“What’re you working on over there?” the guy at the Starbucks asks after I’ve taken up space for three hours.
“I’m a writer,” I say (I’m working on not-self-deprecating). “I’m working on a novel.”
“Cool,” he says. “Have you written anything I might know?”
“No,” I say, with my big unpublished smile.
It’s been a month since our move and my daily routine does not exist. For a self-employed writer, this is bad news. It takes time and effort to set up a routine that works—a time and a place where I daily sit down and my brain knows “now we write.” (And often after a few months, the routine wears off and I need a new one.) I was in a good groove the last stretch in Delft, despite the chaos of moving.
Since the move? The inertia is massive. If you have a friend who moved internationally, and you haven’t heard from them, please let them off the hook. Every day I fight the inertia of wasting time or being in a funk or spending an hour in some random place I didn’t even mean to go. Contemplating the strange reality that places I used to be are carrying on right now, as they do every day, except that I’m not there.
Although I get gloomy, the emo arc on a general day is less dramatic than it was at first. I can’t complain, because things are slowly but surely sorting themselves out. We searched for an apartment for about two weeks, while subletting an AirBnB place with very curious cat. We learned that the area in which we’d aspired to live didn’t match our price range. This was a reality that died hard for me. I had been adamant on living in a semi-urban area where I could continue my European routine of walking and cycling to little independent cafes and food shops. That lifestyle is uncommon here, and so it’s desirable, and so it’s expensive.
The US is full of places to shop. I’m not going to lie: when I would come back here to visit, I would suddenly have this itch to buy cookware and dresses and shoes on sale. All at giant big-box stores or online or at discount chains like TJ Maxx (the likes of which the Netherlands does not have). The suburbs are weirdly populated with collections of stores and restaurants on repeat. A Wegman’s (grocery store) recently opened near where we’re staying and after someone told us, “It’s basically a tourist attraction,” I went to check it out. I might not have come out for days (if I actually needed groceries, which I don’t).
So in the end we collected our sanity, stopped trying to raise the amount we could squeak out in rent, and rented an apartment in Watertown. It may not be walkable to chic urban coolness, but it’s walkable to some things, including a bus to Harvard Square. I would tell you how it’s going, but we can’t move in until June 15. Currently we are on our 5th temporary stay (3 relatives, one sublet, and now good friends). People are very generous, and we are very grateful, but living out of a suitcase gets old (or, in our case, out of three suitcases and several Trader Joe’s shopping bags).
I have driven our car almost every day. It’s a little unnerving, zipping around the traffic-y roads and rotaries of the Boston area, and in a small car I’m amazed by how little I can see sometimes. Inevitably I find myself backing out of a parking space between two massive SUVs, unable to see what’s coming.
The reason I don’t need groceries is because we’re perpetual houseguests, but even during the two weeks we had a sublet, eating has been weird since we left. Convenience food is everywhere in the US, and quality groceries aren’t as cheap as they were in Delft. I remember reading a study that ranked the Netherlands #1 in the world for the accessibility of good food (quality and affordability). Dear Dutch-dwelling friends: it’s real. Go buy fruit and eat it for me.
“The detox is coming,” we keep saying, after we pick up a pizza… or bagels… or chocolate-covered gummy bears. This is not vacation, I keep reminding myself. You are not vacation-eating. This is life. And it’s moving along.