Tuesday, January 26, 2016


"Anne had not wanted this visit to Uppercross to learn that a removal from one set of people to another, though at a distance of only three miles, will often include a total change of conversation, opinion, and idea."
--Jane Austen, Persuasion

As you may or may not know, I moved to a different part of greater Los Angeles in December, from the Silver Lake/Echo Park area where I'd been for the past five years to north Pasadena.

I must say it has thrown me for a bit of a loop. I know they say that moving is one of the seven biggest traumas (or something like that), but I sort of thought, Oh come now, a mere eight or ten miles?

But as Jane Austen knew 200 years ago, a very short distance can make a very big difference. First, there are the things that come up with any move: Where is the Post Office? Where can I get fresh fava beans? Where is the nearest 99-Cents-Only Store, Trader Joe's, Vons, Ralphs, mom-and-pop Armenian grocery store, nursery, bookstore, farmer's market, Staples? Where can I get picture hangers, a new kitchen wastebasket, potting soil, Drano? How to get the best deal on wifi (I am still using the personal hotspot on my iphone, talk about slow). I can only do so much, take in so much, process so much, move so fast in any given day.

I find my weekly arts and culture column is A LOT. I had two books out last year and will have two books out this year. I'm also helping someone else write a book, which is a major project.

One thing that is a huge change is that I sort of can't get to any of my old haunts and the people I love without getting on a freeway, and the older I get, the less I like freeways. They are just too damn fast. Not that I can't be utterly impatient and on surface streets am prone to go faster than I probably should. But to go from 30 mph to 70 is something I want to take slow. Fifteen minutes seems about right, but of course as soon as you shoot off that on ramp, the race is on. I'm sure people don't go any faster or drive more aggressively than they ever have: it just seems that way. (And this has nothing to do with Los Angeles where, if anything (in my admittedly limited experience with other cities, but still)  drivers are less insane than, say, Boston or Atlanta).

Not to mention the freeways at night--super scary!!

So that means I'm either going to have to do more driving and be scared more than I want to be, or I'm going to have to change up my activities and schedule. And that's what I find really scary.

In fact, I think the real reason moving is "traumatic" is because a move requires a kind of change of identity. Of course we know we're not the four walls within which we live or the streets we drive or the store where we get out toothpaste and milk. But it may be that in a sense we are what we love. And when we have come to love a certain block where the jacarandas are especially lovely in spring, or the way we can get from the ATM to the library to the PO in five minutes, or the checkout lady at the Mexican market where we buy our toilet paper, we have to re-calibrate. There's a gap in the space between where we say goodbye to the old and before we learn to love the new.

And in the gap is a very unsettling sense of Who am I? Where am I? AM I?

Another thing that's surprised me is the difference in vegetation, in the sense of space and light from "down there" to "up here." Pasadena lies in the shadow of the San Gabriel mountains so winters are cooler and summers are hotter than even seven or eight miles south.  There's way more space and quiet, way longer views, way more deciduous trees. In my back yard alone are a persimmon tree, a lemon tree, a kumquat, an olive tree, black walnut trees and several old-growth camellias that are just coming into bloom.

The walking is primo--good sidewalks, endless residential streets shaded by overhanging trees. I've only begun to explore the many neighborhoods. I may have said I found a chapel attached to St. Elizabeth of Hungary, a half-hour walk from my apartment, that's open till 9 pm. So that's been a treat, to walk up there and just sit. Feel my fear. Feel my loneliness. Feel my gratitude, cautious excitement, joy. Fatigue.

I'm living in a big old Craftsman that's been divided into eight apartments so I have many neighbors. Jessie found my phone sitting by a plant on my balcony the other day where I'd left it in my haste to leave. He wrapped it in a piece of white computer paper and left it with a note by my door.

That made me feel really good. Conversations, opinions and ideas may change,
Kindness--and our response to it--remains eternal.


  1. I thought you were about to say that freeways in Los Angeles were just too slow! From my four years in LA for college I remember countless times just sitting in traffic inching along at 10mph on a freeway.
    Now I live in New England and I enjoy LA vicariously through your wonderful writing. Thanks for your books. You have such a sincere voice

  2. From someone who has changed addresses a few times, thank you for this piece. Made me feel more, well, understood.

  3. The last three photos: the evening sky is more beautiful in your new neighborhood, dear Heather.

  4. Welcome to the San Gabriel Valley Heather! I have read and been greatly enriched by a couple of your books, and heard you speak a while back. I have been thinking about you because I am facing the fact that my son is an addict. My bones hurt just typing those words and everything that they mean.
    I hope that you are well and enjoying the Pasadena sunshine today. I hope you will visit my parish, St. Therese in Alhambra, where the Little Flower looks down on us from way above the altar.

  5. I think the dislocation of moving is greater for a single person because the neighborhood takes on a greater importance. It can become a family of sorts with its own familiar routines and rhythms. All the best wishes for settling into and finding new joys and new friends in your new home.


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