

      I think our sisters would get along well. When it came time to clean out the house Mom and Dad had lived in for forty years, my oldest sister very nearly back up a truck and dumped the house sideways into it. I was amazed at her organization, energy, and determination. I’d still be staring at the closet too.

  3. 3
    Teenie Marie says:

    I’ve mentioned here before I have a son with autism. Changes and transitions are VERY difficult for people with autism. So I have spent quite a bit of his life easing the way as changes come at him,as they inevitably do.

    Most of the time, changes/transitions will be unavoidable such as the brand of shampoo he’s used for ten years is no longer available (I bought a similar brand, in a similar looking bottle–BOOM, no problem). But sometimes, they will be subtle, like a new refrigerator which is not like the old one AT ALL. Both instances were changes I could not help and he looked at me like *how could you* and then things were fine.

    But changes–those known and planned–he has to be prepared for. We get ready to take him somewhere–to the doctor or on vacation–and we talk about them for several days. *We’re going to see Dr. George tomorrow. You like Dr. George, he has a fish tank in his waiting room,remember?* Or, *you have a haircut with Erin after lunch–I bet you’ll look GREAT!* Anything which disrupts the normal rhythm of his days has to be dealt with, or there will be heck to pay.

    There are changes which happen in life which can’t be helped or eased or prepared for and for those, we have a bag of *tricks* we drag out. Sometimes, it’s a *nothing burger* and sometimes, it is difficult for him–and for us–to get him through.

    I mention Russell because we ALL have problems with transitions in life and we try to buck up, to power through, even if we WANT the change. Russell’s difficulties are honest and predictable and sometimes, I think his transparency and displeasure is better than our *let’s get through this* attitude.

    I never thought about transitions and changes to this degree before having a child with autism. Now I plan and prepare for my own transitions if at all possible so I can ease into them–that’s the best way, I’ve found.

    • 3.1
      Grace Burrowes says:

      One of my friends with an autistic son MUST shop the grocery store in the same S pattern every time. Doesn’t matter if she’s only running in there for a jug of milk, she MUST travel every aisle in the same direction to get to the dairy case or PeeWee does into DefCon 1 meltdown.
      What amazes me about this is that she figured out what was causing the meltdowns. I am so unaware of many of my own patterns, I would never have figured this out.
      I have wondered, though, whether the whole Mercury in Retrograde think isn’t because most of us a more aware of patterns than we think we are. We–as you say–just get through the day.

  4. 4
    Beth says:

    I’m more a see in a moment what has to be done, then implement the steps necessary to make it happen person. But then I’ve never had the luxury of time to deliberate from an early age, so I suspect the uncertainty of the universe imprinted on me at an early age.

    This helps me survive. I watched my pittance get slashed to nothing & saw immediately I could not afford my paid for house in a city that decided to hike taxes, utilities, & crime while pensions melted away. I hied me to the internet, did my research, found a realtor & now I live in a cheaper to maintain brand new house in a state with no income tax/low property taxes on a lake teeming with wildlife that might steal a tomato, but certainly doesn’t try to lever open my bedroom window while I’m standing there with my phone in my hand. I can afford to pay my electric bill & have delightful neighbors who cut my grass for a fifth of what I was paying a big commercial firm

    Ask yourself if you can afford your habits? What’s your quality of life? Give yourself time to think it over, but don’t freeze in the face of the tsunami if your old life isn’t working for you anymore. Sometimes there’s better waiting for you if you look around to find it.

    • 4.1
      Pam says:

      Beth, you are awesome.

    • 4.2
      Grace Burrowes says:

      Lots of wise words there, and half the time the better IS waiting, but I have to be able to see it and move toward it. I do like a lot of what I see in Oregon, though the wild fires… not so much.

  5. 5
    Susan G says:

    I have been thinking the same thing- where do I want to retire?if we move— Do I want to make new friends? Figure out the neighbors?

    I come back to my home. Yes, it’s a house but I have so many memories here. My husband wants to stay & we are working on our house to do list to appease my idea of downsizing.

    I love my neighborhood and the peace & quiet my property provides- there are some benefits to private roads. The 5 day commute to & from work will end at some point

    I sorted through some tubs in the basement last fall & donated a lot of clothes. I am going through my closet and bureau now & I really wonder why I saved some of these clothes!

    I don’t need to make any changes just yet. I think I will know when it’s right to make a move. I feel better that I have gone through my closets. The garage and basement are next- guess I am happy to visit people but my heart is happy here with my family & corgis.

    • 5.1
      Grace Burrowes says:

      I’m with Jane Austen on this one–staying home is the best fun! Whether I leave this house, rent it out, or stay, I really need to channel some of your tidying-up energy. I keep thinking, “I don’t have a lot of stuff…” but I was teleported to Scotland in the year 1745, somebody would have a big job getting this house on the market.

  6. 6
    Pam says:

    Major life changes. Hmmm. I’ve faced two recently. One is my increasing physical limitations and I’ve worked through all the stages on that and am at benign acceptance and embracing accommodations when possible. For example, I have learned that I no longer drive after dark except on roads that I am very familiar with.

    After my 62th birthday, I find myself really, really, really wanting to retire. I just spent a week at home, and the only downside was being around my family more as I have an unhappy twenty-something still at home. I am sure every parent here knows how that is. I will try my best to stay until May 2020 as I have committed to, but I won’t miss the job, only a few of the people.

    • 6.1
      Pam says:

      I’ve just finished reading all of the comments and want to say that all of you are amazing.

    • 6.2
      Grace Burrowes says:

      Isn’t this a nice bunch of blog buddies?
      I found once I made the decision to quit the day job, the urge to leave grew almost unbearable. Then I had a lot of post-leaving tidying up to do, and making myself step up for those tasks was hard. I was done done done.
      I hope the remaining months go quickly and easily for you, and the grumpy kid has moved out before you finish up. I’m lucky in that regard. The kid was never grumpy, and she flew the coop at 17 and never came back.

  7. 7
    Lynn says:

    Your post is so relevant as to where I am in my life. We downsized our business in 2018 and have been trying to de-clutter our house.We have not been happy here as we are liberals living in a very beautiful but conservative area. In 2016 we left our Church due to political and racist comments. To compensate we have bought things and now we have a very cluttered house.We have been holding on to “things” even though we would be much happier living someplace else. Our dream has been to move cross country to the Pacific Northwest where it will be much cooler and hopefully more liberal. We have visited the Pacific Northwest in all seasons and even managed to have fun while living through a snowstorm. I am hoping that a trip out there to look for housing and see about doctors and facilities that accept medicare will “light a fire” under us and get us moving. We are planning to rent for a year to see if we can live with the long gray winters. We need to de-clutter first and get our house on the market. If any of you have any words of wisdom about de-cluttering I would love to hear your advice. I have read the books but that has not helped. It is definitely time to move on to the next phase of our lives.

    • 7.1
      Grace Burrowes says:

      I like the idea of renting for a year to get the lay of the land. I was surprised when my son-in-law told me that, no, actually, Oregon is not liberal.PORTLAND is liberal, and the rest of the countryside…. Well, I will see a lot of Confederate flags at the rodeo, was how he put it. Oregon was notorious for its sundown towns, and apparently still has some backwardness to overcome. (Don’t we all?)
      I can’t afford to live in Portland, so I will have to choose my landing strip carefully.

      • 7.1.1
        Marianne says:

        In Washington they call it “the Cascade (mountain range) Curtain, that separates the liberals and the conservatives.

      • 7.1.2
        Lynn says:

        I think both Oregon and Washington have their share of right wing nuts. We are hoping for some place along the ocean between Portland and Seattle as both cities are very expensive. We love the Oregon coast but Oregon has very high income taxes. I would rather have a sales tax as we buy a lot less now that we are older. I would love this discussion again next year about this time. Hopefully by then we will have transitioned to someplace else wherever that may be.

    • 7.2
      Bri Adams says:

      Lynn, if you haven’t seen Clutter Clarity on YouTube, I think you will find her both helpful and very comforting on getting through this challenge.

  8. 8
    Marianne says:

    It’s a joke in my family that deciding what to eat for supper may well take until breakfast.

    My husband & I are at the “do we downsize?” stage. My mother is past it. Until she truly doesn’t know where she is, she’d better stay put. Both kids are wondering if a change of venue would change their lives.

    I really appreciate Beth’s comments. There were good reasons to go, she chose well when she went and I expect she’s still Beth, just not as stressed.

    In the meantime, we may have cold cereal for supper.

    • 8.1
      Grace Burrowes says:

      I know my daughter had to get the heck out Cow Plop, Maryland. There is no four-year college here, nothing in the way of white collar work except the education system, the hospital, and the Volvo plant. One of the largest employers in this county is… the prison complex.
      For her, getting shut of this place made a lot of sense. For me, there’s no real reason to go, but not many reasons to stay either. Gives me something to think about.

  9. 9
    Jane Buser says:

    I continue to enjoy your novels and look forward to the next kne. I particularly like ypur.modern day books, have read them all and wondered if a new modern series is in your furfure?
    Thanks for many hours of escape into your novels. Jane Buser

    • 9.1
      Grace Burrowes says:

      Jean, I like writing those contemporaries–they are a nice change of pace–but they just don’t sell all that well. I was SURE kilted laddies were the Next Big Contemporary Thing. Maybe I’m five years ahead of the curve or something, because those book did not fly off the shelves.

      That said, I’m heading to Scotland and Ireland this fall. Trips like that ALWAYS get my imagination revving on more stories, so who knows!

  10. 10
    Edith Barrett says:

    I could be your sister from another mother. I live in the a house 2 doors from where I grew up and it is FULL of too much memorabilia and things that someone must be able to use. The house is too big, but I feel comfortable here and my husband of 42 years likes me being calm and happy/not crazy and loud. You books bring me such pleasure and I research some of the occupations or things (ie. Merino sheep) that are brought up in the books. I especially love the family associations and am thrilled to read a book a 2nd time and catch a glimpse of someone I didn’t notice the first time around. Getting to the object of this exercise, I have found, much like your characters, a forced march or sudden occurrence that seems uncontrollable sends me in the trajectory of change more than any studying of the problem on my own part. I’m just too comfortable and don’t want the pain part of change, even if the end result would be better in the long run. FEAR raises its ugly head and I fold. Schedule an Estate Sale or something of that magnitude and after the painful parting of your “stuff”, a move to a climate, or country, or destination you’ve been dreaming about could just become a reality. I only wish you the best because your characters are my friends and therefore, so are you. I love my friends and hope their every wish comes true.

  11. 11
    Vicki says:

    At the end of the month, I’m returning to live in my home state after being gone for 50 years. In our interconnected, commerce-driven society, the likelihood is, I’ll be able to find anything I need in my new location. Yet, I find myself stocking up on my most treasured items from my thrift store haunts—books by favorite authors and one of a kind (to me) necklaces, earrings, and colorful tops that shout my name—as though I’ll never again have the possibility to find what most expresses me. The truth, of course, is, I don’t know all I’ll find. What I do know is family circumstances need me, a Liberal, to move back to a Conservative state with Conservative relatives, and the prospect makes me quiver. Who, among all those I know (and have kept at bay through 50 years of Thanksgiving dinners), and who I will come to know, will truly want to know the me I’ve become? How can I live the truth of values so dear to my heart without antagonizing those I love or hope to know? How can I find my tribe in a land whose remembered reality is so long ago and far away? I have no answers, yet; just the knowledge that a part of me shrinks at what lies ahead. I am too old to start over, my heart cries! You’re not starting over, my soul responds. You’re returning with all your wisdom, knowledge, skills and abilities ready to go. How much more is that than the bland naïveté with which you left! So, I arm myself outwardly with books—my constant friends wherever I go—and my jewelry and tops that consistently project the warmth and color my introverted nature sometimes lacks. (Smiling at what I see in the mirror will make a difference whenever I feel I’d most like to turn around and walk away. I’m sure of it.). And I arm myself inwardly with, yes, all I’ve become. I’ve six horses for my Conestoga, and it’s waiting outside. I’ve made sure my shots are up to date and, most reluctantly, have said good-bye to my long-time hairdresser. (If I should end up scalped, at least I’ll be in top condition!). How do I approach big change? Obviously, arming myself as best I know how, and remembering: I normally only quiver when I write.

  12. 12
    Kate says:

    In search of an update on coming attractions (new books from a favorite author) I stumbled upon this blog post. I am a native Washingtonian who spends a lot of my vacation time on the Oregon coast. The only time I wished I had stayed on the path of being a high powered attorney is so I could afford a beach house on the coast. Alas, I must settle for two weeks and a couple of long weekends each year to get my fix. We live close enough that we will actually go just for lunch and a walk on the beach. I am of the firm belief that people should try to reward themselves with experiences over buying things. (Books count as experiences).

    In my family I am the one who finds it easy to get rid of stuff. I have large family and someone is always in need of whatever I want to shed. Win/win. About the only thing that I hesitate to make a quick decision about is color … as in what color to paint the house? What color of carpet? I tend to dither and it does take me quite some time to decide.

    As for Grace’s contemporary novels, I did enjoy reading about those Scottish, kilt wearing lads. And having family in Montana, I want to know why I never met a tall, kilt wearing lad with a killer bod, devastating smile and a charming accent.

  13. 13
    Joan says:

    Change – sometimes one gets to “plan”, sometimes one does not; sometimes change comes on a whisper, other times it shouts.
    Case in point: from June to June 2016-17, widowed, I sold our family home, moved, suffered the death of a parent and consequent sale of that family home, bought new home, travelled overseas, moved again. At one point, I had storage lockers in 2 cities and no furniture in the new digs!!
    I learned some interesting and helpful things and the most important was that, for me, as I emptied out each home (nothing like a quick closing to focus the sorting!) each house became less of a home and more of an empty house. And, as I blessed and released the “stuff” that had been “so important”, space opened up in other parts of my life. It wasn’t always easy and there were days of anxiety but the looming closing dates were really helpful goads!!
    And here’s the interesting thing: when I sold our family home, I had NO IDEA where I was going to live! I put belongings in storage, packed the car with essentials, and headed out to try some different places. My husband’s and parent’s deaths pushed me into locations and adventures I could not have managed had I still been living my go-along life in my family home.
    We get one time around on this amazing adventure we call our lives: we have less time here than when we woke up this morning. I’m trying not to waste the gift.