Making a Commitment to Wherever I’m Going

January 24, 2018
living abroad
Making a Commitment to Wherever I'm Going

A recent career-quake has left me with a lot of time on my hands. Time means that I have options for how to spend it and, of course, travel immediately comes to mind. However, at this time of my life, in spite of my past choices that have left me relatively obligation-free compared to most people my age, I am having a crisis of hesitation. I feel rather aimless without a specific direction in which to point my momentum. Making a commitment to any one place seems daunting.

There are many options, so many that I feel paralysed by the number of possibilities. I can use the excuse of maintaining a lifestyle constructed in France over the past thirty years to avoid making any drastic changes, or I can throw it all in and do something completely different somewhere new. For the moment, I’m making forays – applying for a job here and a residency there. This is my way of asking permission – from whom, I’m not sure – but I tell myself that if I have a reason to go somewhere then it’s OK for me to upend my existence. I’ve spent sometime hemming and hawing, and my resolution for 2018 is to make a commitment to wherever I’m going (once I find out where that is).

I can put the books and dishes into storage, but how do I maintain from afar the friendships that have maintained me here for so many years?

When I first found myself unemployed (or rather, much less employed than I had been for the last ten years), I immediately began jumping on planes and trains and traveled about, savouring the sense of freedom that came from going anywhere I liked without work obligations attached. As I visited cities that are old friends and discovered new places that I’d been longing to see, I found myself asking the same question over and over, “Could I live here?” For the most part the answer has been “Yes, why not?” It seems like the right time to indulge my appetite for novelty. I’m old enough to make my own decisions and not too old to be traumatised by a move. Then, I began to think seriously about the reality of going away, even for a few months, and that reality became wrought with complications.

In 1988, I dragged my feet for a year before getting on a plane with a one-way ticket to Paris from New York in order to marry a Frenchman who I really didn’t know very well. I had a few things to sort out in the States prior to going off to a foreign country… leaving behind a budding career, all my friends and family and (one slight hitch) divorcing my first husband. I was young and romantic and, some might say, foolish. Yet, I’ve never regretted the decision I made to dive head first into another culture and to embrace the challenges that followed. Having done that, I’ve since considered myself to be an adventurous citizen of the world.

I can no longer deny the demands of my wanderlust, and Paris has come to represent the status quo.

So now, at another crossroad in my life, pulling up stakes and trying something new while I am still able doesn’t seem so odd. The thing is that I’ve accumulated stuff. Not only have I amassed a considerable number of books, as well as a lot of furniture, dinnerware and clothing, I also have important, longstanding and valuable relationships, which I treasure and am dependent upon in this place. I can put the books and dishes into storage, but how do I maintain from afar the friendships that have maintained me here for so many years? When I returned from the holidays and announced my intentions for the coming year to my nearest and dearest, the reactions were mixed. Some have been supportive, others bewildered and one said, “I knew it”. Then there are those who want for me to stay and can’t believe that my French époque has come to an end. And they are right. I don’t see my leaving for a while as an ending. My reasoning is, if not now, then never.

The questions keeping me up at night revolve mostly around logistics. What will I do with my home, rent it out or leave it empty? Where will I store my belongings? Can I afford this? How long? Where am I going? That’s the big one. Once the destination is decided I’ll work out the rest. I’ve been studying Italian and would like to do some research in Rome. There’s a teaching position in California that could be interesting and I would be close to my family. I could go to New York for a month or two, as well, but do I want to live in the US with the current political situation? What I know I want to avoid, I’ve realised, is staying in Paris. Not that there aren’t still many experiences to be had here, but I can no longer deny the demands of my wanderlust, and Paris has come to represent the status quo. Even at my advanced age, the idea of settling down forever in one place seems like an impossible feat.

Sometimes I’ve put up with confinement out of necessity, mostly for financial survival, but I have a low tolerance for restrictions that I haven’t chosen for myself.

All of these ponderings have unearthed some observations on why I am this way. I have systematically removed all emotional and most material obstacles that have kept me from my consistently independent path. Sometimes I’ve put up with confinement out of necessity, mostly for financial survival, but I have a low tolerance for restrictions that I haven’t chosen for myself. My ferocious protection of my freedom has brought me to this point, and now the leap must be leapt.

With a big birthday looming, I have begun to take stock of what I have that is truly important to me. The people who have stayed in my life this long have lived up to my very demanding relationship criteria. Whether family or friends, they have put up with my oftentimes surprising life choices, and with me. They are my baggage and my armor.

The practice in many religions of retreating from the world in order to be stronger when one returns to it is the opposite of my experience. I never feel more spiritual and connected to my true self than when I am moving and sensing change. So, knowing that, and not much else about what’s to come, I’m hoping for renewal in this new year.

About Susan Hamlin

Susan HamlinSusan Hamlin has been an American in Paris for 30 years. During that time she has worked as a teacher, choreographer and arts administrator in France and the U.S. Since her first flight over the Atlantic she has been experiencing the symptoms of extreme restlessness and needs to travel on a regular basis in order to maintain a semblance of mental health. Most recently she is preoccupied with the question, “Where to next?”

2 thoughts on “Making a Commitment to Wherever I’m Going

  1. Susan Hamlin
    Susan Hamlin
    January 26, 2018
    Reply

    Thanks Marie. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in these moments of re-evaluation. I think that once we’ve begun, why not keep going and see where we’ll end up next.

  2. Marie Snoksrud
    January 25, 2018
    Reply

    Lovely article! As an American that has been abroad 15 odd years, I vacillate between being content & comfortable, when things are going well, and whistfully looking outside the physical & socially constructed boundaries of the life I chosen. In these moments wrought with challenges or often, just too much time to think, my thoughts meander towards: “what else could I be doing?” or “is this it?- as good as it gets?” Thanks for sharing your story.

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