Cool Change

30 Aug

Living Room – before. Photo by MAG

When I was fourteen, my mother decided she would be nice and surprise me by painting my bedroom a very cheerful shade of yellow, and rearranging my furniture to “freshen things up a bit.”  I loved the new color, but the rearranged furniture was beyond the pale.  Shedding tears of frustration, I stubbornly – and immediately – began to move everything back to exactly where it had been before the painting began – by my own big self. However, in the process of moving furniture around, I discovered a whole new way of arranging the room and wound up loving it.

Contrary to popular belief, control freaks don’t eschew change, we just want to be in charge of it.

Recently, a friend told me about a conversation he’d had while drinking in a dive bar in Harlem nearly a decade ago.  L. said that a man on the bar stool next to him, an Iraqi immigrant in his 50s, started a conversation by saying that he believed human beings needed to move every six months in order to avoid becoming complacent.  L. said that he listened as the man argued his case [in the way that people who are slightly inebriated tend to do] and was fascinated by the rationale. The man argued that most humans get too comfortable when they live in one spot for too long, and that in order to keep the mind and body fresh one needs to move frequently in order to experience new ways of looking at the world.  Where he came up with the six month time frame, L. had no idea, and while he understood the theory, L. couldn’t quite buy into the prospect of physically moving that often.

I, too, understand what the man was getting at, but since I am a person who breaks into a cold sweat at the thought of having to pack a suitcase for an occasional weekend in Chicago, having to pack up everything I own and physically move it to a new location every six months would, in all likelihood, require frequent – and hefty – doses of Xanex.

However, I do think that this man had the right idea.  For a lot of folks, “getting comfortable” is the point of what they do – it’s why they hold jobs and buy property – and it’s what makes them feel safe and secure.  However, stability and security frequently come at a price because while comforting, these things can also be deadening.  I think this is what the Iraqi gentleman was trying to explain; an attachment to “things,” in the name of security, is dangerous when it leads to complacency.  His answer?  Forward movement.

I think that, for me, the key to adapting to change is about both forward movement and backward glances.  I need the new experiences, but I also need the memories to remind me where I’ve been.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve been someone who has sought out change, and I can look back now and see that the reason for this is fairly simple — I cannot stand being bored, and the only antidote to boredom is the constant challenge presented by change.  This need, combined with my impulsive nature, has made for some rather interesting life experiences, but I can honestly say that I can count, on one hand, the number of times I’ve actually been bored in my life.  Fortunately, my lifelong, overwhelming need to write has also meant that each change in my life has been scrupulously recorded in one of my many journals.  Through the combination of my experiences and my writing, I can clearly see that change, more often than not, ends up being beneficial for me — even when I’m not in control of it — so I’ve tried to re-frame my attitude toward [and approach to] change, and for the most part, I’ve been successful.

The change I’m facing as I prepare to move to New York City both excites and unnerves me.

I’m excited by the prospect of actually living a dream – of living in “the city that never sleeps” and of finding new ways to satisfy my constant need to learn and grow.  I am in love with the notion that I could hop on the subway and, in a relatively short period of time, be somewhere new and exciting.  I love the fact that New York is a vibrant, ever-changing place where I could experience the vast array of cultures, cuisines, and architecture simply by walking in one direction or another.  I love that the city is a living, breathing historical artifact that embodies the drives and desires of the millions of people who have worked to create it.  And what excites me the most is thinking about how I could be a part of it all!

Photo by DMT

When I daydream about living in New York City, I picture myself striding down a crowded sidewalk, heading toward a museum, restaurant, or concert.  I envision myself meeting scores of new and interesting people everywhere from the subway to the corner bodega.  And I smile when I think about the fact that New York offers me a kind of paradise when it comes to my need for constant stimulation.

However, I also feel nervous about leaving the safety and security of my home in Michigan, and setting out to discover the unknown.  The truth is that without my familiar physical surroundings, I’m afraid I’ll forget what I’ve learned about how to live this life that I love so much.

I love my apartment in Michigan because it’s been the place in which I’ve undergone a metamorphosis.  When I moved in almost two years ago, I was excited about the prospect of living on my own and shaping my life into something that reflected who I was and who I wanted to be.  Bit by bit, I began discarding the artifacts left over from my former life, and replacing them with things that felt more like “me.”

It was cathartic and freeing to let go of the past and begin to discover what I liked, but it was also a little scary since I didn’t know what I liked and I was constantly worried that I’d make the “wrong” choice.  I started small – replacing my lunch bag and purchasing two new coffee mugs – and gradually worked my way up to redecorating my living room and workspace this past summer.  I found that when I stopped and really listened to my gut instincts, I rarely made mistakes, and the “mistakes” I did make were usually the result of one of two things: either doing what I thought I “should” do or rushing into a purchase when my instincts told me to wait and see.  I also began to realize that nothing had to be permanent.  If I didn’t like what I’d done, I could return what I’d bought and try again – decorating wasn’t a trap, instead it became a process of discovery.

In the beginning, it was a little frightening to let go of the things that had come to define me during the decade I’d spent with my ex-partner.  Actually, I was in turmoil, at times, because I had to stop and take a cold hard look at how much of myself I’d given up during the relationship – and sometimes the view wasn’t pretty.  My decorating epiphany came the day I finally replaced the rosebud covered bedspread and matching pink sheets [which I’d never really liked, but had agreed to simply to prevent an argument] with a simple two-toned taupe duvet cover and a set of sheets in an earthy yellow-green shade from IKEA.  I loved the simplicity of the design-free earth tones; uncluttered and calming.  The bedroom emboldened me, and soon I replaced the Martha Stewart yellow-with-blue-flowers shower curtain with a taupe/tan/off-white curtain in a simple geometric design and towels in muted earth tones.

Redecorating, a task that had previously felt overwhelming, became a pleasurable pursuit as I sought out things that made me feel at home in my home.  I could choose whatever suited me!  I didn’t have to negotiate or justify what I liked and wanted! And I didn’t feel pressured to spend a lot of money on my purchases, in fact, a lot of times I found that I took greater satisfaction in unearthing deals in the most unlikely places [I found my bathroom rug, which perfectly matches my zen color scheme, at Meijer for under $10.00].

Photo by MAG

On a trip to Chicago, J. and I browsed the fabric selection at The Needle Shop, and found the perfect fabric with which I could make a headboard for my bed.  I bought plywood and a staple gun at Home Depot, batting and foam at JoAnne Fabrics, brought it all home, and proceeded to make a headboard that perfectly matches my bedroom decor.  In a true act of serendipity, D. forwarded a photo he’d taken long before I’d envisioned the headboard, and one of the buildings in the photo happened to match the colors in the fabric and my sheets, so I framed it and hung it over my bed.

This past June, I felt like I finally had the confidence to tackle my living room and work space.  I prepared by scouring interior design books and magazines for ideas, and asking for advice from J. and my interior design students.  I also began collecting art that fit my decorating scheme, and meant something to me.  A typography print one of my Art History students made for her final project, one of L.’s paintings, and a number of D’s photographs all grace my walls, and make this apartment feel like home.

One of the nicest parts of redecorating was being able to do it “my own big self.”  My ex-partner was a stickler for details and wouldn’t let me put together furniture or hang pictures because I don’t tend to do things the “right way” [and I will openly admit that when it comes to reading directions, I fail – epically].  Decorating my apartment has given my friends some good laughs as I’ve learned how to use a power drill [FYI: The attachment on the power drill is for screws, not for drilling holes in the walls], and put together my furniture.  Did it take me several long afternoons-turned-into-evenings to assemble my bedroom chair and my living room sofa?  Yes.  Are my curtain rods hung on nails because I can’t figure out how to drill holes for screws in the walls above my sliding glass doors?  Yes.  Are all of my pictures hung at slightly odd angles because I didn’t use a level to line up the nails?  You bet.  Do I care?  Not in the least.

Living Room – after. Photo by MA

So, how can I move away from this wonderful haven where I’ve learned how to live freely and dream openly, again?  Honestly, I don’t know.  Packing up and leaving will be difficult and, most likely, painful, but I will do it because, as D. has reminded me time and again, “You can’t lose your memories, Mary.  They are yours to keep — forever.”

And I have faith that I will.


4 Responses to “Cool Change”

  1. Kelly (Kopp) Vogt August 30, 2010 at 12:32 pm #

    Mary, I identify with so much that your blogs have to say (ok, maybe not the brussel sprout stuffed lamb burger – haha). My husband and I were together for 17 years when he suddenly announced he didn’t want to be married to me anymore. WTF??? So, I floundered for 18 months, decided to stay in Idaho rather than going back to Denver, and bought a little house, and finally told my ex-husband that I no longer wanted the on-again/off-again relationship we had been having (talk about a scary change!)

    I went through so much of the same stuff. I didn’t know how to decorate, or what flowers to plant, or even what beer to put in the fridge because I had no idea who I wanted to be! I had been a wife and a step-mom for so long that I didn’t know how to just be Kelly.

    I’ve been with my “new” boyfriend for a year now, my house is finally coming together, and I do stuff that I want to do. Now that you know yourself better, when you find your NY apartment and make the move, I think it will be a lot easier than you think!


  2. Mary August 30, 2010 at 3:35 pm #


    Again, thank you so much for sharing your experience with me. I salute you for making the decision to end the relationship once and for all. I admire you for that strength. I tried to stay friends with my ex, and, well, that ended last November in a situation that was not good [I’m going to write about it at some point! *laughs*]

    It’s amazing how many of us there are out there, isn’t it? And as unsettling as it can be to “start over,” there’s also something really freeing about it, isn’t there?

    Your life sounds like a life that makes you happy – eagles flying overhead while drinking morning coffee? Yeah, I may be a city girl at heart, but even I can’t resist that kind of natural beauty! And you know what I really love? The fact that you love your life enough to support mine. That makes all the difference, I think. Thank you for the gift.

    And as for the brussle sprout/lamb burger — when you come visit me in NYC, we’ll go get one. Okay, *I’ll* get one, and you can try it. *laughs*

    Thank you, so much.


  3. DMT September 28, 2010 at 2:51 am #

    This reminds me of my favorite little line from The Prophet: “The lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.” (K.Gibran)

    Keeping this in mind, I have been able to turn some of the passions of my soul into reality, lest they be murdered as I stood idly, albeit comfortably, by.


    • Mary September 28, 2010 at 5:57 am #


      Thank you for sharing this Gibran quote – it’s perfect. I’m so grateful that you’ve pursued – and shared – a passion of your soul with me, and that your photographs both enhance my life and illustrate my writing. It’s made all the difference.

      Thank you so much.


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