As the second big storm of the winter blankets Wisconsin in snow, I am at home surrounded by bags and clothes and camera gear, trying to figure out how to transport my life halfway across the world in two checked bags and carry ons. You'd think that after living in a 400-square-foot condo for three years, I wouldn't have much stuff. But it adds up.
Do I bring two winter coats? Or just wear the one I hope will keep me warm walking to the subway or waiting at the bus stop? Which clothes? Which lights? Which cameras (okay, I'm taking them all....a man must have priorities). Getting wrapped up in the minutiae of these questions helps me to forget about the bigger ones, so I pack and repack, I get travel insurance, I download apps for my iPhone that I hope will help me get along.
But today I'm trying to step back. In one week, I will be on a plane bound for Kharkov, Ukraine, flying on a one-way ticket. When I tell people about this move, they look at me with such a strange expression: Why would anyone want to move from the USA to Ukraine? In winter? With only limited employment prospects, and only the most rudimentary language skills? Why, indeed.
I have many answers, never too sure which are true and which are merely plausible. In the simplest sense, I have nothing to lose. This, I am told, is one of the biggest reasons a person becomes an Ex-Pat in the first place--down-on-their-luck Americans head overseas in search of something, anything, that might make a difference in their lives.
I am 43, divorced, unemployed, and can count my friends here on one hand. I spend days alone at home. And while solitude is grand, isolation breeds unhappiness. There's a huge emerging body of work which suggests that the biggest determinants of human happiness are closeness to friends, lovers, and family. With no lover, few friends (none of whom I see often), and a family that is still hours away from me physically (and often much further away emotionally), I have been mired in deep depression for most of my stay here.
This is not to say my family isn't wonderful. In fact, they are. My parents, who live two and a half hours away, have been supportive of this move. I see them regularly. I couldn't even attempt this adventure if it weren't for them. And even more important are my two children, one in college and one in middle school. While I see my older daughter less often now, we are close. And I am even closer with my son. It is painful to leave him at all. But I feel I must leave, at least for a little while.
Which brings me to the second reason I feel the need to go. My life here has been on a downward spiral for some time. I have picked up some bad habits that must change. I have become lazy. I quit writing. I need to shake things up, and this certainly qualifies. I have always been a wanderer, a lover of adventure, so when things don't work, I tend to be ready to move on and try something new. Maybe I don't understand contentment. Maybe I am simply unsatisfied. Or maybe I am still looking for someplace, or someone, that feels like home.