Thursday, 28 March 2013
Lessons From an Elder's Cross-Country Move
A day or so ago, TGB reader Patricia Lee asked via email how I'm adjusting since my move across the country to Oregon from Maine. Several others have asked in the past too, so here goes.
Out of curiosity, I first checked the web to see what it has to say about old people moving. I advise against doing that. The first site I looked at warns against “relocation stress syndrome” in elders, also known as “transfer trauma.”
Give me a break; is everything a syndrome nowadays? Of course, it can be stressful to move a long distance. What else would you expect?.
That's when I stopped reading. This post is about my move, not a survey of options or “expert” input. I did it myself and I expect any healthy elder can.
It will soon be three years since I landed in Lake Oswego which is not anything like where I want to live. I was aiming for northwest Portland, the neighborhood where I spent a lot of time as a kid and which is vaguely similar to Manhattan in that there are nice old buildings from a hundred years ago and you can walk to do most everything.
But unless one is wealthy, money is paramount in choosing a home and mine would not stretch far enough to afford an apartment there.
I would have had more time to look had my condo in Maine not sold in just nine days, and closings happen quickly there, in under a month. Maybe I should have rented here for awhile, but that would have meant less money for purchase and I was cutting finances close to the bone as it was.
So I settled on a condo that is comfortable, in a pleasant, wooded area and unlikely to need costly repairs before I die. But it is certainly not my ideal.
It's only about 20 years old and is designed to be as bland as millions of other contemporaneous apartments - particularly compared to the 200-plus and 100-plus year-old apartments I owned New York and Maine.
But I put practicality over charm and I don't think that is wrong at my age – just boring.
I know now that I could have done it differently. Since I bought this place in 2010, it (along with most residential property in the area) has lost about a third of its market value which means I might have been able to rent for awhile and found something affordable in Portland after all.
But them's the breaks. You go with the information you have at the time and no one knew then how much further prices would drop. There is no point in dwelling on what cannot be changed.
What was hard in the beginning (still is) is finding my way around. Manhattan is laid out in a numbered grid and if you don't count my interlude in Portland, Maine, it's the first time in nearly 50 years I've had to put more than a moment's thought into how to get somewhere.
I find that really annoying (whatever would I do without Google maps on Android?) and for every appointment in an area that is new or relatively new to me, I leave plenty of time to get lost and not be late. It's still necessary to do that.
For the first few months, I concentrated on making a house a home. That takes longer than you would think when you're turning out a blog every day – months, in fact. But a perk of getting old is that I don't feel the urgency for everything to be perfectly in place within a week or two as when I was young.
In fact, it took a year and a half until I finally bought shelves and unpacked the books. I brought only about half my books from the east coast because it is so expensive to ship that much dead weight and, oddly, there is much less wall space here even though this apartment is about 20 percent larger.
That was a mistake. I should have paid the money to ship the books and figured out wall storage somehow. Every week, I find myself looking for one or two that I sold.
If there were to be another move in my life (there will not be unless I become physically or mentally incapacitated), I would research the near neighborhood more carefully than I did and choose differently.
This condominium of 112 units, is a NORC – a “naturally occurring retirement community” – and almost everyone looks just like me: old, gray-haired, mostly female and white. I would like it better with more young families with kids and people whose skin is a different color. The lack of diversity matches the town itself and there's nothing I can do about it.
That's most of the downside which is hardly debilitating and can be overcome or accommodated.
I've made some friends. Volunteering with the 50+ Advisory Board and some other organizations has helped. It's not nearly as easy as in New York and I have come to see that even when mobility is not an issue, it is more difficult to make friends in old age than when we were younger and/or working.
I have some more thoughts on that but I'll save them for a full blog post on elder friendship sometime soon.
Climate and physical surroundings are important (I'd be miserable in the desert) and Oregon is my kind of beautiful. I like seeing Mt. Hood and Mount St. Helens reaching clear to the tip-top of the sky on clear days, and the extraordinary amount of green that Oregon has done reasonably well in preserving.
I like being only two hours from the Pacific coast, although I don't go often enough. And unlike many people, I don't care one way or another about rain. I even rather like it.
I was born and lived here until I was 15 and sometimes I wonder if there is some innate affinity in each of us for the physical place where we are from – that someone who grew up in the desert, for example, would always feel drawn to it as I do to Oregon. (I have no idea if there's anything to that thought.)
The move itself was easy but do keep in mind that if you count my parents' moves I recall, I've done this 44 times to, from and within ten different cities. I have a lot of experience.
And nothing is anywhere near as negative as I seem to have made this post sound. It's just that I've concentrated on what is different from before and therefore more interesting - at least to me.
Overall, I am happy enough for someone who will always rather be in New York City and I let myself feel that longing as often as it erupts. That doesn't make me unhappy with my current circumstance and recalling my many years there is more joyful than anything else.
There is always discomfort in leaving home and friends behind. The biggest emotional help in my last two moves – from New York to Maine to Oregon – is the thread of this blog, the self-imposed obligation to keep it going and have a story ready every day.
Although it was never deliberate and I didn't plan it this way my interest in, study of and writing about aging sustain me. It's what I do. And it would be wise, I think, for any elders moving a long way from home to hold close and keep doing whatever it is that most engages them.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcy Belson: Oh, the Smell!