Betwixt and Between

San Diego is crisscrossed with wild and coyote-filled canyons. A few of these canyons divide streets and neighborhoods and so early city planners built bridges and even staircases here and there to bring the parts – and hopefully the people – together.

In the Banker’s Hill area, just north of downtown San Diego, a suspension bridge was built in 1912 near First Avenue over Kate Sessions Canyon to connect two parts of Spruce Street. It is one of the city’s hidden gems. Many locals don’t know about it, but those who do call it the Wiggly Bridge because it wiggles and wobbles as you walk across it. It also creaks and clanks and moans.

Spruce Street Bridge
Entrance to Spruce Street Suspension Bridge

I first crossed Spruce Street suspension bridge 30 years ago on my lunch hour. It’s located in an older, elegant neighborhood, filled with graceful Victorian and Spanish homes, one of which housed the ad agency where I worked. In the mornings, I would park two or three blocks away and walk to work, passing two large houses full of Hari Krishna people outside gardening or inside chanting.

One day the owner of the agency said he wanted to show me something. While he said he liked my copywriting, he didn’t seem to like me. We often argued. He was happily married and I wasn’t attracted to him, so I don’t think our personality conflict was romantic.

Anyway, there we were one fine Spring day on the wiggly bridge! Laughing, enjoying the view over the canyon and downtown and the ability to get to the other side in a sort of secret way. I thanked him. I think it was his way of saying, “We can work together.” And we did, for two more good years.

Recently I watched a show on local TV about the Spruce Street bridge (“About San Diego” with Ken Kramer). There it was in all its creaking glory, “another story about San Diego,” as Mr. Kramer likes to say.Spruce Street Suspension Bridge

This inspired me to drive down and take photos and another wobbly walk. But in some ways I was already on it. In the middle of moving, I am on my own bridge – suspended, swaying in the air, between one home and another.

Betwixt and Between, that’s me. Not to be confused with Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, that state of temporary insanity hardwired into us so we’ll mate and procreate, which I’d actually prefer right now, except I wouldn’t get my packing finished.

No, I mean the feeling of being neither here nor there, not belonging anywhere. My home of eight years is devoid of life now (except for my suspicious cats) and full of boxes. My new home is having its innards ripped out and is not yet ready to live in. I had planned to leave my current home in a couple of years, to downsize, but a sale and large rent increase put my plans on fast forward and my feet back out onto the streets. Old and new streets. Former neighborhoods. Would I like to be back there again? Exploring new areas. Maybe I should try living over a store or ???

Bridge PlaqueBy luck (and talking to neighbors), I found a new place right around the corner. If it weren’t for a tall condo a few doors down, I could see it from my current window. Straight as the seagulls fly. I don’t know if I will like it. I’ve loved my current space, full of light and looking out over trees and people. I leave it reluctantly, yet I also feel ready to make a new home.

So  here I am, walking the wiggly walk, swaying in the salt air breeze, listening to the coyotes, holding on, no desire to jump, suspended between two parts of the same neighborhood, curious about the other side.


Chronic Packing Syndrome

Most people think of moving as being one of life’s most stressful events – up there with death of a spouse, divorce, loss of a job or limb. But according to one of the official stress-ranking systems (Holmes and Rahe stress scale), moving is actually Number 32 on their list, after “Revision of personal habits” and “Trouble with boss.”

It doesn’t feel that way, now that I’m in the middle of moving! It feels like Number One (and I’ve survived death of family, jobs and marriages).

Why is moving so difficult? I think it’s because it turns our lives inside out and upside down. It’s mentally exhausting. It’s actually more work mentally than physically, although the physical work is bad enough.

Traveling can turn our lives upside down too, requiring constant vigilance, but we know all we have to do is pack our bag and get on a plane or a boat and be home to normal life soon.

With moving, we are packing our bag over and over again and we never seem to get everything in and there is no normal in sight. Our normal routine has been blown out of the water. And if we work, take care of family, exercise (not to mention eat, poop and shower), we know we still have to pack that bag into the wee hours.

Make lists that never end. No sooner do we cross off one item when two more appear. Call mover. Call carpet cleaner, call junk man. Pack all silver. Oops, forgot tarnished family heirlooms and old china. Call cable company. Pack DVD player. Oops, remember to draw diagram of connections before I yank out DVD player, router and modem. Call gas company. Remember to tell them neighbor shares meter so they don’t shut off her power. Order boxes, buy boxes, borrow boxes, drive down alleys and grab boxes in dumpsters. Buy packing tape and markers. Raid the free newspaper stands.Feline packing inspectors

And then the fun begins. Pack, pack, pack! I work into a rhythm. Need music. But I packed my stereo already! The physical work is not too bad. It’s the mental fatigue that sets in. It’s the decisions. Constant decisions.

Do I give away that old heirloom, or carry it with me yet again to loom in the back of a new cupboard? I have the perverse thought that I could bring a box of these family treasures to my sons. They might as well deal with them now as after I’m gone.

Do I sort through my files – business, household, taxes, medical – or just transfer the whole outdated mess to a file box? Do I give away books? I do manage to cull out a few. But what if I really do re-read all the Greek tragedies or Camus and Sartre (in French) or take up juicing again?

How about my grandmother’s cookbooks? Will I ever make Scottish mince again or have an English holiday party? Will I ever use my Spring-themed dishes, crystal glasses and shell napkin rings?

And who will ever read my 20 plus years of journals? Newspaper clips of old stories, frayed college papers and essays?

Feline packerAnd clothes, don’t get me started. Will I ever wear those dresses again I bought for my high school reunion and my son’s wedding (and I can, I haven’t gained weight)? Will I ever totter in the red heels or strappy sandals? Now that I work at home, my usual attire is jeans and a nice top. I could probably survive just fine whittling my closet space down by three quarters. But I don’t dare give away some outfits. Just in case.

I’ve moved many times in my life (at least 12 in 40 years) so I’m far from being a hoarder. I must make from six to ten trips a year to the Good Will, regularly discarding items. I store very little and actually park my car in my garage.

So it’s amazing and appalling to me, when faced with going through it all, how much I do have. And how much work it will take to decide to let it go.

It’s tempting to give it all away and move into a studio.

And maybe that’s what I’ll do. Next time.

While packing my books, I came across this treasure from E.B.White and I’m taking him with me:

For some weeks now I have been engaged in dispersing the contents of this apartment, trying to persuade hundreds of inanimate objects to scatter and leave me alone. It is not a simple matter. I am impressed by the reluctance of one’s worldly goods to go out again into the world. During September, I kept hoping that some morning, as if by magic, all books, pictures, records, chairs, beds, curtains, lamps, china, glass, utensils, keepsakes would drain away from around my feet, like the outgoing tide, leaving me standing silent on a bare beach. But this did not happen. My wife and I diligently sorted and discarded things from day to day, and packed other objects for the movers, but a six-room apartment holds as much paraphernalia as an aircraft carrier. You can whittle away at it, but to empty the place completely take real ingenuity and great staying power.

“Good-Bye to Forty-Eighth Street,” 1957, Essays of E. B. White

The Big To Do

There are certain people who make a big To Do, wherever they go, whatever they do. Even the most mundane tasks become big deals, much more complicated, obstreperous and time-consuming than necessary.

I’ve long been fascinated by this behavior, wondering where it comes from. Is it caused by obsessive-compulsive or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders? If so, the sufferers have my sympathy. They probably would like to mellow out if they could.

I enjoy doing many tasks as efficiently as I can, and figuring out new and improved methods. Not that I rush, but I don’t like to waste time, especially on unpleasant chores. When I was a teenager, I fell in love with Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, the mother and father efficiency experts in “Cheaper by the Dozen,” a memoir written by two of their children. At that time, I wanted many children and, despite the Gilbreth family efficiency, they seemed to have fun. After having two children (and also realizing the many benefits of birth control), I changed my mind. Family efficiency can work, but is more often a distant ideal, especially at 7 a.m. when you’re rushing out the door and realize one son doesn’t have shoes on and the other has knocked over the fish bowl.

HyperThe two activities where I’ve noticed people can be inefficient is doing laundry at the laundromat and setting up yoga mats. Fortunately, it’s been years since I’ve observed laundromat behavior in person, but I recall it vividly. My own approach was simple: take basket of clothes, detergent, quarters and book or magazine to the laundromat, throw clothes and detergent in washer, read, throw clothes in dryer, read, throw clothes in basket and get the hell out of there. Sort the clothes at home – that part I actually enjoy.

The Big To Doers were in the laundromat before I arrived and after I left. They had brought and lined up several baskets, carts, racks, hangers, boxes and bottles of detergent, bleach, softeners and other additives. They never sat down, even for a second. Their complicated routine went something like this: Carefully pre-sort, turning some items inside out. Pop a few in one washer, a few in another, pull some out, start a dryer, then back to another washer. Pull clothes out of dryer, hang some up, fold some, back to washer, back to dryer, back and forth, constant motion, washer woman or man whirling dervish. I never was able to figure out what they were doing, or why. Maybe they have 12 children. Maybe it’s the highlight of their day. Maybe they just enjoy making a simple task as complicated as possible.

The Big To DoThe other Big To Do I find fascinating is the setting up/setting down of the yoga mat that some yogis elevate to a ritual before class. Most of us walk in, bend or kneel down, unroll our mats and lie or sit down. Sometimes we walk over to the prop wall to get a cushion or a strap or to the cubbyhole wall to store a wallet or purse.

The show-offs walk in (or sometimes rush in late), unfurl their mat in the air and drop it on the floor. This makes a loud noise and sends a whoosh of air out over those of us already on the floor. They then unfurl a second cloth mat over the first mat. Because these slip, spray bottles are provided to dampen them with water. That’s right – spritz, spritz, spritz. Then the lining up begins, one mat over the other, and both in line with the lines on the floor. Then several trips for props and blankets. But not the cubbyholes. No, they prefer placing water bottles, coffee, keys, wallet, jackets, cell phones around their mat on the floor.

One man comes in before class fully dressed in long pants and a jacket and by the end of class, he has stripped down to shorts and tank top, his long pants and jacket in a heap behind him. Sometimes, after all this, a person will decide the space is not right and move – and start the yoga mat routine all over again! Every few months this behavior crescendos and “Yoga Etiquette” guidelines are posted inside the bathroom stalls to remind us. But those of us who set up quietly and quickly don’t need reminding and those who don’t don’t think guidelines apply to them.

To do or not to do. For them, it’s not even a question.