mixer, memento: finding roots in a rootless life

I have a new coffee table. Big and square, it’s exactly the right height to rest my feet on while I sit on the couch.  I have a new dining table, too, and in the kitchen cabinet there’s a new mixer—one of those fancy standing mixers with an attachment for mixing bread dough. Of course, in the two years I’ve lived in Abu Dhabi, I’ve made bread exactly three times, so I don’t know if I’ll ever use that mixer.

I bought the mixer as a memento, actually, from friends who are leaving Abu Dhabi permanently. They’re going back to the States after eight years abroad and the mixer won’t work on a US electrical current. The dining table and coffee table are also mementos, purchased from another set of friends also moving away.

Most major metropolitan areas have expat communities, whether the high-end corner office types or the unskilled workers who clean those offices, but in Abu Dhabi, the population seems more fluid than it is in other places. Sometimes, in fact, living here seems like living in Chile under Pinochet: one day you’re nodding and smiling at the nice couple with the little dog who live down the street, and then it’s two weeks gone and you realize their house has been vacant for days.

Where did they go with that little dog? Across town? Across the globe? Back “home,” wherever that might be? Did someone get sick, lose a job, get a job, have a baby, split up?  I feel like I live in a city of unfinished stories and loose ends. Sometimes you get the full story: you say good-bye and all those other farewell things that you mean when you say them: “come visit,” and “we’ll visit,” and “there’s always facebook.” But more often than not, people just disappear; we notice for  a minute and then life swirls on.

I suppose on the one hand, the optimistic view of these transient relationships would be to see a web of friendships spreading across the globe and to imagine that children who grow up in expat cultures will always have a friend’s couch to sleep on, no matter where they find themselves.

But on the pessimistic other hand, this fluid community creates a kind of tentativeness: why invest in a new friendship if that friendship will soon become long distance instead of down the street? This question seems particularly pressing at my age, which is to say no longer in the first bloom (or even the second bloom) of youth: I’m middle-aged, frequently crabby, often tired, all of which makes making friends really hard. All that small talk and getting-to-know-you chitchat? Really, who has time?

Except, of course, as Simone Weil once said, “being rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.” Without friends and the sense of community that friends provide, can we feel rooted anywhere? Are we supposed to carry our roots with us, like trees at a garden store, each with its root-ball tenderly wrapped in burlap to make it easier to transport—and transplant?

I have just moved to a new house, with every expectation of putting down our own roots, and as if to literalize the metaphor, there’s a little garden, where come September, I’m imagining frangipangi and jasmine, maybe a pot of herbs in a shady corner.  I will cook for new friends in the neighborhood and try not to be crabby. Maybe I’ll even bake bread for these as yet unmet friends. After all, I have a mixer with just the right attachment.




for the first time in a long time, i’m joining the writers at yeahwrite: click the badge, read the work you’ll see on the grid: it’s good! yeah writer writers are like broccoli for your brain, but broccoli that sort of tastes like chocolate. Vote for your faves on the grid starting Thursday…

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28 Responses to mixer, memento: finding roots in a rootless life

  1. Erica M July 11, 2013 at 1:20 am #

    Should I feel bad for giggling furtively at that wonderful, quirky Pinochet line? The similes that fit, you gotta go with.
    Erica M recently posted..out of office messagingMy Profile

    • Deborah Quinn July 13, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

      Yeah that Pinochet line makes me laugh…but it’s also kind of true. Sick, but true.

  2. Ice Scream Mama July 11, 2013 at 4:07 am #

    it must be strange to have so many people come and go like that. Glad you’re settling in.

    • Deborah Quinn July 13, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

      It’s strange to have people wafting in and out…but it’s also interesting. People bring such great stories with them!

  3. Michelle Longo July 11, 2013 at 5:09 am #

    As I’m nearly constantly pondering a cross-country move, this really spoke to me. This is definitely going to be one of those posts I reread and think about. Nice to see you back on the grid.
    Michelle Longo recently posted..Common Ground.My Profile

    • Deborah Quinn July 13, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

      Thanks for the comment–what about your move? That sounds simultaneously scary & exciting…You’d be surprised at how easy, in some ways, such a move can be great (and great fodder for writing!) … Keep us posted!

      • Michelle Longo July 21, 2013 at 5:56 pm #

        Your reply went to my spam folder. I’ve scolded gmail for that 🙂
        We’re thinking of moving to Southern California. We’re in the stages of trying to figure out if it’s a pipe dream, if it’s the best thing for us, and how a 6 year old (or however old he is when we go) will deal with it. Frankly, if we didn’t have a child, we’d probably have already gone. Fear of making things hard for him is the biggest challenge. But we’ll see. If not in the immediate, I really do hope it will happen for retirement which is, sadly, a very long way off.
        Michelle Longo recently posted..The Reality of Working From Home.My Profile

        • Deborah Quinn July 22, 2013 at 6:49 am #

          Well on the one hand, what is it “they” say? Even if you move, you still take your baggage with you. But on the other hand, there is a LOT to be said for A) avoiding winter; and B) giving something new a try, because a fresh start can be really exciting. And hell, if you don’t like it you know what? You can COME BACK. Nothing (or very little) is really absolutely forever, right?

  4. Larks July 11, 2013 at 7:00 am #

    I really enjoyed reading this. My parents are South African ex-pats with a penchant for relocating and my childhood was filled with their attempts to put down roots. I wonder if ultimately it’s a skill like you hone with time and practice. Great post!
    Larks recently posted..On earworms. And MURDER.My Profile

    • Deborah Quinn July 13, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

      I do think relocating and settling is a skill that comes over time; I see the families I know in Abu Dhabi for whom AD is a second, third, fourth city–and their kids are adept at finding their way, as are the parents. I am much less skilled…and I sometimes wonder if I want to get better at it, actually, or if it’s good to experience the wrench of shifting relationships?

  5. Marcy July 11, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

    I like how you used the everyday objects to introduce your points. I’ve lived in the same area my whole life and would find it hard to start somewhere new.
    Marcy recently posted..I Bust a Move on Dance Central a/k/a Cartoons Pity Me in My BasementMy Profile

  6. From Novels to Board Books July 11, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

    This is so beautifully written. I love the line, “Are we supposed to carry our roots with us, like trees at a garden store, each with its root-ball tenderly wrapped in burlap to make it easier to transport—and transplant?”
    From Novels to Board Books recently posted..Forget the Sandman, I Need Boulder GuyMy Profile

    • Deborah Quinn July 13, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

      Thank you for stopping by!

  7. that cynking feeling July 11, 2013 at 7:02 pm #

    This week at work there was a welcome breakfast for a new employee. I said hi to the new employee, but that was it. Since I was hired three years ago, this is the third time we’ve welcomed a new employee into that same position. Co-workers seem to come and go quickly. And even though you are talking about neighbors and friends, since I spend so much time at work, I still feel like I can relate to the feelings that you are describing.
    that cynking feeling recently posted..Please don’t cheer for my sonMy Profile

  8. Natalie DeYoung July 11, 2013 at 11:56 pm #

    I just love this phrase: “city of unfinished stories.” I can imagine your frustration – I have been in the same place for years, and have trouble making friends. I relate with the feeling of frustration at idle chitchat, because I lack the patience.
    Natalie DeYoung recently posted..Homemade VogueMy Profile

    • Deborah Quinn July 13, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

      Exactly – chitchat does require patience & it’s just not where I want to put my energies any more!

  9. Linda Roy July 12, 2013 at 12:34 am #

    In the fifteen years since I’ve moved to New Jersey I’ve had so many friendships come and go – some because people have moved and others because people have moved on. I can only imagine how it feels to move to a new country and start over in a place where people are so transient. I lived in New York City in my 20s and the relationships all my artist friends were very transient. This was beautifully written and I so relate. And I agree with the sentiment about idle chit chat. I long for the days of having friends that I could just be me around without worrying about the impression I’m making on people who are most likely not like minded.
    Linda Roy recently posted..Can I Get An Amen?My Profile

    • Deborah Quinn July 13, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

      New York is also such a transient city – I’d lived here for so long before we moved to Abu Dhabi, however, that I’d sort of stopped noticing: I moved around the city a lot when I was young, but the shift never felt that radical. Plus I suppose I was younger, so everything was easier…even the getting-to-know-you chitchat, which now makes me just want to sit alone in the corner & mutter!

  10. Erin O July 12, 2013 at 3:49 am #

    I am so glad I found my way back to Yeah Write this week too, so I could discover this. I never lived out of the country, but I sure did move around in it a lot. The imagery of the root-ball just nailed it. I still feel that way, and I’ve been back in my hometown for 8 years now. Lovely work.
    Erin O recently posted..Clinging to FamiliarMy Profile

    • Deborah Quinn July 13, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

      Thank you for the compliment. I think that anyone who moves a lot will feel this way, actually. I moved a lot when I was younger (and more resilient!) but always within the city of New York, so there was much more continuity. Made things easier…It’s funny isn’t it, how the “hometown” can become less “home” after a prolonged absence? And then you sort of see things with a kind of double vision–the old “home” and the new.

  11. Mary @ A Teachable Mom July 12, 2013 at 5:27 am #

    Beautiful writing. Loved the imagery and the phrase “city of unfinished stories.” A pleasure to read your work – thank you!
    Mary @ A Teachable Mom recently posted..Falling In Love With BoysMy Profile

    • Deborah Quinn July 13, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

      Thank you for stopping by! I suppose all cities operate this way, with people floating in and out; I just seem to notice it more now, I guess, because of my own sense of rootlessness.

  12. Christie July 12, 2013 at 7:41 am #

    This post kills it. Everything. Pinochet. The mixer. Being cranky. Being a neighbor. Love it.
    Christie recently posted..6 Realities About The Bathroom At WorkMy Profile

    • Deborah Quinn July 13, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

      Cranky, for me, seems to be the operative word these days. Makes it hard to be a neighbor so I’m going to have to work on that. How goes your move?

  13. Stacie July 12, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

    Really great post! My sister is moving (on a 2y visa which could be extended) to Amsterdam later this year – not as different as where you are for sure. But, I’m sure she’ll experience a lot of these things.
    Stacie recently posted..Tango Throws The First PitchMy Profile

    • Deborah Quinn July 13, 2013 at 3:16 pm #

      Amsterdam – what a wonderful place. Lucky sister…and you, too, because what a great place to visit. I think this rootless feeling happens to anyone who moves–even, on a small scale, to someone who moves cross-town & not cross-world. Good luck to your sister!

  14. Jamie@SouthMainMuse July 12, 2013 at 11:30 pm #

    Sounds like the setting for a great novel. Please start writing one.
    Jamie@SouthMainMuse recently posted..Most people try to stay away from sharks.My Profile

    • Deborah Quinn July 13, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

      Ah…”the novel” … don’t we all have one percolating in a desk drawer (actual or virtual) somewhere? Thanks…

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