Sunshine in my bedroom window woke me today, my first morning truly alone. The ceilings in my new flat rise fifteen feet high, and there are three gorgeous windows in my living room that look out on a park. The leaves have gone from greens to crisp yellows and reds in the last week. This autumn marks thirty years since I left home on the back of a motorcycle with the guy who became my first husband. And this week marks thirteen years of marriage to my second husband. With coming to England, though, I’ve left nearly everything behind, including my husband, my house and my job. Of the top five stressful situations in life, I have experienced four in the past eighteen months.
Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying suggests holding in your hand every object you own and asking yourself if it brings you joy. In moving to England, I gave away 80% of my books and more than half of my clothes. When I go back to visit the States at Christmas, I’ll sort through the rest of my possessions and let go of even more. Following Kondo’s advice has reminded me that I usually know, immediately, if I like something, if it brings me joy. Years of thinking I didn’t know what I wanted are sloughing away. The raw skin underneath does sting at times.
As I prepared this summer to move across the Atlantic, two images kept coming to me, both of water. One was of my body going over a waterfall, held tight in a vessel, terrified but intact. The other was of a river, sometimes turbulent, sometimes calm, but always, my body, like a supple drifting twig, floating along, dipping under, rounding the curves and eventually landing, gently, on a gravel bar. I’m reading Waterlog by Roger Deakin, and I think he would approve (if he were still alive) of my images of watery transport. Deakin inspired a ‘wild swimming’ movement in the UK, which I plan to take part in… as soon as I get a wet suit. I found Deakin’s work through Robert Macfarlane, who I heard read from his new book Landmarks at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. Language and landscape, my two favorite topics, are of foremost importance to Macfarlane. I do miss all that I’ve left behind in the States. In England, though, I feel as if I’ve found people who speak the language of my heart, echoing my abiding desire to connect with the land, with words, and with stories.
For every bit as fascinated as I am with England and her various peoples, they are fascinated by me, by America, by the idea of the West and the open road. To that end, I’ll leave you with a collaboration between Billy Bragg, an English singer-songwriter, and Woody Guthrie, a quintessential American. I hope you enjoy.