Thursday, 15 June 2017

packing up and moving on

Today is June 14, 2017. As of today, I have been a resident of New York City for twenty-five days. Twenty-five!

I think twenty-five days is sufficient time. Sufficient time, I mean, to have let elapse before sitting down in front of a screen and trying to cobble together some words that might help me, at a later date, remember the experience of packing up almost-seven years of cold, windy summers and bunk beds shared with best friends and delicious, impossibly moist, tomato-sauce-less, meat-less pizza such as you'll never find anywhere outside of the Bay Area (because who in their right and sober frame of mind would think that pizza without tomato sauce and meat could be a good idea?) and love, so much unfathomable, bottomless love, and stuffing it into suitcases and boxes and moving all of it, the winds and the blankets and the pizza and the love, as indelible memories, across the country and into a new city.

Moving itself isn't new. I've moved before, and not just a few blocks down the street. Across a couple of continents, across an ocean. South Woodford to Seoul, Seoul to Berkeley. In 2002, my dad finished his PhD at the University of London; we went back to Korea ("Back? What do you mean, 'back,' Mum? I never lived there!" "Don't cry, you can just come back to England for college."). In 2010, I finished high school; my parents shipped me across the Pacific ("Yoojung-ah, don't go to college in England. You already lived there. England is boring. America is so much bigger. Just go to Princeton.").

So I've left homes before, made new ones in new places. But leaving California was the first time I left a place not because someone with the last name Kwon had finished a degree, but because... I chose to.

I felt like it. I felt like a change.

While this is true, it also makes it sound like I moved entirely on a whim, which is a bit misleading. For some people, "I feel like it" simply does mean "I feel like it, so I'm doing it." I am in awe of and slightly terrified by these people. (Also I'm convinced they don't exist.) For me, "I feel like it" means "I feel like it, but I can't really decide if I actually should or if this is just a quarter-life crisis creeping up on me, and I've been thinking about it but, agh, I just can't decide, and I've been praying, but God is being all mysterious about it and won't just tell me what to do--so annoying--and I really don't want to leave my church, and no YOU need to stop freaking out, and no, no, I do want to go but I can't so maybe I will just live in Americana Apartments forever and be buried in the Bay, and what do you mean I need to calm down I'm totally calm I still have my chill look it's right here, it's good, everything's good, I'm fine, we're fine."

I mean that's...that really about sums it up. The whole thing at the beginning about packing up seven years of sun and pizza and frigid summers--when it came to it, the packing was easy. (Emily and I started early, like responsible adults. It's the most adult-like behaviour we've ever displayed.) The deciding to pack was what was so enormously hard.

Mostly what it came down to was that I felt life had become stagnant for me, in the Bay. I was very happy--I generally am, most days, as long as I haven't run out of milk for my tea or stubbed my toe on the dresser--but it felt too comfortable, too still. There were a lot of days I walked down Shattuck Avenue and found myself thinking, if I have to walk this exact path down Shattuck one more time I'm going to lose my mind. (Dramatic, am I? How dare you!)

I think someone wiser, more mature, and more grounded than I would have been able to stay put and still find new challenges and ways to grow in an already-familiar environment. I, however, am not that wise, probably still less mature, and about as restless as a five-year-old suffering through a long, dull church sermon.

Eventually, like any good five-year-old, I tugged on my mother's sleeve and whispered loudly that I was bored and wanted to go outside, or in other words, after several months of sitting on the proverbial fence, I walked into my boss's office and asked her if I could transfer to our New York office. And then, much sooner than I had expected, she said yes, and to let her know when I wanted to go, and I promptly clambered back onto my fence, and sat there some more, until I finally just fell off and landed on the side that said "New York."

And suddenly, faster than I could say "wait can I maybe get back on that fence for a little longer," I had to say goodbye! To friends, to my first home in America, to a very full and happy life in California with unlimited access to good tacos and boba. Saying bye sucks. So much. Livingwater was the hardest, of course. I cried so hard on my last Sunday that I was surprised to wake up the next morning and find that I could still see.

How do you leave behind a community that has nurtured you and loved you so well, so genuinely, for the better part of six years, that has played a crucial role in helping you to understand, with a startling clarity, your identity as a daughter of a loving God, that has shown you time and again the very great joy to be found in walking with Christ, with others?

If I sound like I'm obsessed with Livingwater, it's because I am. And I miss it, and all the people in it. But you can't hold on to perfect, or near-perfect, or not-anywhere-near-perfect-but-I-still-love-you things forever. You treasure them while you have them, say a sucky, weepy, snot-filled goodbye when it's time, and move on. Livingwater, my Berkeley friends, my coworkers, In-N-Out, Elmwood Cafe and Moe's Books, the deep bond I'd formed with another physical place I'd taught myself to call "home"--all of these were things I had to reckon with as I sat on my fence and let myself fall.

Falling was painful, but I'm glad I did it. Leaving a place behind is one sucky, sad thing, no matter how ready you are to leave; arriving in a new one is another, tremendously exciting and life-giving, thing entirely. I feel newly energized here in my new surroundings (although who knows how long that will last, with a very hot and humid summer fast approaching--place your bets now!), and happy to be living in a crowded city again.

Contrary to most expectations and all well-meant warnings from other people, New York and its residents have been kind to me so far.

I will not jinx it by elaborating too much, but I will just say that the lady at my local Dunkin Donuts gave me two free Munchkins with my coffee the other day when I asked if I could just buy a single Munchkin instead of the minimum four, so.

If free Munchkins are not a harbinger of a bright new chapter in New York, I don't know what is.


I wrote most of this sitting at a little table in Bryant Park after work today, enjoying the warm summer evening outdoors and eating a quinoa-chicken-salad bowl with avocado. Avocados, in my mind, will always be associated with California. Californians love few things more than they love avocados. They might as well be the state mascot.

It is funny what little things can make you feel connected to another place, a previous home. If ever I get homesick for the west coast, maybe I will just run to the nearest bodega and buy an avocado and the Bay will suddenly feel not so far away.

Until then--I think free Dunkin Donuts are about enough to help me get adjusted to New York. Change is good. So are free donuts.