On Moving

We are moving once again. This will be the 23rd time we have moved to a new residence since graduate school days and I am hoping most fervently that it will be the last. Dream on, Richard.

We move, I move, because it is one of the pleasantries of academic life—a sabbatical here, a visiting professorship there. And then again we move, I move, because of the restlessness that I cannot escape, wandering from town to town, from neighborhood to neighborhood in search of I know not what.

This has to be the craziest move of them all. How else to look upon it? From our current rental overlooking beautiful downtown Portland, we are moving to the very same unit one floor below—same view, same floor plan, same everything, only now contrary to my irrefutable arguments, we will own the place rather than rent it. So much for my powers of persuasion

I search for writers who have written about moving. What did Emerson have to say? What about Montaigne—he had something to say about everything? But no, neither has written even a snippet about the matter as far as I can tell.

But Lawrence did: We make a mistake forsaking England and moving out into the periphery of life. After all, Taormina, Ceylon, Africa, America -- as far as we go, they are only the negation of what we ourselves stand for and are: and we're rather like Jonahs running away from the place we belong.

A friend who has recently moved writes: I am not ashamed to admit that when I go back to Atherton, I am homesick. I first saw Atherton when I was 10 years old when my parents went to visit the Walkers who had owned the lumber company in Westwood…and still think of it as my "Eden."

I surely don’t feel this way about our current move. Portland has never been my Eden and I have never felt the least bit like Lawrence, never felt I belonged in Portland. Other places have felt more like home, but they are far away and English is not spoken there, both of which have always been problems for my best beloved.

Andre Aciman writes more perceptively than anyone I know about the larger meanings of these journeys, journeys across the seas or just down the block. In A Literary Pilgrim Progresses to the Past he admits, I may write about place and displacement, but what I'm really writing about is dispersion, evasion, ambivalence: not so much a subject as a move in everything I write.

I may write about little parks in New York that remind me of Rome and about tiny squares in Paris that remind me of New York, and about so many spots in the world that will ultimately take me back to Alexandria. But this crisscrossed trajectory is simply my way of showing how scattered and divided I am about everything else in life.

And a little later in the same article he continues, Ambivalence and dispersion run so deep that I don't know whether I like the place I've chosen to call my home, any more than I know whether I like the writer or even the person I am when no one's looking. And yet the very act of writing has become my way of finding a space and of building a home for myself, my way of taking a shapeless, marshy world and firming it up with paper, the way the Venetians firm up eroded land by driving wooden piles into it.

So like Aciman, I write a bit about this move, playing “musical-condos” if you will, because it is one of the ways I have to make note of writers who express the follies of my life.