Two weekends ago, my spouse and I went to a dinner party in Berkeley. When we got there, I realized I hadn’t been out of Davis since the last time we’d been at the same friends’ house for their annual holiday party in mid-December. Two months I’d spent never leaving Davis, California. What was wrong with me?
I’ve lived in cities where one might spend months at a stretch without leaving its borders and never run out of interesting things to do. Tokyo. San Francisco. Davis is not one of these places, although for a town of its size, it does surprisingly well.
But I wasn’t sampling the delights of my current hometown. I spent nearly every minute of those two months at home. I spent nearly every minute of those two months indoors. This is northern California. The weather’s mild. One doesn’t have to be house-bound through January and February.
So what was I doing?
It started innocently enough, with some year-end general housekeeping. Then I found myself rearranging: moving furniture, hanging curtains, shifting rugs. One day I alphabetized all of our sheet music by composer. I spent another day organizing our non-fiction books by subject, a more challenging task than you might expect. Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies: Religion or Memoir? Dava Sobel’s Longitude: Science Writing or Biography?
This turned somehow into a mania to unclutter, which involved unloading books, clothes, toys, and a neglected foosball table through our local iterations of craigslist, freecycle, and consignment shops. Which in turn inspired a sudden obsession with “voluntary simplicity.” I borrowed and devoured books from the library on the subject. I returned them. (An entire blog post could be devoted to the profoundly bourgeois lameness of most of this literature.)
The simplifying of “stuff” led to thinking about money. Spreadsheets were made. (Strange but true: I’m an absolute wiz at Excel.) Some not very pretty financial realities surfaced. I canceled subscriptions. I called AT&T to nix our land line. (Somehow they found a way to give us the same service for $20/month less.) I ended our house-cleaning service. (A sad day. We hate to clean and absolutely loved our cleaners.) We started eating out even less. We turned the thermostat down even farther. (Current temp in house: 65° F.) I drank tea by the thermosful to stay warm. I warmed up the kids with hot cocoa. (I make killer hot cocoa.)
For some reason, all this internally focused household activity left me utterly disinclined to go anywhere. I found reasons to turn down invitations. Or I’d say yes and then feel sick right before I was supposed to leave the house. Two nights a week I showed up to teach my community college English class. Other than that, I mostly stayed in the house. My private tutoring students showed up at their appointed hours each week. Other than that, with few exceptions, I spoke only with my family. Even my online profile shrank; I posted much less than usual on Facebook, and nothing at all here.
Meanwhile, I was writing. I sold one new La Pérouse story, completed a revision of another, and began research on a third. I started writing poems about my early childhood in Japan.
Jesus, I thought, I’m turning into Emily Dickinson.
One could do worse, I suppose. One could be an anti-social recluse who doesn’t write.
But my hibernation, which began right after the holidays, seems to be ending. There was the dinner party in Berkeley, a memorably wonderful evening with old friends. This past week, the threat of a hard freeze propelled me outdoors for hours. My kids and I harvested all our grapefruit, covered fava beans and lettuce, dragged a potted dwarf lemon inside, and laced Christmas lights through an apricot tree that’s on its last legs but still bears the most delicious fruit we’ve ever tasted.
I’ve now said yes to one out-of-town birthday party and one in-town book launch party. A writer friend has invited me to a literary event later this month. It’s in San Francisco. I used to drive off to the City at the drop of a hat—going 80 down Rte. 80, I could sometimes make it in an hour. Now the idea of the trip there and back just exhausts me.
But maybe I’ll go.