August 21, 2012

The Power of Place

Well. I’m glad we got that out of the way. I don’t have much more to say about any of it now except thank you: for explaing the ways in which you feel the same way, for offering solutions, and for laying the support on thick. I am so grateful for the community here. A few of you have written to ask if I’m quitting. I’m so not quitting. I’m just trying to figure out the new world order that feels right and fun and creative and awesome. That’s why I’m calling them growing pains. But now that the slate’s been wiped clean to some extent, let’s try for it. As cheerleaders say: Ready? OK!

I’ve moved two states north for the last half of August to be near my sister and new niece. It’s an entirely different pace here in a valley of rural Massachusetts. This is the view from my desk.

All day a very busy squirrel hauls crab apples to and fro across the side yard. A neighborhood cat, whose name we learned is Walter, purrs past the french doors in the mornings in hopes of a saucer of cream or a dish of cat food or a kind, unhurried person who will let him lean into your legs and wind his way around you in a figure eight. There is a small ornamental pond on the patio with lily pads and tiny little frogs (trite but true!). The first night we were here, I mistook the loud rhythmic cricket sounds for the alarm on my iPhone (sad but true!). We leave the windows open at night to hear all those summer bugs and birds and wake to an apartment that’s turned cool overnight. In bare feet, I walk yesterday’s coffee grounds out to the compost pile over wet grass. The air, if this makes sense, is humectant but not humid. It smells green, like dirt and thriving plants. I have seen more butterflies in the past week than I’ve seen in the past thirty years.

It’s all quite a departure from Brooklyn life, where trucks and traffic rumble beneath my second floor apartment windows. There, after work, I head to the spin bike at the gym or out for a cocktail with a friend. Here, after work, I head to a bike path.

I like it better in some ways. It’s no easy task to shrug off the work day and connect with who we are outside of emails and conference calls. But when I ride down a side street that dead-ends at a bike path traveling through two little villages under a canopy of trees, it’s easier to see the line between work and all the rest of life. Last night I pumped hard uphill. An older woman with her dog grinned at me, like my-isn’t-she-having-fun. And I was. Am. This evening I plan to ride to the Tuesday farmer’s market where there might be a jug band and will certainly be flowers to replace last week’s wilting bouquets, tomatoes for sandwiches, and basil for everything. Zoom I’m at the farmer’s market. Zoom I’m on the bike path cutting through the woods. Zoom I’m at my sister’s holding my new niece, touching her tiny little feet and burying my nose in her fat belly. It’s easy.

I’ve always been interested in the ways place can inform lifestyle. How much a culture values community, leisure, food, or health seeps into the day-to-day. I feel it here especially, where the shifts in the hours that book-end work feel profound (see: natural world rhapsody above.)

How do you transition from the work day to your evenings? Is there a ritual or routine you especially love? Are those rituals at all dependent on place? Do you ever think about how you might change those routines if you were somewhere else?

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  • China Millman: Hi Sarah,
    I just moved from Pittsburgh to Brooklyn, and I completely agree with the idea that surroundings inform and shape our routines. One of the biggest — and most positive — changes for me was selling our car. I also went from having a full-time job at a newspaper to being a free-lance writer, so I’ve been trying to work out how to better define that end of the day.5 years ago

  • Zarah: That’s awesome that you’re able to spend a good chuck of quality time with your family this summer. Are you on vacation, or are you working remotely? (I always hear people talking about doing this, but I’ve never managed to make it work.)

    I don’t have a very good after-work transition, although changing clothes as soon as I walk in (work clothes –> play clothes) seems to help. And I know I should take a few extra minutes to put on some music, chat with my husband, and play with my son before jumping into dinner prep, but I rarely do.5 years ago

  • Melissa @ Hilltop Hausfrau: So I live in a small town surrounded by forest…your description of pace in such a place sounds very familiar!

    I grew up in a city though and everytime I’m back in it, the rhythm and throng are reassuring…setting pace to propell me forward. I always feel energized after a city trip. Perhaps it’s that the taxis and busses drown out my littles whining for more treats or that they want to go home…in any case, it’s a change from my hausfrau life and a fantastic reminder of all the life that’s out there…5 years ago

  • Miriamdema: “I’ve always been interested in the ways place can inform lifestyle”

    This! I was just going on to a friend a out how maybe her life in a city was harder than it needed to be because of a series of choices that she had made. It’s a hard thing to recognize when you’re in it. I went from living in a warehouse in an industrial city to living in the mountains above Los Angeles. The differences can be striking. It used to be complicated to get groceries and now I walk to the bank while staring at the craggy sharp edges of mountains.

    In many ways whole areas of my life are far easier but in some ways little more surprising things have become complicated. It’s probably all a series of trade offs.5 years ago

  • Anne Zimmerman: Love this post. I’ve also been thinking a lot about place. Some days it seems like the city (San Francisco for me) revs me up more than it calms me down. I’ve begun to realize I actually need to escape — just like I need exercise, good food, sleep, etc. Plus changing perspectives helps me cope. Period.
    Enjoy your new scene!5 years ago

  • Margaret: I love this topic! I’ve read a couple books now that touch on how our environment affects us in myriad ways (Winifred Gallagher is excellent and Witold Rybczynski was interesting). Sometimes it’s the environment, and sometimes it is its newness- for example, if I’ve worked on one task at my window desk for an hour, it helps me to clear away that task and proceed to a different project if I pack up books and go to a cafe for a couple hours. I’ve become very aware of how where I am affects how I feel, but I’m sure I still have blind spots!5 years ago

  • Shaba: Hi, I’m new to your blog but I love it!
    I’m still working on a ritual to transition from the work day, it seems like it changes for me depending on the day. Sometimes my commute home is enough. Sometimes it’s washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen. Sometimes it’s wandering around the grocery store or TJ Maxx before I head home.
    I moved to the Virginia Beach area in 2009 from north eastern PA and oh how I miss elevation. Hills. Mountains. Forest. Running through the local park with the dog is a nice afternoon activity, but oh how I miss being able to embark on a hike from my backyard.5 years ago

  • Julie: I’m hearing you say…you love Massachusetts the most and will be moving here on a permanent basis. Right?!

    Enjoy your bike rides and farmers markets and that sweet, sweet new little niece!5 years ago

  • Mac: True true! I moved from northern Cali to Nashville TN, and my what a difference the culture, and pace has been! Life moves slower in the South, like the drawl of a southern belle. People take their time here, and I have come to truly appreciate that difference. In Cali a trip to the store was quick, and direct-in the south, one tends to stroll through the store, take in the local produce, chat with the clerk, and after work shoppers…that alone can serve as my transition after a full day at the office.

    But, no matter where I live, coming home to cook dinner seems to do it. Chopping and chatting with my loves over the day does the trick, evening has come.

    Thank you for all you share Sarah! You are appreciated!5 years ago

  • China, Being in a walkable place has got to be one of the biggest game-changers in terms of everyday pace and ease. Unless, of course, you love driving. (Not me.)

    Zarah, I love that you have play clothes! I always wanted to as a kid, but didn’t, and even now as an adult my going to office clothes and working from home clothes are markedly similar, plus or minus a blazer.

    Melissa, Your comment is such a good reminder to appreciate each place for what it is: cities for being being bustling and energizing, the country for being restful and rejuvenating. Each certainly has its charms.

    Miriam, This is an image I like very much: “now I walk to the bank while staring at the craggy sharp edges of mountains.”

    Anne, I love your point about escape. Partly I think one of the reasons this place feels so fun is because of its newness and feeling of escape. I hope you find yours soon (Sonoma?).

    Margaret, Thank you for the book recommendations! This is a topic I’ve kind of been obsessed with for ages, so I’m eager to check out those books.

    Shaba, I hear you on the different-every-day need. I love a little store wandering! (TJ Maxx FTW!)

    Julie, I do! I love it, love it, love it! Will send kisses to the niece from you. 🙂

    Mac, I wish you had a blog, because I’d like to hear more about this slow Southern lifestyle! (I have fantasies based on this article.) And I so agree with you on the relaxing powers of making dinner. Chopping is such great therapy. 🙂5 years ago

  • Amanda: I have been marveling at the power of place for the last four months since I moved from the St. Louis metro area back to my tiny hometown of 5,800 people. I made this move reluctantly, since the nearest city is two hours away, but so far I don’t miss city living.
    Since my move, I’ve noticed I’m much calmer, my days are a lot more peaceful and time seems to pass much slower here.
    Good luck on this venture, Sarah. The bike path sounds awesome, as does the jug band at the farmer’s market! 🙂5 years ago

  • Shellie: I read tons of blogs but have never commented on one before. I love your blog! I appreciate your honesty, your love of the simple, and that you stop in your day and take notice of the beauty around you. I love that your share all of this in such creative ways. That is what pulls me in whenever I see your post in my email. Thank you for continuing on and for staying true to who you are!5 years ago

  • Bella: Hey! I’m summering in Brooklyn (it’s where I winter, and every other season, too) and we have all sorts of lovely bike paths. I’ve recently gotten back into biking and have been loving the prospect park paths, the grand avenue such as Eastern Parkway, crossing the bridges, and the beautiful riverside rides in the city. An out-of-the-city escape sounds wonderful and I’m so happy you got to do it, but when you return, do try outdoor biking here. If I see you I’ll chime my little bell and wave 🙂5 years ago

  • Anita: Watching you go from single to married to moving from the city to the rural…how exciting! Live is amazing in transitions. I hope you enjoy your lovely new home!!!

    Meanwhile, I’m thinking of that first post I saw that drew me to your blog. You redoing a chair! And my favorite recipe…floorzagna and still a favorite…no cook black bean tacos! Girly your blog rocks and watching you grow over the years has been a blessing to this old lady’s heart. XOXO5 years ago

  • Kimberly: For me, “place” is a green 3/4 zip fleece that I have had for….over ten years. That’s terrifying! I put it on the second I walk in the door everyday after work. I refused to bring it to Australia for my one year away (limited luggage!) but when I had my mom bring it with her two months later when she visited, I cried upon putting it on. I was home. …. ish…. After work routines to “switch off” are so important. It’s terrific to find something as simple as a wardrobe change to help it happen when there’s not a bike path like your photo – gorgeous!5 years ago

  • Sweet Mama M: We moved towns three months ago and one thing I am beginning to realise is that with all the major changes that have happened in our lives (marriage, death in the family) in those three months, we haven’t really embraced all the wonderful things that inspired our move in the first place. This past weekend we went to dinner in town and then went for a lovely drive in the countryside, just exploring the beauty of little wee NZ that we usually take for granted. Bliss.5 years ago

  • SarahJ: lately, i’m sentimental for summertime in my sleepy college town. life seemed so simple. we didn’t have tv, walked everywhere, and were not really concerned with buying things. every day was full of leisure. only recently, someone said we had been poor. it was shocking; i felt i had more then and long for how stripped down my life was.

    i love the idea of evening transitions. i’d like to say that my evenings were not full of tv, but i’m working on it. i suppose it starts with walking the dog and talking to my husband while prepping dinner. i do much of my work at home, and i’m trying to plan better and waste less, reading this book you mentioned earlier in the year.5 years ago

  • Jess @ Sparrow + Sea: What a beautiful post, Sarah… I too am fascinated by the ways place can inform lifestyle. Like when you visit a seaside town and everything about the fresh air and massive ocean shouts healthiness, and how you’ll often find this reflected in the restaurants, in the markets, in the plethora of yoga studios and the multiple people jogging along the beach…5 years ago

  • Wendy: Ok, so, I am a janitor/housecleaner in another state. To change gears when I get home means that I change my shoes. For work outside the house to my broken down house shoes. They are comfy. It helps my mind switch gears to not have to work for someone else. Cleaning my own home is done to a different tune. Usually my 80’s pandora station. When the house cleaning is done we switch to Dean Martin station to cook dinner in. When dinner is nearly done I try to change my appearance for my husband. Clean body or just time enough for shirt. Freashen up the hair and spritz a scent. Each new step is a change up in mood and attitude. It has a way of reviving me for the evening and time with my family.5 years ago

  • Amanda: Welcome to Massachusetts!5 years ago

  • alllyn: Sounds like you’re in or around Northampton! I live in Easthampton, the next town over. Moved here from NYC to have my own fat babies and calm times…places DO have power! This area is so wonderful and offers so much, it’s been a welcome place for this chapter in my life.5 years ago

  • Ginger: Hi, Sarah and all!

    I’m in the middle of changing my Place (moving from the West Coast to the East and SOOO excited)!

    So I missed out on a lot of the conversation from the rest of the “Growing Pains” comments, but my favorite, enriching blogs to actually read are:

    The Simply Luxurious Life
    Copecetic in Carolina
    Une-deux senses
    Smart Pretty Awkward
    Playing Grown Up
    The Art of Manliness (Ok, I’m admitting to this one, because, well, they just have some practical life stuff, and a cool vibe, and I kinda wish there was something out there like it for the ladies!)5 years ago

  • sebastian: Wow– what a wonderful community. I found all of your comments so inspiring. I’ve been in new york waaaaay too long. I’m hoping Sarah and I can make some MA bike paths part of our daily routine. Who knows!5 years ago

  • Erin Brown: We are moving in late February and are moving from a city to more of a rural outskirt of a city. We will be in Stone Mountain GA and the area there is so beautiful. The state park there has so many walking and bike trails I can’t wait to be able to get outside and enjoy nature again. Being in a natural surrounding always makes me forget the difficulties of every day life and just “be” for a time!5 years ago

  • Themes (and a Salad!) for the New Year « Pink of Perfection: […] to be decadent and indulgent. I rode a train north to Massachusetts to meet my family in Northampton. It snowed on Christmas Day, my niece wore no fewer than three hand-me-down Christmas ensembles, […]5 years ago

  • Linksplosion: September 16, 2012 | hello i'm jenn scott: […] is an excellent article on the power of place to help motivate you to act in different ways. I notice that location has a powerful effect on what […]3 years ago

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