Missoula Re-Bound


photo of one of my birthday flowers by E

Here are a few pertinent things that have happened in the past few days: My now eight-year-old daughter E has started writing ‘mom’ instead of ‘mum’ (not just every now and then, but all the time). I have just taken out a subscription to the Missoulian so that every Sunday a fat newspaper lands at my front door. It is not my beloved Saturday Guardian, but it is something. And a friend gave me a plant for my birthday this week. A plant—something with roots—among the bouquets of flowers. She happens to be one of the only friends here with whom I discussed going to see a rental house. One of the other friends I told about it asked me where it was exactly. When I told her she said, “Oh my gosh, that is the house we lived in when we first came to Missoula. You will love it.” I am not someone who believes in signs. But I don’t believe in ignoring them either.


‘Mom’ doesn’t sit right but I better get used to it.

At my birthday party this past weekend many of my Missoulian friends were asking whether we were going to stay on here or head back to London this summer once our year was up. I told them all that I had been waiting for a flash of insight, a sign, a eureka moment so distinct and persuasive that I would know exactly what was right. But no Eureka moment came. My mother-in-law’s cousin Debra wrote to me recently: “maybe the eureka moment is montana itself.” I turned those words over in my mind for weeks. What I have found is that there has not been a lightning flash of insight; there has been a steady accruing of feelings and thoughts that have pointed me in the direction I am now going.


Willy’s Auto, Missoula. I love this sign. When I asked Willy if lots of people came to take pictures of it, he said, “No, but I like it and I got a very good deal on it, too.”

For the past month I had been asking the great philosophers to help me make up my mind. I thought maybe Renée Descartes who paired free will with our ability to choose could make my indecision disappear. “Will is by its nature so free that it can never be constrained” (Passions of the Soul). A beautiful idea, but not helpful in my current state.


Downtown Missoula

Then I went to the go-to guy for deep thoughts on free will: Thomas Aquinas. He believed that our human nature leads us towards willing what is best for the general good of society. An idea perhaps too big for my needs. But he also thought that our freedom lies in how we get to this general good. The choices we make can be found in how we get to our desired end and the even more basic choice about whether we even want to consider this choice. This I found helpful as it looks at choice as aiming for things rather than satisfying basic desires.


E’s photo of our current street name with Mount Sentinal behind

I feel that staying in Missoula another year is the right decision, and yet I still get wobbly and emotional when I think about all the people in London I won’t see for another year. E was fine about it all until yesterday when she said, her voice going soft and crackly, “I think I want to go home.” She, like me, is somewhat torn between jumping into another year and running back to what we know.


Missoula parking lot

A year away feels like a prolonged vacation. Two years is something else. I am not sure what, but I’ll know it when I get there. And I think E will be just fine.


One of my birthday bouquet flowers photographed by E


10 thoughts on “Missoula Re-Bound

  1. Sara Angelucci

    Hi J. A big decision indeed. I’m not sure what I would do either but I continue to be impressed at how brave you’ve been uprooting yourself and taking on this new adventure. If nothing else…remember, you can’t buy this kind of perspective on your life. How often do we ever get to step outside of our routine, our city, our life and really examine it from the point of view of an entirely different culture. I suspect when you do go home things will shift there too in a really interesting way. xo s

  2. Rachel

    Well Joanna, a departure indeed. I quite agree, you must be so torn, but I think your friend Sara’s view, interesting. We don’t get these chances everyday, but you also have Eve’s perspective. Wishing you all happiness wherever you choose to be for tomorrow, birthday, and the rest of the year. xo

    • Back at you my fellow May 7th-er! Yes, it has been an emotional roller coaster. Eve is upset, but I am trying to work out how much of that is just disappointment at not doing what she thought we were doing and how much is actually her really wanting to go back. This morning she said she missed our house. Our tiny doll’s house of a house! I am still very torn but I think it’s too late now to reverse our decision… Will keep you posted… and have a wonderful day tomorrow and a super year ahead! Jxx

  3. Debbie Farah

    Happy birthday dear j
    May the year ahead bring you great delight, adventure and happiness with many blessings and much love.

    • Thank you Debra! Did you see your cameo in my blog? Yes, that was you. I feel good about this year ahead. I hope Leo is thriving. We have a cat who comes to our door regularly (though we don’t let her in). E has named her Whiskers and she is so affectionate. She’s a tabby (not ginger) and reminds us all of gorgeous Leo. Jxx

  4. Stefan Falk

    Hi Joanna and happy birthday!
    I think what happens is that the longer one stays the deeper your rots grow wherever you are. So, after this first year, like the plant you just got, there is a holdfast that is more likely to make you stay than to ever let you go. On the other hand, what I feel happened to me after I lived in Canada for three years and then moved back to Sweden is that I changed my perspective such that it is less the place and more the people and ideas around them and the society that are of importance. And, that there are many ways of building a good community. But I think also you, after so many years in UK, know this pretty well. If life is good enough where you are and there is nothing immediate to take into consideration making you leave, well, then Montana sounds OK,doesn’t it? And you can always travel places. For instance, me and the boys as well as T and her bunch wil be in Southampton end of July in a big rented house. Perhaps you guys too?
    Big hug!

    • Thank you Stefan for the lovely comment. You are so right. It is all about the people and the ideas around them. I guess in my heart I feel quite British — despite yesterday’s election which has completely depressed me! I love the sense of humour, the quirkiness, the silliness just for the sake of being silly. But Montana has so much to offer, too… Maybe I just feel in flux inside myself and this is something I am going through despite where I am geographically. Southampton will be gorgeous. Thanks for the invite but I am raiding my piggy bank to get up to Ottawa this month… I hope all is well in Svenska! xx

      • Stefan Falk

        All is well, for sure! Gee, the typo errors on the iPad… Sorry for those.
        Anyway, I’m kind of in a flux myself, am I not? I will be here i Sweden another year and a bit, but then, where do I and T go? Leaving Sweden is pretty set unless T has a revelation of a major magnitude, eh? I hope for Canada, but there is so much to take into consideration. You guys are much more open-minded to everything around you even though you are very opiniated about so much. Nothing wrong about that, a bit frustrating sometimes (especially since T is right so often…).
        During my years in grad school, one of the researchers that helped me most was a guy with his roots in USA. He always said, even had it on his wall in front of his desk, “Chance favours the prepared mind”. I try to stick to that as much as possible, to try to be a bit ahead in planning if possible and then to take your chance if a window of opportunity opens suddenly. Point being – you don’t need to lead a boring life with rules and such but if homework is done, well, then you have a better sense of what is the best choice.
        As you have noted by now, philosophy is not an area where I have any Idea of what I am talking about… Oh, well, can’t be good at all and everything anymore, can we? Quite possibly, I’m influenced by a record from 1998 I’m listening to while I type away now. A Swedish guy, Lars Hollmer with “Andetag” (Breaths) Nothing on Youtube from the album but this link is to his (locally…) most well-known composition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CucbqI6Tv9g
        Say hi to J and E

  5. Here’s another one, Stephan, which I remind myself of periodically: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working” (similar to the saying from your research colleague). I think it was Picasso who said it, although it sounds like something he may have borrowed from one of the ancients? Anyway, nice to hear your thoughts as always! Jxx

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