A long time ago I went punting in Cambridge with some friends and a dog.
We took a picnic and decided to moor up when we reached a quiet spot on the river. I was the most experienced punter and guided us with ease through crowds of tourists being punted expertly by young students or whirling in giggling circles as their punt poles got stuck in the mud.
We saw a lovely place under a weeping willow and,handing the punting pole over to one of my friends, I grabbed the metal spike that would secure us to the bank and then did something really stupid.
I stepped onto the grassy bank with one foot while the other still stood on the punt. You can imagine what happened next.
You are supposed to jump!
I was thinking this morning that my situation here in Catalunya has some similarities with that thoughtless action. Everything has been going so well, I was confident and steering my course happily through life until, suddenly and without warning my survival instinct deserted me and I tried to stand in two places at once, not realising that moving from one home to another requires that you make a leap of faith.
And here I am now, not at home in either place. I let go of all that was familiar and supportive in Cornwall and yet kept a firm grasp on my home there. I still have that house even though someone else rents it. My mind is partly there at all times, worrying about damp and storms, hoping the grass is cut and the roof is in place. We go every summer and work hard doing what we can in a few short months only to leave it again and travel south.
Today here I am in Catalunya. I have a home here but it was never my own as I moved into my partner’s house when we began our relationship. It has been in his family for generations. How could it ever be mine? Really I am like a long term lodger. I worry endlessly about how to create a home here in Catalunya but am daunted by the idea of another place to take care of.
How much energy do I want to spend on maintaining houses?
Two of everything but not a home to call my own
Work, friendships, cars, home – I have two sets of each. Endless keys, two mobile phones, two purses with different money and credit cards for each country. Two doctors, two hairdressers, two beauticians for god’s sake! My family are all in the UK but I have friends in both places. In Britain I feel confident and strong – I know where to find an electrician, I go to the doctor and it is easy to explain all my vague mid-life symptoms. In Catalunya my daily life is great and I enjoy it. But there is the constant sensation that my feet are not on the ground.
Isn’t it a lovely dream? New lover, a chance to learn two languages in another culture, Mediterranean food, sunshine, exciting places to explore. Yes, it is a lovely dream
On the other side it has been a constant challenge. When I look back to my first years here I see how many ‘new’ things I tried to assimilate in one big bite.
- New relationship
- Living with a man for the first time in ages
- New family – being step mother to an adolescent was never on my fantasy list
- Two new languages
- New culture
Writing it like this makes it seem like a small thing. I hear you say ‘hey, I could do that if I had the chance‘
But the reality for me was that it totally overwhelmed me. I have had to lean hard on all my support systems. I have never before used so much Skype, email, telephone. This blog is part of my survival package. Everything seemed so hard and yet I couldn’t decide if it was normal, or my fault, or that I was just in the wrong place. And also I was happy so how could it be wrong?
It’s the indecision that creates the wobble
I stayed and tried harder, looking for every way possible to make myself a more flexible and accepting and patient person. In the end I can see how much I have changed and matured in this process. I do feel stronger and brighter and happier and wiser.
But still I find myself hovering in this strange contorted position with one foot on the bank and the other on a moving object. I have certainly learned how to balance but it is not an easy place to be.
I have been here for five years now. Isn’t it time that both my feet were together in one place.
There is a strange time warp just before you fall
Imagine that moment in the punt – that long moment when I realised I was in two places but fully committed to neither and that as the boat started to move away from the bank there was only one way to go. It was a very long moment, one that seemed eternal as my mind took in the inevitable consequence that was about to take place. Arms flailing, throat letting out a visceral AHHHHHH, on that day I fell in slow motion into the river.
And then surfaced again, laughing and laughing.
If it is time to fall then I am ready. My legs can’t hold out much longer!
Why do I write this here?
I am interested in the process of change in people’s lives and how they survive the stress and what they bring out of the experience. I want to be as honest as possible about what has happened to me after moving to Catalunya. In many ways I feel I have failed to thrive as I wanted to. And yet I have gained things I never imagined were possible. It has been much harder than I expected, much more challenging and I have felt insecure and anxious much of the time. Yet also much happier than I ever thought possible. Strange isn’t it?
If my experience is normal then I want to write about it in case someone else finds it reassuring. And if in the end it is ‘just me’ then why hide it?
I made a list this morning of all the people I know who are incomers, foreigners, immigrants. It was interesting to see that many of them arrived with an pre-existing partner or family. They brought their own community. Most of them created a new home from scratch whether owned or rented. Others who came alone often had a specific job to do or arrived with no intention of making this country a permanent home.
I only know one other person who moved country, changed language, started a new relationship, entered a step family situation and also lives in someone else’s home. I know we have a lot of struggles in common.
My advice to anyone would be – if possible migrate in families or at least in pairs. Prioritise your actual home and make sure it is at least half your own. In this way you have solid ground under your feet and a safe place to gather strength when the inevitable challenges arise.