So the packing has begun. Between filling boxes with books, my partner J and I are ringing up utility companies and cancelling stuff. Getting out of a phone contract is like escaping from a prison where the door handles are made of barbed wire. I am cursing the 21st century and try to remind myself that all this automated phone service and all these utility companies are actually good. Before we had automated customer service life was terrible, wasn’t it. We lived in unheated hovels and ate stones, right? Anyway, I am resisting my inclination to hate all things modern and trying to embrace this move.
I moved to London from Toronto in 1990, and my memories of swapping continents keep surfacing. Maybe my memories are rose-tinted, but my God, things were simple then. I packed a trunk, shipped it across the ocean and found a room. It was unheated, only had an hour of hot running water a day and I got chilblains. But I didn’t need a phone or a computer. I typed my job applications on my landlady’s wonky typewriter. I soon found a design job despite the ‘e’, the ‘l’ and the ‘m’ on the typewriter being higher than the rest of the letters, making my job applications look like very polite ransom notes. Oh, how innocent we all were. No customer services to deal with, no one telling me to press ‘1’ for a service that in fact turns out to be the wrong one entirely. And passwords were things you read about in thrillers or children’s books.
Which takes me to the whole point of this move. We are upping sticks from our gritty, grimy, drug-ridden, vibrant patch of East London and relocating to Missoula, Montana. The idea is that I will finish my novel and J will make a film. Our seven-year-old daughter E will learn to swim and ride horses. The big sky, the peace and quiet, the slower pace will buy us time in order to press on with our projects. At the moment having watched J spend £500 on boxes, £4,000 on plane fares and a grand on car hire, I am not sure we have made a very sensible decision. Our US VISAs set us back a few thousand as well. This entire adventure has wiped out a huge chunk of our savings, so it will be interesting to see whether we can make it work.
The problem faced by so many of my artist friends is one of how to buy time in which to work. Life in London is madly expensive so we figured living somewhere cheaper would help with this problem. Now I am not so sure.
I will be outlining how this experiment in living and making work pans out over the course of one year, or maybe two. Despite my Luddite tendencies, here I am blogging. If you’d asked me in 1990 whether I would be some day sitting at a computer smaller than the size of my Oxford Shorter English Dictionary, I would have laughed. I wrote letters back then. And I received lots of them in return. In fact I am packing those up in order to store them. I am simultaneously cursing and in thrall to them, running my fingers over the drawings, the pages of handwritten thoughts. They are beautiful objects. They are so out of this century. They are making me feel old. E will no doubt chuck them when I start drooling in my chair in the old folks’ home, so why am I keeping them? I find it hard to throw away anything hand made. Photos, letters, diaries. Things from my hand or from the hands of those I love. I have a whole box for storage labelled ‘E’s hand-made objects’. Her first cardboard camera. A beautiful wooden car. A papier maché pig. I just can’t bring myself to chuck them in the recycling box. I haven’t made the psychological shift from ‘objects’ to ‘content’. For instance, I can’t do e-books. I love my books and want to share them, pass them along, write in their margins. Make as much of a mark on them as they have made on me. But for now I am packing them up alphabetically and flicking through them as I go. It is a joyous, tedious and melancholy task. But it is a task, like moving to Montana that I have chosen.
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