For 18 months of my life, from May 2002 – Nov 2004, I was a nomad. At one point, I had active leases on three apartments (two in CA and one in PA). It was absurd. My living situation looked something like this:
Pittsburgh -> Orlando -> Pittsburgh -> Walnut Creek, CA -> Palo Alto, CA -> Redmond, WA
…All within 18 months. Moving that often does things to your head. You start evaluating purchases on size and weight, and packability index. You never hang anything up because it’s not worth losing the deposit. You become ruthless about throwing everything out, you’re hyper-aware of the mileage between places you’ve lived, you’re always monitoring Craigslist so you’ll be prepared next time a move hits.
But after moving to Redmond, I jumped to the opposite side of the spectrum. I moved here and… stopped moving. It’s been 7 years now, give or take. I’ve lived here longer than any other place in my adult life by a large factor, and it’s starting to rival my time in my hometown. Plus I’ve lived in the same condo the entire time – first renting before eventually buying it from the owner.
Well, when you stop moving, it also does things to you. Slowly. I got excited the first time I could tell someone from memory how to get to a location downtown. You start making wishlists about all of the home-improvement things you’d do to your home (99% of which I have not gotten around to yet.) But more than that, the area begins to seep into empty parts of your brain when you’re not paying attention.
Being in one place long enough has affected me to the point where my knowledge of the area has become subconscious, comforting – and now, a source of long-unidentifiable unease. It started back in February, when they began construction on the 520 Bridge to support tolling. This meant replacing most of the signs along 520 to provide info on when tolls would be applied. But for me, the 520 drive to and from shows has been my centering point, for better or worse. It’s my time for introspection and for taking stock of my life here in Seattle. It took me a while to realize that the changes in the signs, unchanged for so long, were actually having an effect on me.
It’s weird, right? Signs are signs. They are not living things, not personal trinkets. But it was an undeniable reminder of the passage of time, that things are not what they were when I moved here.
The signs were one thing, but then… they started construction on 520 for some sort of fish culverts. It’s a Northwest thing. The fish need better traffic flow before we improve traffic flow for the humans. No comment there. But to build these culverts, they tore down tons of trees along the side of the highway so that now, as you approach the bridge, there’s all this new water view where it used to be just green. Since trees here are quite tall, it’s a significant visual change, and it’s freaking me out a little. I didn’t realize I had become that attached to the familiarity of the old status quo, but between the missing trees, an inexplicable new ramp and a now-missing bridge, it feels like an alien landscape (still with bad traffic.)
The strangest part of this phenomenon is that I didn’t realize I was paying that much attention. Signs, trees – these things are inconsequential in the scheme of things, but when they change it’s as clear as turning on a light in a dark room.
It’s actually been a year full of change in the physical world around me – from the emergency room now visible from my condo, to 520 construction, to all the roadwork downtown – and soon the impending move my theatre troupe is facing. That one I know will affect me. We’re moving from our space in the Pike Place Market at the Gum Wall to a beautiful Equity theatre called the Intiman in the Seattle Center for 8 months. Will I still be able to do good improv without being assaulted by the vaguely minty, musty smell of our Gum Wall upon arrival? I assume the answer is yes, but the mind is a strange beast.
What other things in my life, in my world, are being used as signposts by my subconscious? I’ve had the same UPS driver for years – if that changed, would it make me feel odd? I’ve taken for granted that my favorite Irish pub has very little turnover in their service staff – certain faces being missing would surely make me a little sad.
Familiarity isn’t always a consciously comforting thing, but it is disturbingly distressing when it disappears. The brain eventually adapts and the security blanket returns, but to discover you were counting on something without even knowing it is a strangely vulnerable feeling. The ancient DNA within me seems to fear that sensation, even with all of my experiences pointing towards the fact that change is generally good.