Lessons from Walla Walla

walla walla balloon stampedeNearing the end of our initial stint in Wallyworld, I feel it only appropriate to take stock of what lessons I’ve learned thus far, as part of what I’ve tried to do while living here—otherwise known as how to carry on when lots of things in one’s life have gone awry. Through a torn ACL and meniscus, the free-fall of the world’s strongest economy, 30-some-odd inches of snow, for which our passengers tires were completely insufficient, and the sudden adjustment that accompanied moving from a town in which 70 percent of the residents were registered Democrats to a town that went 57 percent for McCain in the last election, I’ve tried to keep up, somehow, with my new reality. And along the way I’ve picked up a few things that I promise to take with me as we start our road trip and half-year sabbatical. These are, in no particular order:

  1. There is nothing that being in a hurry makes better, except possibly catching a ferry. I spent a lot of time in DC rushing around, and now I wonder why.
  2. Listservs just aren’t as good for meting out advice as real people. Sure, I appreciate the community list, but asking my local pharmacist who they recommend for something, even when it’s unrelated to pharmacy, helps get me information they feel attached to, and thus, it becomes better information. This is how I found the second dry cleaners in Walla Walla. For the record, there are two dry cleaners in Walla Walla. The first was cheap but a bit brusque, if anyone cares to know such things.
  3. It’s not what you do, it’s who you are. This was a hard one for me. Career was very important to me before we moved; it was something I worked hard for, found accomplishment in, and that I could appeal to when I asked the question “why.” I also quite enjoyed the salary I eventually made, but again, I worked damn hard for that salary, including working at 3AM on a Saturday for a company vice president who was just about completely incompetent, and having a report thrown at me because the president didn’t like how much it had cost to produce. Fast forward to today and I’ve now been out of a job for 19 months. As long as I was focused on what I didn’t have, I tasted my own bile with the level of frustration I felt. But in the meantime, I’ve mentored people who really needed someone to listen to them and encourage them, I’ve helped out a mom with her newborn when she needed a sitter, I’ve tried to help people just this side of lonely make new connections to others, and I’m currently working on shining a spotlight on the emerging Walla Walla food culture/community, and I think those are all good things. None of them has made me a penny, and in a way, that’s very liberating. My sense of self has shifted from me inside an office to me beyond an office.
  4. Sometimes you just need a nice glass of wine at the end of the day. Or if wine isn’t your thing, iced tea. Or some other refreshment, so long as there’s a moment to decompress from the day’s activities. And if chocolate could accompany this moment, all the better. But remember, we have to breathe before we take the next step.
  5. When faced with an opportunity to do something unknown vs. already experienced, go for the unknown. I suppose this is another way to say nothing ventured, nothing gained, but damn, that phrase is old and worn out. We could have stayed in DC and not come to Walla Walla, sure. And Susanne would still be teaching as a part-time instructor and I would still be working for the government. And I would not have found the time yet to get to my writing. This would all have amounted to limbo as humans live it. So even if this writing thing is a pipe dream, I’m glad to be doing it, and not a week goes by that I don’t hear at least once that what I’ve written has meant something important for someone. All because I arranged pixels on a screen. That is really touching to me.
  6. The more you make your life about learning Important Things, the less you’ll really know. Another hard one for me, since I’ve been all about the learning and growing my whole life. But I see now that I’m not less of a person for not knowing rocket science. The beauty of this position is that I can learn constantly, just by being aware and being principled. This drives me to keep picking up other people’s stories, because I can’t live everyone else’s lives. So the next best thing is hearing them, asking questions and paying attention. I aim to walk a whole lot of miles in other people’s shoes and spend less time fretting about what I don’t know.
  7. Having a sit-down supper most nights is a great excuse for talking. I know, this means I need to close my laptop. I’m okay with that, because on any given night, it could be cheese grits with asparagus and seared pork chops, or curried chicken over rice, or smashed red potatoes with roast chicken and wilted garlic spinach. And I wouldn’t want any of those things to get in between the keys. I also like recapping the day and enjoying another person’s company while having tasty treats.

These weren’t the lessons I sought out when we moved here, but these are the ones I’ve run into. And I recognize that the edge of interesting and trite is razor-thin, so if anyone has puked on themselves reading this, my sincerest apologies. But at the end of the analysis, these have turned out to be important to me. It’s not that they weren’t important before August 20, 2008, but they were just hard to hear through the din. I would genuinely love hearing other folks’ life lessons, so feel free to add them in the comments to this post.

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4 Comments on “Lessons from Walla Walla”

  1. May 4, 2010 at 5:25 pm #

    I like your post, I found your post via wefeelfine.org and found it expecially ironic that I used to live in Walla Walla and now I live in DC (or just outside of it). I hope you are enjoying your stint there. While it is a totally different world from DC, there are lots of things to do, and great experiences to be had! Enjoy

    • evmaroon
      May 4, 2010 at 6:12 pm #

      I’m glad you liked it! I’m enjoying it more because spring in Walla Walla is really lovely and bright. And as you know, there are tons of things to do in DC, many of them for free. So I hope you’re enjoying the capitol swamp.

  2. T. Cain
    May 4, 2010 at 9:00 pm #

    I’ve learned since I’ve moved here to wave at other drivers on country roads by barely moving my hand and giving a stiff nod. I’ve learned that I can small talk about the weather for hours and mean every word. I’ve learned that even tho I used to commute daily for sixty minutes when I lived in Oakland ,now I can barely force myself to drive to College Place once a month…

    • evmaroon
      May 4, 2010 at 9:19 pm #

      Those are very excellent lessons. I’ve seen the stiff nod in person. And I almost never go to College Place! Am I missing out?

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