The last few months have been crazy. There have been so many life changes that my head is still spinning 6 months later. I moved from a California town with a population of 35,000 to a ghost town in Oregon’s high desert. The difference in the quality of life is amazing and incredibly liberating. I’ve never been one for big cities anyway, but I used to think a town of 35,000-50,000 people was small. Now that I live in a place boasting only about 700 people, my old town seems huge.
I was entirely used to feelings of non-safety, always being in a hurry, aggressive police force, neighbor harrassment, congested roads, massive freeways, and very high cost of living. Here in Condon, Oregon, we don’t even lock our house and the keys are always in the truck. There is rarely any hurry at all here. No one drives up your arse in traffic. “Rush hour” is about 6 cars. The pace of life is slower. It could drive a person crazy if they weren’t ready or willing to be liberated from the infernal rushing of bigger cities. The Condon police and sheriff smile and wave when you go by. You know, like regular people. Neighbors are welcoming and helpful. This tiny, (recently upgraded to) semi-ghost town, really comes out in support of its community. It’s like old-fashioned, hometown America with waving flags and frosty mason jars of lemonade. Of course, we moved here in the fall, so I haven’t actually seen any of that stuff yet, but that’s the mental picture. You can let your kids go anywhere as long as they are old enough to find their way back home again and aren’t destructive to property. You don’t see any of those creepy “child molester vans” cruising neighborhoods like you do in much of California. If one did show up, everybody would be on it in a heartbeat. A newcomer really stands out around here.
I’m a newcomer myself, so I can testify. My husband lived here before, so there aren’t too many people who don’t know him or at least remember his face. I’m totally new with a nose ring and gauges and a wardrobe featuring the “bareness” we didn’t think anything of in central California. I’ve been here 6 months and people still look at me with either curiosity or as if to say, “Who the f*ck are you?” The people I *have* met are warm, friendly, and welcoming. They know me at the bank and recognize me at the post office. They recognize me in both tiny grocery stores too, but only in one of them does the staff know me by name.
When I was in California, I was unmarried and going to college full-time (at 49). I was a liberal arts major dividing my time between art and music. I don’t attend school anymore because the nearest college is about sixty miles away. I’ve floundered since I’ve been here. I often feel like I have no direction or purpose, no friends, and my old life is long gone. I’m now married (which I never thought I’d do again), my grown son and his wife are still in California, and no school. I’m even down pets. I came here with two dogs and two cats. The cats were brothers I’d raised from about 3 days old. One was run over within 1 week of being here, the other was mauled to death by neighborhood dogs a month or so later, and then my older, disabled dog died a month after that of natural causes. In three months, I’d lost as many animals – a full 3/4’s of the “fur family” I arrived with. Needless to say, I’m extremely protective over my one remaining pet. It feels like Oregon has taken a lot from me without giving a whole lot back yet.
It’s almost like drowning in nothing. Everything I was used to experiencing in my life, everything that took all my focus, is now gone. I don’t know anyone well except for my husband and my teen stepdaughter (and I haven’t even known *them* for very long, which is another long, boring story entirely). I’m hearing-impaired, so meeting people isn’t as easy as it used to be. Oral communication now is labor-intensive to the point of giving me a headache. I rely extensively on lip reading. I’m forever worried about hearing something wrong and responding inappropriately. My husband complains about the time I spend online, but he doesn’t realize that it’s the only place where I have trouble-free communication. I’ve met some people locally, and there are folks I like very well, but I’m still pretty formal with all I’ve met and not yet comfortable enough with anyone to call them a friend. I want to and it’s a goal for me. I’m getting there with a person or two, so that’s a happy thing, but mostly I’m still a stranger in a strange land.
My jewelry making is a constant I can rely on, but I’ve been having a hard time getting in the groove and producing full-time again (I used to have a store several years ago). I didn’t have a lot of time for it my last few years in California because I was in school full-time. A school schedule consisting of twelve to sixteen credits really eats up the days, evenings, and even the weekends. I didn’t have much time for art or reading that wasn’t directly school related. Now I have all this *time* and it feels like nothing I do is meaningful enough to fill it. Nothing I do so far is enough to fill the void left by the people I used to know and associate with like my son and his wife, my activities, and my old way of life. I’m busy trying to find my groove in this new, strange, and wonderful place. I’m happy here and throwing down roots. I’m already dreaming of studio space in this quaint downtown. A store-front would be very cool, but I’d be happy with studio space as long as is was inexpensive and met my needs. I’d want to be able to take my dog with me.
What I’ve learned from all this is that it takes time to deal with so many massive life changes at once. Even purely positive life changes are a huge adjustment. Many of my life changes have fallen under that category, but I’ve experienced as much death and loss and separation as I have positive things. Those close to me try to minimize what a mind screw this has been for me and I know they have enough issues and problems of their own that it’s hard for them to see or appreciate mine. Things will even out in time and I will find my way.
So here I am in Condon, Oregon. Elevation 3, 123, population 706 (heh, 707 now) trying to start my life over and find my artful groove in a town full of mostly friendly strangers. Life marches on and so do I. I’m looking forward to summer time in this new place and building myself up from scratch. Reinvention can be a beautiful thing in its own phoenix-from-the-ashes sort of way. I’m throwing my roots down and blooming where I’m planted :).