So there’s a passage in Cameron’s The Artist’s Way for Parents that talks about a friend of hers that struggled to feel comfortable in her own skin after the birth of the baby. What was described also resonated with my current experience of an unexpected, dramatic relocation. Lo, the example cited after that was a woman who had a cross-country move (in addition to a baby.) No, I haven’t had a child – but I recognize this discomfort in my own skin. Some of it is about connecting to the place more, and I come as a significant part of San Francisco’s defining community spirit is dying. I really hope I’m not here as hospice midwife.
I realized that while I’m walking more by necessity – sedentary San Francisco = moderately active Minneapolis, I haven’t just walked to walk since I moved here. I do have a few reasons for this: my allergies are just as bad here, and my Minnesota allergist is playing games with my record transfer, deferring the treatments I need to actually live in my own skin. Since all my allergies are environmental, outside time can get dangerous. I’ve also been sick twice in two months, and both were full on knock-you-off-your-ass-induce-existential-despair sick.
The “uncomfortable in your own skin” factor has come up synchronistically a few times of late. When I moved to Minneapolis and assumed my new identity as a newly single adult, the disappointment in myself for letting divorce happen, the conflicts between who I was, what my family wanted me to be, and lacking the money necessary to even attempt to fulfill my family’s demands I visit Indiana all tore me apart. (There was also a fear that if I did go, they’d trap me under a glass and keep me there.) The discomfort in my own skin became a buzzing noise in my head that eventually manifested in chronic hiving. That hiving is why I’m getting (or trying to get) allergy shots now.
I moved to Minneapolis in November of 2002. Over a year later, as I had coffee with a friend, she commented that I seemed “more comfortable in my skin lately.” At that point I had learned some, but not all of my hiving triggers. I also knew more about where to park, what might get me a ticket, and where I should not go for a walk at night. I knew the way home with certainty. I felt more comfortable in geographic space, and it helped me to acclimate my inner space.
The skin not fitting makes sense for pregnant women – suddenly your body isn’t yours anymore, then you get it back, but it’s not the same body. It’s got some new chemicals in it, some new processes going, and nothing is going to change it 100% back to pre-baby no matter what you do with it externally. A relocation is not like that. I know that.
A dramatic relocation does, however, do something sort-of like that to the soul. Minneapolis became integrated into my sense of self. It was my city, my town, my treasure trove of unappreciated and under-appreciated secrets. Suddenly I find myself in San Francisco, a place former residents rhapsodize because they don’t know exactly how many jewels in their memory have been stolen, or ripped away thanks to byproducts of the Ellis Act. I keep thinking this doesn’t fit. This isn’t home. There are no artists and writers here – they’re all in Berkeley and Oakland, and every single one I’ve spoken to has plans to leave for Portland, or Seattle, or Minneapolis, or Chicago.
Everything about here sort of chafes – and I realize now it’s the tension of the unaccustomed. So yes, I’m uncomfortable in this new skin. Being given a new city is a lot like being given a drastically altered body. Suddenly I must explore it piece by piece, find the new sensitive spots, identify the danger zones, seek out the places that produce pleasure, and seek new forms of pleasure, too.
It’s an a-ha – it’s my skin. The following days, through Solstice, I’ll focus on getting walks when it’s safe to, in getting deeper into my gym habit. I need to do what it takes to relax and get back into my own skin, and get into this new geographic body.