Hello, Madison

Hello, Madison

Ashley in MadisonI moved. To Wisconsin. (Yes, in January.)

Although perhaps one can’t properly say they’ve moved if they’re still living out of a hotel. Eloise made this sound like much more fun than it actually is. The sense of displacement is profound, and miniature shampoos and breakfast buffets with strangers only make it more so. There is also an effervescent sense of adventure and possibility and sheer newness that tickles under the skin, but one thing at a time.

I imagine this is what teleporting must feel like. One minute you know where you are and who everyone is and how everything works, and the next you’re somewhere else entirely with nothing close to enough time to adjust. It’s all flashing lights and swirling glitter and bam. You’re on the ice planet, and you’re not at all dressed for it.

(I assumed the first order of business would be to find a home. I was wrong. The first order of business was to buy warm boots.)

I don’t have a permanent address yet. I don’t have a regular grocery store or gym or a regular anything at all except for the same table I always claim at breakfast, the one by the window. Getting that table has become preternaturally important to me. The roads are unfamiliar, and because they are unfamiliar along with everything along them, driving — to buy warm boots, for example — has taken on the feeling of a corn maze. It was 80 degrees when I left Los Angeles. They are predicting a -55 wind chill here and warning people to stay inside. I know two people in town other than my husband, and I haven’t seen either of them in fifteen years.

The last time I felt this way was when I moved to L.A. a decade ago, and it’s high time to feel it again. It’s time for adventure and possibility and newness. It’s time to not know the rules of a place yet, to stumble around like a toddler, legs unsteady but noticing everything because everything is different. It’s time not to see past so much, to be uncomfortable.

Uncomfortable is where the good writing is. It’s gathering all the new things — new people, new places, new mores, new language — and putting them in my basket. Like balls of yarn, I pull them out later, unroll them and twine them with all the others, knitting new sentences, new scenes, whole novels from the found pieces. The trick is knowing what to pick up. Being a little outside, never quite local, never fully assimilated helps. Distance reveals patterns. Distance allows for honesty and discourages assumptions and preciousness.

I’m not local here, and now I am not local in L.A. either. Distance. With luck, perspective.

A friend of mine, a geneticist, was showing me how to use one of her microscopes. We were looking at one of my eye lashes (for lack of anything more interesting to mount on the slide) when suddenly it was gone. Nothing but white blurry spots and smears remained when I looked through the eyepiece. I had turned the wrong knob, and nothing I was doing after would bring the lash back into view. I grew quickly frustrated.

“When I lose something,” she said in her professor voice, “I pull the magnification all the way back until I can see it again.”

It worked. And not just on microscopes.


  • Catherine Pierce

    05.01.2014 at 16:03

    Losing Clementine is on my Goodreads’ Life Altering Reads shelf and I recommend it whenever the conversation turns to books. I attended high school in Green Bay, WI and now live in Los Angeles, so I can relate to being at “sixes and sevens” after such a physical and cultural change. I wish you the best as you nest in Madison!

  • mysteryrat

    05.01.2014 at 17:12

    Catherine, thank you so much for the kind words. I’m incredibly touched and so glad you shared. Los Angeles is fantastic, but don’t worry if it takes awhile to appreciate. It took me a full year to find my bearings there.

  • Tiffany Greenfield

    05.01.2014 at 17:24

    I know how you feel. When we moved from northern NY to Hawaii when my husband was in the military, I never felt like I was settled until I bought curtains and found a dentist. But I LOVED meeting new people and finding new local treasures. By the way, just so you know…today is a big day in Wisconsin…they have that football team they love who is playing. AND what is it about Madison? My favorite Dr. jumped the pond and relocated there last year, maybe I should travel once a year there for appointments. Good luck to you!

  • Mysti Berry

    05.01.2014 at 17:54

    Good luck out there! Just think, you won’t hear anyone say “Don’t you know who I am?!” for a long, long time!

  • Martin Bartels

    06.01.2014 at 07:55

    Madison, and Wisconsin in general, were my stomping grounds for many years before I moved to northern Virginia. I remember the palpable feeling of dislocation and an abstract loneliness that you’ve summed up perfectly. But I also have wonderful memories of Wisconsin and still visit regularly–I hope you grow to love it as I have! Good luck with your transition!