Make a Move: Relocation, Community, and Anne Shirley

 

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Goodbye, beautiful cupboards

Though it doesn’t look like much from the outside, the home I’m about to leave is gorgeous inside. Rich wood in the kitchen, a pretty retro sink. High ceilings. A counter with room for two wooden stools. Space for miles.

I didn’t expect to feel much about this place. It was a wayside, a layover, and only for a moment did it seem like a long-term possibility. Mostly, I’m ready for the relief of being at home in a larger sense—the Pacific Ocean, the homeland, a better cultural fit.

Recently, K and I held a yard sale in an attempt to divest ourselves of some of the belongings we simply can’t take with us. We sifted through objects large and small and hauled them to the front yard.

At first, very few came. A pair of new friends from the university dropped by, picked up a few books, and kept us company for a while. Cars slowed and drivers surveyed our offerings with their eyes, but found nothing to merit stopping.

Then, in the late afternoon, something shifted. Two men with beards, wearing suspenders and work clothes, bought a bag of cassette tapes and a coffee maker, respectively. A young couple from across the street looked earnestly at the essentials on view, disappeared into their home, and came out with enough cash for a blender, coffee table, and shower caddy. An older woman from next door wandered over with her therapy dog, Gizmo, a short-haired Shih Tzu wearing a blue bandana. The woman bought a pink-elephant piggy bank and a container of miniature clothespins.

Out of the woodwork, slowly, a community emerged.

 

As rain started sprinkling and we began packing up, an adorably odd woman with a motherly companion dug through our books and exclaimed at the cuteness of the few stuffed animals. She asked if we had any romance novels and told us she collects all things lobster-related. “You’re not going to have this yard sale anymore?” she asked, a hint of wistful urgency in her voice.

Later that night, we went out for drinks with the friends who’d stopped by earlier. We chatted away, comparing disparate yet parallel childhoods and taking suggestions for our upcoming road trip. At the end of the night, my friend asked “Why didn’t we do this a year ago?” And she was right to ask, because we should have. Of course there are reasons we didn’t all happen to get to know each other earlier. And we’ve had some time. But we’ve lost more.

Places—especially those I’m not particularly enamored with, the kind of places I didn’t choose for their own sake but was drawn to for other reasons—often seem loveliest to me right before I leave. As I set my sights on a new direction, I relax. I don’t have anything to lose, and suddenly I see all that I could have gained in this place I’m leaving. I could have smiled at my neighbors more often, developed deeper friendships. I could have made more of an effort to reach outside of myself.

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I don’t regret the fact that I am leaving. But I want to learn from this experience, so that next time, I take more chances, and develop stronger relationships. It’s easy to let myself become isolated, and time alone is important, but we all need community, no matter how short-lived. Significant others play a role, colleagues play a role, friends play roles. And I’m finally beginning to see, though it’s been a bit slow to register with me, that maybe neighbors do, too. That maybe sometimes, it’s O.K. to talk to strangers.

This will be one of goals for my new community—to talk to my neighbors, to consciously develop the seemingly minor relationships that are easy to overlook. To—yes—make small talk.

I’ve been thinking about self-improvement lately. I’m inspired by blogger Miss Xandra Bee’s new project, Heroine Training, which focuses on taking steps to become your own heroine (her first lesson is about writing in a journal). She takes inspiration from favorite fictional characters and has an enchanting and optimistic style.

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I’ve been rereading Anne of Green Gables, and I have to say that while Anne Shirley does offend some people she comes into contact with, she always makes an impression, often winning over new acquaintances with her willingness to lend a helping hand or share her wildly imaginative thoughts. She’s not perfect, and she’s very different from me, but there’s a basic spirit of showing up and being herself that I’d like to live up to. And she makes a difference—I just reread the part where she cares for Diana’s little sister Minnie May, who falls ill when Mr. and Mrs. Barry are away. Though Anne’s head is often in the clouds, she is calm and focused in the face of adversity.

What do you think? What are your thoughts about being a neighbor and part of a community? Who—fictional or otherwise—inspires you?

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8 thoughts on “Make a Move: Relocation, Community, and Anne Shirley

  1. Great post! I know my neighbors and sometimes say hello to them, but I often wished I lived in a community that felt more like a community, where you shared pie and sat outside talking in the dusk. Good luck on your move!

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    • Thanks! Yeah, some of my neighbors do sit outside talking till dusk, and sharing pie definitely sounds like something Anne Shirley’s neighbors would do. I think it’s been hard for me to find a good and comfortable way of interacting with neighbors, because I come from a place where everyone lives pretty separately, and connections are formed at work or school rather than in the neighborhood. My mom is an exception, because she always reaches out to neighbors and strangers, but growing up, I found that so embarrassing! Now I feel like I can understand it more.

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      • I totally know what you mean! My mom is always so friendly with our neighbors but I often hesitate to exchange more than pleasantries. I guess it could be because most of them are much older than I am and so I feel awkward trying to relate. I should reread Anne of Green Gables one of these days! I remember enjoying it the first time around.

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  2. Your kitchen is (was) so beautiful and full of character! Same with your writing — this post was a joy to read!
    I always feel reflective when moving out of a place, and you articulated it so well: “suddenly I see all that I could have gained in this place I’m leaving” (but, indeed, not in a regretful way). I remember feeling that way when I moved out of my very first apartment.
    And when my husband and I moved out of our last place, I had been perfectly happy there, and I really didn’t feel compelled to move. It also felt like a layover sort of place, but it had been a quiet, sheltered haven, which was much needed after the place before. Our new place would offer more space and autonomy, but the place we were leaving would always be a healing, peaceful shelter.
    But now we’ve been in the “new” place 6 years, and it has been the best dwelling yet — not because it’s perfect (I admit I daydream of a bigger area for sharing meals and a landscaped backyard) — but because we know our neighbors well, we feel like part of a community, we participate in our block and feel safe, we finally feel like residents of our town, and we are treated like we belong here.
    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to reflect on this: I’m truly grateful for where we live now. I wish you a smooth move and transition, and I hope your new place offers you the community you yearn for, small talk and all!
    (Sorry for such a long babble!)

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    • I’m glad you were able to relate to the feeling! And it’s nice to hear what it was like for you to move on and then settle down in a more permanent place. I hope I can be as lucky!

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  3. Aw, I love this. I had a similar experience when I had a moving/yard sale before a cross-country move three years ago. All of these friendly neighbors appeared that I had never met before! One neighbor chatted for twenty minutes and came back a while later with a pitcher of cold lemonade. Amazing! So, I think your goal is great. It just takes a little effort. :]

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