As some of you know, I recently moved from my beloved Pacific Northwest to my beloved in Texas. My move has closely coincided with the release of my new book Wingspan, and I’m celebrating both this month. I’m excited to be in a beautiful home with a huge state to explore, new friends to make, and new experiences to…well, to experience. But (again, as most of you probably know), I have a difficult time with change, even positive change. Moving was stressful, made more so by the continual fiascoes along the way.
Over the course of several weeks, I made the drive from Washington to Texas, back to Washington, and back to Texas. If you’re interested in hearing more about those trips, including the, um, interesting story of the night I spent in a hotel room with two goats, please visit my blog: http://kariswalsh.wordpress.com/ For now, though, let me tell you about the fun I had getting my belongings to my new home. The process of packing, decluttering, donating, and transporting was a good lesson in what stuff means to me. What could I part with? What few precious things did I pack in my car instead of shipping? What really mattered to me?
I—rather foolishly—thought it would be easier to ship my things in a U-Haul crate instead of driving a moving van and towing my car. I should have been warned when the moving men had to go to three different U-Haul locations before they were able to pick up the crate I had reserved weeks before. But, no. I thought that was an isolated incident. Hmm…
With the crate loaded, I packed my dad and my favorite, couldn’t-bear-to-lose items in my car and drove to Texas. With only a suitcase full of clothes and a travel case of toiletries, I figured I’d live like a hobo for a few days before the rest of my things arrived. But it was a couple of weeks before an e-mail informed me that my crate was in town and that I would receive a call from the local U-Haul w/in 24 hours to set up delivery to my house. No call. So I called them, twice. No return call. (I never did find a telephone number that went directly to the location where my crate was—I always had to go through a non-local dispatch center. These people are as protected as the president during an international crisis.) I finally was told they wouldn’t deliver it as planned—I would have to rent a truck and do it myself. Here’s what followed when I arrived:
ME (at 9 a.m.): Hello, I reserved a truck and trailer to haul my U-box.
The clerk (after clicking away on his keyboard for ten minutes, in sloooow motion) found my reservation, told me the truck was due back at 2:30, and quoted me what sounded like a very low price.
ME: Does that include the trailer for hauling my U-box?
CLERK: You need a U-box? Let me make sure we have a trailer for that. (He goes outside and walks around the building before coming back and clicking some more). Yes, we have a U-box and trailer ready to go.
ME: Is it my U-box?
CLERK: No, it’s an empty one.
ME: I’d rather have the one with my belongings in it.
CLERK: Oh, you already have one filled? (Some more clicks, some paperwork to sign, and he hands me a key.) Do you mind bringing the truck back here at 2 to pick up your U-box?
CLERK: That’s when the manager will be here. He’s the only one who can drive the forklift and put your crate on a trailer.
ME: (sigh) Why would I want to rent a truck for the day if I can’t get my crate until this afternoon?
Let’s zoom ahead here. Past me leaving in my own car and returning in the afternoon to learn (from the four people working there, none of whom was qualified to drive a forklift) that the manager had something else to do and wasn’t coming to work that day. Past me asking how difficult it was to become qualified to drive the forklift (one button for up, one for down. How long does it take to master that?). Past them telling me that to come back at nine the next morning, and that my crate would be ready to go.
So, we arrived at nine. And sat on the car bumper to watch the manager (in flip-flops and pajama bottoms—were they recommended in his forklift safety course?) spend—no lie—two hours getting my crate. He set out cones in a small square, moved EVERY U-box in the warehouse because mine was on the bottom in the back, hauled an empty crate off a trailer, and loaded mine on the trailer. Then—as a crowning touch—he spent fifteen minutes using the forklift to put a bright orange drapery over the crate so I’d be a moving advertisement for the company. It said, in huge letters, “Making your move easier…” Really? It took us less time to drive the crate home, unpack everything and move it into the house, and drive truck and trailer back to the store.
All told, my belongings were held hostage in my new town for almost two weeks. After the first few days, I was expecting to start receiving ransom notes, the words pieced together from what I’d written on my boxes. “Send cash, or we’re getting out the box cutter!” I felt like a hostage as well. I felt transient, unsettled, not quite myself without my things.
Kendall Pearson, one of the characters in Wingspan, is held hostage, too, but by her desire to fit in. A painful past keeps her from being able to be openly and completely herself. She hides behind a safe job, conventional clothes, and carefully controlled speech. But the things she can’t resist—like her classic Corvette, her secret architectural drawings, and the wild piece of land she buys—scream who she is even though she tries to stifle her personality. She has to learn to embrace these outward reflections of her inner character and desires.
So…I have my belongings around me again. I still haven’t completed the chore of unpacking boxes, but my things are here, and it feels good. Am I defined by them? No. Could I survive intact even if they were gone? Of course. But my stuff—my books, my instruments and music, my kitchen gadgets, my stacks of sticky notes—reveals who I am. I got rid of a lot of the excess and kept what mattered, what was really me. Finally, I can feel settled.