What to Do

Someone asked me if I’d written a blog post lately and the guilt returned. The guilt that simmers perpetually on the back burner now, reminding me that my life has settled back into mundane, that I have, yet again, returned to treading the wheel of routine. And, while it’s not a bad routine – much better, in fact, than any I have had in years – it still leaves me relatively void of inspiration or those self-revelatory moments of clarity prompted by transporting oneself into an alien environment. Moldova has become my home turf, for the time being.

Reading back over journal entries and posts penned during my first year, I remember how raw and wide open I felt, like every circumstance was apprehended through senses stretched to their limits by the constant, unrelenting barrage of the unfamiliar. It was a feeling, though often uncomfortable and sometimes downright painful, that made me feel completely awake and every bit alive. But, little by little, I managed to carve out a niche for myself that, over 2 1/2 years, became worn with everyday use. I know my way around this tiny country. I speak the language, shop the piața, ride public transport (such as it is,) fly in and out of its airport, follow the antics of its politicians and take the elevator to the office. Now, realizing that I have a bare six months left of this experience, I’ve had to forcibly shake myself back into awareness and begin planning for next steps and where to go from here. Just the thought of leaving what’s become comfortable, safe, and habitual is causing small frissons of anxiety, the subtle knowledge that I will again be at loose ends in the world.

The last time this happened, I drifted for what seemed like an interminable time (it was actually only about four months) before I locked onto the prospect of Peace Corps and felt the relief of having a direction and purpose. It is difficult for me, as accustomed as I have become through almost 40 years of full time employment, to adjust to the idea of not having a commitment, a place to be, responsibilities that anchor and define me. We are what we do, in some sense, and to have ‘nothing’ to do feels like losing the outlines of one’s identity, becoming blurry and indistinct, as if an eraser has passed over you once or twice. I write ‘nothing,’ though, because it is only in terms of the established culture that we consider those who are not bound to a job to be, essentially, unoccupied. Think of meeting someone for the first time, on an airplane or at a party. Soon enough the question comes: What do you do? This question is intended to elicit your profession or job, so most people know better than to say “Well, I read a lot,” or “Most mornings I do some yoga, then I usually do my food shopping, afterwards I might surf the internet for a couple of hours.” People without jobs – unless they are notably wealthy – are somehow flimsy, ephemeral, suspect. And I am about to become one, yet again.

This time, however, I think I will be less worried. Because my husband and I have virtually no debt these days, we are not burdened by the looming specter of a plummeting credit score or losing our house or bankruptcy. Sure, something catastrophic could happen: I could develop a brain tumor or he could skid on some ice and plow into the back of semi. But the pressing need that I felt back in 2010 when I first lost my job of 20 years has no power over me now. This experience has afforded me the opportunity to view life through a different lens. I can say with absolute surety that my desire to accumulate stuff has evaporated. While I do enjoy having a comfortable bed, indoor plumbing, and a kitchen sufficient for cooking, I have no desire to place an imprint on my living space. Other than wanting clothing that protects me from sun and snow and shoes that don’t raise blisters, I couldn’t care less about my wardrobe. I hate shopping. When I travel, I buy no souvenirs.

The only thing that tempts me now is experience. I am looking forward to that rawness again, to that feeling of being exposed and uncertain and wide open. I’m afraid I might be developing an addiction to becoming unglued. To not knowing. To not having a name tag, or a desk, or business card to tell me who I am. Or what I do.

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10 thoughts on “What to Do

  1. It’s a really nice side effect of PC–shedding things is like shedding a layer of skin. Those suitcases will be remarkably lighter on the return trip–and not just because a lot of your clothes are nearly ruined from 3 years of line drying.

    I also found it a lot easier to leave Moldova after I hit the two month countdown mark, because every rutiera ride seemed to take twice as long, the babushkas cutting in front of me in lines were ruder than usual, and cherry season was over. For me it was a defense mechanism, rediscovering the flaws and letting them chafe again. Whatever your case is, you’ll be better off wherever you end up.

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    1. You’re right – I can’t afford to let myself indulge the thought of NOT living in Moldova soon. I am so ready to leave. There is something that seeps into one here – is it hopelessness? A pervasive bitterness that ever so slightly sours one’s soul? Perhaps it’s just missing diversity, cleanliness, smiling people on the street, friendly cashiers, driving in cars, shopping for food all in one place….

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  2. Hence why many jurisdictions will never end homelessness…the psychology of identity., with its perceptions and shadows of reality! Good concept for a book

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  3. “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose” and you have found freedom. Not only will your identity not be linked to what you do, you have also loosened the bonds of identity with what you have. It sounds so wonderful. And so scary to most of us. Your sojourn in Moldova has changed you–and us. We all are looking for that next resting place on this journey called ‘life’ and trying to unravel the meaning of it all..You are not alone.

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  4. I so know the feeling of “So, what do you do?” and the obligatory raised eyebrows when you say, “Well, uh, nothing”. But you seem to know now that you are truly free from that which shackles so many. And a person can even get used to the all-pervasive negativity and apathy of Eastern Europe. Going home will be a huge shock for you indeed.

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  5. Having just written about my first year back as “me”, I wanted to see how much longer you have in Moldova. Three years is a long time to be away and it is not simple to readjust to life in the U.S. While I managed to fill my first year with many events and projects, I think I also applied some of my PC experience and values to my life after my return. I hope your reentry goes well and that you continue to write. Your writing style is both interesting and informative; I have enjoyed it very much.
    Stay safe. Best wishes, Bonnie

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