February 18, 2014

New is hard. Is it better?

As we continue to settle in to our new home in Oakland, I can’t help looking at every other meadow and wondering if it might be greener.

I thought a lot about this on my drive home tonight -- and about how change tends to break open pieces of life that we had taken for granted, even the parts that weren’t meant to change. Even harder than change, really, is that side effect -- of having what we had taken to be the reality of our lives shown, in a new light, as something quite different.

There were a lot of pastures to look at as I rode through the East Bay towns of Fremont, Newark, Union City. In the morning, it’s easy to look at these suburbs wholesale as places of endless potential. When the sun is coming up and the streets are empty except for the hundreds of cars in commute mode, there’s a blank canvas over each house, corner store and park on which you can paint all manner of happy stories.

At night, however, more people are out and about -- and I have more time and brain space to observe them. It’s clearer then that there are still neighborhoods with poverty, with hard knocks, with people just trying to make ends meet -- even close to large, gated communities. Some cars are old, dented, missing pieces and parts. Some homes have messy yards, falling-down fences. 

In short, there’s a range -- just like there is in Oakland. 

At first, as always, the temptation is to harken back to San Francisco and to muse that things are so different there. But it’s not true. San Francisco is an incredibly beautiful city, but it’s still got its struggles. Over time, living there -- right or wrong -- I took in those things that were uncomfortable and grew accustomed to them: the trash that always seemed to gather on a sidewalk where I ran, the graffiti that often appeared on the street just outside our apartment, the heartache at seeing the homeless camped in doorways at night.

Is San Francisco a greener pasture than Oakland? Is homeownership a greener pasture than renting? Is not commuting a better life than commuting? Is it better to keep what you have or to strive for more?

I was probably spurred on in my brooding tonight by an NPR interview with Meg Wolitzer, who was discussing her book “The Interestings,” a novel that begins at a summer camp and follows the characters as they grow older. In the interview, “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross asked Wolitzer if she sees “adult selves as being finalized with no chance for reinvention?”

Part of Wolitzer’s answer hit home:
I think that it's harder and harder to change in all kinds of ways as we get older, at least it is for me. Comfort and familiarity become so important in your life, I think, and the idea of really reinventing yourself, I mean - but I think - is tough.
Change is hard. New is hard. I think I’m still a young woman, but I do love comfort and familiarity, as much as I hate to admit it.

Bits and pieces of my “new” are becoming comfortable, like the window next to my spot on the couch, with its view right into a big, old rhododendron bush. At night, the light from my lamp shines just so into the leaves and blossoms, and I feel at home. But much of living here is still new, with routines and habits still to be worked out.

Is the pasture green here? Is it greener than before?

Ask me again when it’s a little more familiar.