Monthly Archives: September 2014

Finding my way in the world as a free spirit


I didn’t plan to take a hiatus from writing but that’s what it has turned out to be. Without China as my backdrop, I struggled to find my muse. All my ideas for writing came to dead ends and read like whiny diatribes. When I would try to pick up with writing I had started months before, my emotions or feelings has changed. This piece below was started back in May. I couldn’t find a reasonable end to it, perhaps because I didn’t feel like I had actually experienced the end yet. Finally, I forced myself this week to finish this posting. Below isn’t so much a story with an end as much as it is an update of my life and where I am at the moment.

Although I’d like to make a commitment to write often and continuously, I know I may not be able to keep my word on that. Here’s hoping that with getting this post out there, that I can at least pick up and get the momentum going again.

“Steph is our free spirit friend.” These were the words close friends of mine used to describe me to other guests and friends at their wedding a few years ago. I’ve often reflected on the accuracy of that description of me and how my friends used it in a complementary way. Nevertheless, over the years I’ve wondered whether being a free spirit is one of my personal assets that sets me apart from others or whether it is actually a curse and character flaw. Because of my free spiriting ways, I have always been able to easily imagine and then ultimately follow through with living in whichever place my heart desires for the moment. I am often resilient to change and being in a new place. On the other hand, my free spiriting ways have prevented me from ever feeling I could settle down in one place. They make me fiercely independent at times and unable to speak of the “we” with important people in my life, while ironically at other times make me seek, latch on and cling to people I hope may offer me a sense of roots. Thanks to my free spiriting ways, I no sooner start to feel comfortable in a place, embraced by a community of friends and satisfied with my living surroundings and daily life routines, when suddenly I have this overarching need and urge to seek and find a new place, a new lifestyle and a new beginning. I’m programmed every three to five years to reposition and uproot my life to somewhere new. Suddenly, I’ll find myself again in an obscure, remote and far away corner of the world and wonder, “What just happened? How did I get here? What am I doing here?” Even worse, I pine and ache for all the collective chapters of my life from all of the previous places I left behind. Remnants of familiarity, such as a song or smell, will trigger a mix of nostalgia, homesickness and longing.

This roller coaster of emotions is what I rode on during the first six months I lived in New Zealand. One would think that this being the third major move for me within ten years, let alone to another English speaking country, and the fact that I practically jumped at the opportunity to move here, that it would have been easy for me to plunge in and get on with my merry life. On paper, it happened that way. My partner and I both secured employment in jobs we enjoyed, and moved into a house where we could relax in the evenings, garden on weekends and easily visit his family within two hours. Nevertheless, in spite of that wonderful settling and nesting, I struggled with feelings of confusion, isolation and loneliness during my first six months. I found myself resentful of going into winter in July. Other days, I longed for the beauty of the Pacific Northwest outdoors or the impressive views from my parents’ Montana cabin, while being oblivious to the spellbinding nature surrounding me. I would sigh at an outdoor surrounding and simply say, “This reminds me of…..” with my voice trailing off and reminiscing about some far away location or experience from a not so distant previous chapter in my life. Ironically, I even missed the very aspects of China that used to drive me crazy- busy, crowded streets with lots of activity and hubbub. In contrast, New Zealand was so quiet and peaceful. Streets emptied by 7 pm and I was left scratching my head wondering, “Where did everyone go?” The roller coaster ride also included the pining of friendships. I had reminders of people who touched my life so profoundly and relived tearful farewells over and over in my head. The slow, painful realization that our friendships would slip into eventual occasional contact, no matter how sincere and well intentioned we were when we parted.

Am I alone in having such conflicting feelings and attachments towards different places? Am I the only one who struggles with the answer for where or what “home” is? The writer and fellow free-spirit Pico Iyer described in his TED talk last year that there are now over 220 million people worldwide living in countries other than that of their passport. Soon, according to Iyer, we free-spirits will make up the “fifth largest nation on Earth”. This comforts me to know that I am part of club or sorts and that there are countless others of us out there walking in the same shoes.

More than eight months in since I moved to New Zealand, I like to think I have coped well and made it through the lowest dip of the roller coaster ride. This wasn’t without a little bit of cheating along the way. Going back to the US for two weeks in August helped infinitely by giving me a dose of summer and allowing me to spend much needed time with my mother, sisters and some friends and family. While I thought a trip home would only make me more depressed to come back to New Zealand, it had the opposite effect and recharged me. When mentioning to some people in the US that I lived in New Zealand, they seemed to perk and brighten up. They would gush, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to go there. It’s my dream destination!” or “I’ve seen from pictures that it’s stunning!” It took these remarks from both friends and strangers to help me realize that indeed I now lived in a special place. It reminded me that I chose this path in life so that I could be with someone dear to me and be part of his world.

I arrived back in New Zealand in the second week of August with optimism and a new attitude. Since then, I can say I have been happier thanks in part to new friendships, the love and generosity of my Kiwi family, a growing vegetable garden in our backyard, new found nature escapes, and my rediscovery of swimming. Although I may still make comparisons with other places and may still miss certain elements of my previous life chapters, I’ve also realized that I don’t have to seek full closure on those previous chapters in my life. In the meantime though, it’s okay to focus and embrace this new and current chapter in my life.

Two weeks ago, we drove fifteen minutes out of the city where we live and soon found ourselves on a gravel country road. Driving past hilly and luscious, green pastures, we witnessed herds of ewes and their baby lambs. Bright yellow gorse blanketed entire hillsides as we wove our away along the road. Taking in the splendor around me, I realized for the first time that I wasn’t actually comparing it with anywhere else. I’d finally arrived. Maybe not home but at least I’d arrived to a feeling of contentment and living in the moment.

Happy to live in the moment but honor my past

Happy to live in the moment but honor my past

For further reading/ viewing:

Pico Iyer: Where is home?