Leaving Rochester

A lot of you already know that I’ve gotten a job in Blacksburg, which is in southwestern Virginia. It’s a town of about 42,000 in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and is home to Virginia Tech as well as increasing number of startup-type companies, and lots of outdoor activities. The job is at NewCity, a great little interactive agency with high standards for themselves and for their clients, and a great sense of humor. I’m really excited about the job, as my all-day interview at the start of the month was quite impressive.

So that’s all really great … but it means leaving the community I’ve worked really hard to build in Rochester, particularly over the past year. Things haven’t always been great, but I’ve made a number of new friends that I hope I’ll be able to keep in touch with, and I tried a bunch of new things. I took singing lessons and got into the church musical (even if I won’t be around to see that through), helped teach a sex ed workshop for 9th graders, saw the sunrise for midsummer, went to the first weddings of my oldest friends, worked with a bunch of disadvantaged 3rd/4th graders in an after school program, took lots of pictures and had lots of other adventures. I had started making plans for lots of things with people at First Unitarian, in particular, ways to hopefully involve more of the UU-inclined Young Adults around. People at church were starting to recognize me – not just my face from singing in choir many Sunday mornings, but also my participation in other ways. I really started feeling like I was getting my “nest” that I’ve wanted for quite a while – a place that was my Home with a capital H. I even wanted to get my own Christmas tree and decorations for my apartment here this year, which I have not yet felt it was time for (it needs to be a real “nest” before it gets me to set up my own decorations)…

Now everything is just about all packed up and ready to be put in my moving pod or car and transported down South to some far-off apartment in the next few days.

Perhaps I should explain what I mean by my “nest” and why it’s so important to me.

I have the image of someday having a place that feels as snug as a little bird’s nest, with two songbirds snuggled up together in the space they built around them. That’s how I’ll really know I’ve arrived!

My understanding is that Wiccans have the idea of a Threshold, where a home meets the outside world. (I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I love the Dresden Files’ theology and draw heavily from it in this.) It protects those whose home it is, and there are a number of rituals for housewarming and strengthening the Threshold of a house. This tradition is where we get the belief that vampires and other demons cannot enter a home without an explicit invitation – the household magic inherent in a home protects from intruders. We also get the symbolism of a bride being carried over the threshold after a wedding. This past year I’ve come to the realization that having a “nest” or “sacred home” is important to me – I want to be able to take rituals like inviting a guest in and providing tea, food, and a listening ear seriously, and I like the idea that in return, my home will keep me happy and protected. Rituals like cooking, caring for people, keeping the space orderly, and admiring what your living space provides you, are the little spells that weave a strong Threshold – and hopefully it’s something that guests can feel on some level when they enter. I’ve also realized that an important part of this, one I’m still learning – a sort of responsibility that should go with having a “sacred home” – is to extend the strength of one’s Threshold to others, providing them welcome and nourishment even outside one’s walls.

So it’s a pretty scary concept to leave the place I’ve tried to tend with caring spirit (at least in the past year…) and try to set up a new Home and Threshold without any help. When I lived near here at RIT, I hated Rochester and felt completely unrooted and lost without the home I’d grown up in, and I didn’t feel like I had anywhere from which to draw strength. When I came back here after stints in Champaign and Germany, I got some really important help from Nate – an address to mail my box of stuff to, a bunch of unwanted kitchen items, and someone to touch base with a bit. I’ve lived in Rochester for six years now, all together – and even if I rejoiced to leave after the first four, there was a lot I was learning about the world of Rochester in that time. A lot which I’ve been able to draw on in coming back to the city for a new beginning. Although I do already know the people with whom I’ll be working are awesome and friendly, the idea of being rootless again and having to learn and build everything from scratch again makes me anxious (though some of that could be the stress of packing up and moving too…) about what will happen next.

It’s really been impressed upon me how much of a dent I’ve made in my community around here by the number of people I’ve had coming up to me and expressing good wishes and curiosity and giving me hugs. I felt really fulfilled by those who told me I made an impact with a fortuitously timed invitation of welcome, or by those who made sincere offers of help and welcome themselves. I definitely wouldn’t have expected such a response from many of the people who spoke up, and felt far more “seen” by others than I expected – or even would have believed a few years ago.

In any case, I will leave you with the classic words of Bilbo Baggins.

My dear People … I hope you are all enjoying yourselves as much as I am … I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve … I am going. I am leaving now. Good-bye!

9 Responses to “Leaving Rochester”

  1. Bruce Casner
    | Reply

    Since you know Dresden, do you know the story The Warrior, from his book Side Jobs (it was in another anthology too)? I particularly like the last few pages, his conversation with Uriel, where he discovers the significant effects his actions have had on others in the community, without necessarily meaning to.

    • ellen
      | Reply

      Yes, that’s a good story, mostly for that reason. The rest of it is kind of your average tale of Dresden punching the daylights out of baddies, but his talk with the archangel about his less literal fight for good over evil is really what makes the story. Everyone can do better at making those little impacts that save lives from evil.

      Even if I would never particularly emulate the Carpenters, I love the way their home is described in the books as this perfect island of familial warmth and safety.

  2. Frances Harris
    | Reply

    Oh, Ellen, I have very good feelings about this move for you. I’m glad you had the second, very fruitful experience at Rochester. I look forward to following your continuing adventures!

    • ellen
      | Reply

      Thank you, Ms. Harris. I don’t know if you remember telling me when I was graduating, that I was the sort of person you wanted to be when you grew up, but it’s stayed with me. That’s a pretty big responsibility, to try to be someone that Ms. Harris would want to be! I don’t feel like I’ve done too well a lot of the time, but the things people have been saying to me lately have been making me think there is hope for me yet if I try. Still, those are big shoes to fill!

  3. Gil
    | Reply

    nicely said. I will miss seeing you on Saturdays, but I am sure we will keep in contact with our photography.

  4. Ariana
    | Reply

    I am totally with you, Ellen. I’ve had 18 significant moves in the past 8 years, and I am SO happy to have a stable place now that I’ve decorated and made into a home with my roommate. I’ve discovered that decorating is much more important than I previously thought. I’m also a firm believer in quality hand soap and soft hand towels. ;) (I got my soft hand towels pretty inexpensively at Meijer.) I get the impression from those things that the inhabitants of the home want to use their resources to make me feel welcome and cared for. Those small sensory luxuries can go a long way, I feel.

    I’m also kind of one of those crazy Christians that does things like spiritual home-cleansing, haha. For instance, I picked out a verse/passage to pray for each of the Hubbards, and when I housesit for them I like to pray those verses over their rooms. I often do that when I’m taking a rest from physically cleaning the house. I should probably start doing that in my own home…

    And I will be praying for you as you construct your new nest!! That the “raw materials” you find (both spiritual and physical) will be conducive to the aura you’re trying to create, and for wisdom in how to bring the beauty of those raw materials to its fullest expression.

    • ellen
      | Reply

      I do agree that little details that you can offer to guests with heart are important – whether it’s fancy soap and soft hand towels, or other details. I’m trying to make offering tea a habit, and in my new place I will probably try to make more opportunities for little details. Since I’ve been sort of operating on the idea that I’d be working in Germany by this time ever since I graduated college, I haven’t really made as much space for things like soft hand towels for guests. I’ll have to do some thinking about ways I can offer better hospitality (and where better to learn it than in the South?) so if you have ideas, please speak up!

  5. Angus Rockett
    | Reply

    This is a very nice post. I know that the future looks scary and you are leaving part of your nest behind but remember that the people you leave behind will still be there and there are new friends to make in Blacksburg. Nests can sometimes be rebuilt quickly from the things you take with you and these days with electronic communication your old friends can keep in touch more easily.

    • ellen
      | Reply

      Yeah, I imagine that since I already have a lot of things for my nest, it will go faster. I’ve already done the trip to Bed Bath and Beyond that makes the cashier ask if it’s my first apartment. But there will still be a lot of set up, and I think part of the point of a nest as opposed to a house is the weaving that goes into it over time.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>