Just long enough at the fair
At the end of January I celebrated my 30th birthday. While it seems trivial — and may well be — the thought of turning 30 gave me pause and inspired me to reflect on the things most valuable to me.
I’ve said it before, but I often joke that I more resemble my 10-year-old self then I do myself at say, 23. The things I love, the simplicity of the world that so wowed me then — as it does now — was easy to ignore in those raucous 20-something days of good times and even better fashion accessories.
A few things remained fairly unchanged even during my years as a resident of Chicago, Boston and eventually Portland. My deep compassion for animals never wavered, my profound sense of vertigo when forced away from the ocean for too long, my appreciation for the smell of woodsmoke and the taste of a homemade meal.
When I moved back to Camden in 2008 I told myself it was just for the summer. I justified it with the notion that I hadn’t really spent a summer here since college — and never one fully on my own. Within a month of moving home I met someone and until recently “on my own” wasn’t really a part of my Midcoast equation.
Sometime around the holidays change was afoot. Maybe it was that milestone birthday approaching, and a lot of writing on the proverbial wall, but my longtime boyfriend and I decided that we had, as Joan Didion once famously wrote, stayed too long at the fair. We parted ways in December.
While I’d like to report the transition has been easy, it hasn’t. When someone becomes a part of your life, a part of your family and that instinctive first phone call with good news, bad news, or just to make plain old conversation, letting go means relearning how to live a life. It involves learning to fill the spaces once occupied by the multifaceted bits of relationship maintenance, some mundane and some spectacular.
He and I lived together in a beautiful home in Hope, a fortuitous part-barter rental situation with a great landlord and miles of trails and fields at our disposal. With a pair of dogs, gardens, an impressive raspberry patch and nearly a dozen chickens we really couldn’t have asked much more from a rental situation.
As he put the finishing touches on flawless new cherry kitchen cabinets (that barter system magic) I began the process of saying goodbye to all of it. As I began boxing my things I marveled at how much can be accumulated in the course of four years, and how much sentiment can be attached to each of those things when considered one-by-one.
I didn’t know where I was going at first, with my family in the area it seemed best for me to exit and look for a new place to live. I was fortunate to have a no-questions-asked place to stay while I alternately licked my own wounds and felt guilty about those I had possibly inflicted on another.
Finally, after a couple weeks, I swallowed my pride and reached out to the community. Where would I live? How could I possibly replace the home that I loved? Where would I even start?
Facebook, that’s where. And the Lincolnville Bulletin Board Google Group.
I carefully drafted a “status update” requesting leads on places that might be suitable. I felt vulnerable and asked my editor to read it before I hit the button announcing the tectonic shift in my life. I wanted to be gentle, I wanted to preserve the heavy-hearted privacy germane to such a personal situation.
The response was, in a single word, overwhelming.
I recall working on a community project in 2009 with a pair of highly technology-savvy friends. Both talked often about bringing online communities offline and remarked about the Midcoast area in it’s special uniqueness in facilitating the crossover between the virtual main streets of social media, and the traditional brick-and-mortar main streets where we routinely encounter one another in person. The case of my housing search was a poignant reminder of that crossover.
Shortly after my post the emails began. A police chief from a neighboring town emailed me with an apartment idea, legions of folks I hardly know called and messaged me with leads and generous offers, some inviting me to live in guest houses or even parts of their own homes. All said and done, I must have received more than 40 replies, I was humbled nearly to the point of tears.
I chose a small home owned by kind acquaintances and I moved in last week. While it’s not yet my home in the way Hope was, it’s sweet and quirky, with the typical Maine-house idiosyncrasies that evoke the occasional expletive or extra wool blanket.
Mostly the little house is bathed in just the sort of kindness that leaves me with little doubt that this place — Midcoast Maine — is among the best collective communities in the world, for a child of 10 or a woman of 30.
Jenna Lookner is a Courier Publications reporter.