+Note: By “tips” I mean “my personal actions,” and by “successfully” I mean “without dying.” (Some people may think, “That’s not particularly noteworthy,” and to that I ask, “Oh, really? Since when is not dying even one time in my entire life so far not a big deal?”)
Every year, one of my New Year’s resolutions is don’t hit people, and every year, without fail, I regret putting it on my list. It’s a stretch goal, but I aim for difficult targets because I’m brave. And also because not bringing a shitload of shame to my family is important to me. I want to honor the only stable life I have ever known.
I didn’t grow up with stability in my childhood home, and it eluded me still after becoming a mother, but in this life I now share with Harv, it’s become a familiar and welcome presence. When stability was only a vague concept, I thought it meant being rooted in one place, both physically and psychically.
I’ve learned that home is wherever your people are and that being a stable person isn’t about remaining unchanged. It’s more about not allowing temporary but intense emotions and thoughts to dictate actions; or seeking the destruction of yourself, others, and property as a release; and learning to carry the extra weight of grief or sadness or disappointment without letting it define you. Basically, psychic stability is about not losing your motherfucking shit.
Since marrying Harv eight years ago, I’ve moved across the country twice (Los Angeles to Miami, then back to Los Angeles) and halfway across the country once (Los Angeles to Austin). Although I have not been rooted in one place physically, I am always at home because of Harv and Cal. I am with my people.
So, greetings from Texas. My fam and I moved to Austin in July. My maxim for this transition has been (and still is):
If you’re lost in the woods, burn it down.
Packing is one of my only skills. I know I’ve said “one of my only skills” about eight or nine times in the past. Humility aside, eight and nine are very high numbers so, yes, I’m a person of many talents, but I still like to be chill about it.
Two months before our move date, I spent a week buying packing supplies- hundreds of boxes, cartons of tape, professional-grade tape dispensers, foam peanuts, bubble wrap, color-coded stickers, stacks of packing paper, and ten rolls of Necco wafers. It’s my candy of choice when I’m doing hard labor.
As the mountain of packing materials grew, Harv campaigned for professional packers. Each time he suggested it, I reminded him that sorting and packing were my passion. He never said, “Yes, yes, you’re right. Of course you should do it all.” Instead, he gave me a lot of hard stares and said some bullshit about our previous moves and how I always ended up on the floor begging Jesus to please take me because I’m fucking done with this fucking shit.
I didn’t bother explaining that this time, things would be different. I knew he would be sorry when he saw my fastidious progress- the rows of neatly labeled boxes in each room, separated by size and weight, special notations for “fragile” and “unpack me first!”
At first, I mindfully sorted what would stay behind and what would make the move with us to Austin. After a week, every time I tried to tackle an area, I became mentally and physically exhausted, pain clamping my jaw shut and radiating through my arms.
Fifteen days before the move, I woke up still feeling unmotivated and lazy, but I forced myself out of bed to go to the gym. That simple act filled me with pride as I gloated about my newfound agility and strength since exercising on the reg.
In the midst of those congratulatory thoughts, I fell down the stairs. Luckily, the cup of water I was holding hit my face as I tumbled forward, so I felt awake and refreshed as I lay on the floor. My vision wavered and I felt dizzy as Cal helped me up. By the next day, I figured out that I could prevent the whirling sensation by keeping my head straight. As long as I didn’t turn left, turn right, look up, look down, or tilt my head even the slightest, I felt totally normal.
The vertigo proved burdensome because I still had a lot of packing to do. And by “a lot,” I mean that I hadn’t really started. Oftentimes, I got so dizzy that I would have to sit down or lean against a wall until the world stopped spinning. Then, one second later (like, literally, one second after I got my vision in check), I turned to mull over an item and swooned all over again.
When the movers arrived, I still hadn’t finished, so I continued packing as a team of men carted away boxes. When the moving van pulled away, I was standing in the midst of yet-to-be-packed items. Shit I wanted. Shit I should have tucked away first but left out instead because, idk, it made sense at the time. They were too big or heavy to take onto the plane or leave with my brother.
I sat on the kitchen island trying to sort out my next steps. I felt boxed in, lost in all of the material baggage I had accumulated to fill the empty spaces in my heart.
If you’re lost in the woods, burn it down.
Instead of looking for ways to save everything, I left all of it behind. I set up another donation pick-up, and bagged up the items that were only valuable to me but to no one else for the garbage pile.
What I learned: Decluttering an entire life and home requires more than a handful of days. Because it’s not just a physical clearing. No matter how much I wanted it to be anything but, the process was a double-edged emotional purge. Freedom and loss. That loss brought grief, but I try not to stay mired in desire for what no longer remains in my life.
Also, next time, I’m for sure gonna hire some goddamn professional packers.
I did not tell my mother we were moving away. Before heading to the airport, Harv snapped one last picture, but I waited to post this picture and a moving announcement until the three of us were at the airport, through security, and waiting at our gate.
My life was wholly comprised of secrets until I became a mother and a wife. I made a commitment never to live on the periphery of truth again, but I slipped back into those shadows when we decided to move. I didn’t share the news for months because I didn’t want anyone to notify my mother. I didn’t want her coming over to confront me or nag me or blame me or accuse me or tell me that this decision was wrong and stupid. I physically left the city and my childhood family behind. I removed them from my life.
I still have a handful of objects in my possession from back in the day. The entire lot fits inside one large plastic storage tub. They are my tangible connections to milestone moments. I rifle through the container once a year, and it’s a rush to see incarnations of past lives literally unfolding in my hands. Everything is a thrill except for one dress. Sometimes, I debate the merits of donating it. My mother purchased the loose-fitting gray dress for me so I would look presentable when I visited an adoption agency because she insisted that keeping Cal was not an option. I kept the baby. And I kept the dress.
The rest of my pre-marriage life is still locked away in my mother’s garage. After months of see-sawing, I voted against going for my belongings or sending anyone to retrieve them. That decision made it possible for me to admit that getting older hasn’t made hard truths any softer. I still wish for things that will never come. I wish my childhood family could have been my forever family. But I have Harv and Cal and a new beginning here in Austin.
What I learned: Stumbling through the thicket of longing is wasted time I will never get back. Sometimes, the life we wanted in the beginning, our Plan A, remains shrouded because it wasn’t meant for us. If you’re lost in the woods, burn it down. Then head towards Plan B.
In April, I flew to Austin to be a part of the Listen to Your Mother show. Austinites sure know how to be supportive because more than 400 people came out. It was one of the highlights of my year. I was just hoping to make new friends in my soon-to-be home city, but I got so much more than I anticipated. I read a piece I wrote for Cal’s birthday: Look at the Stars. Look How They Shine for You. (click the link for the official video of the reading)
After I immigrated to the U.S., learning English didn’t interest me at first, but thanks to my elementary school’s participation in Book It!, Pizza Hut’s reading incentive program, I can read dozens of words good now, because, I mean…what kind of person turns down a free one-topping personal pan pizza?
I still read every day. Most of it isn’t memorable, but occasionally, I’m floored by what I find. So going forward, whenever I stumble upon brilliant writing or not-that-brilliant-but-fascinating-AF writing, I will share it with you.
The Lonely Death of George Bell (New York Times)
Please read this if you are a recluse so it can inspire you to break free from your antisocial confines. Also, please read this if you are loved by many as a reminder to keep it cool with those people, especially if you are old and/or frail. (Heads up: Longer read. Worth it.)
The Baffling, Gruesome Plague That Is Causing Sea Stars to Tear Themselves to Pieces (Vice)
I have no idea what compelled me to click on this piece because I cared zero about sea stars, but damn, I’m tenderhearted for those little homies now. Please read this if you are going through rough times. You think you have problems, but is one of your arms trying to tear the other arm off?
Zola’s Twitter Tale: Strippers, Hooters, Florida, and Murder (Complex)
I had to listen to some Enya and close my eyes for a few minutes when I got to the end. This story is lit. LIT.
When it’s quiet here on the blog, stay close through the Flourish in Progress Facebook page and on Instagram (@flourishinprogress). I don’t give a fuck about Twitter, but I roll through sometimes (@ElizabethJLiu).