I’m writing from my new apartment in DC where, for the past 48 hours, I’ve been a virtual whirlwind of activity: unpacking and breaking down and throwing away boxes, putting away clothes and shoes and dishes and glasses and books, directing movers, getting groceries, doing laundry, driving, walking, scurrying — yes, there has been a lot of scurrying going on.

Putting away dishes is strangely satisfying.
Putting away dishes is strangely satisfying.

And now, 48 hours after repatriating, all of my furniture is in my apartment, I have an internet connection, and the majority of the stuff is put away. The apartment, which 48 hours earlier was an empty series of rooms, finally feels like the place where I live. Now all that’s missing is Al, who’s coming back from the UK next weekend, and the belongings we shipped from South Africa, which are going through customs at the moment. Whew!

My moving process involved wine and Felicity on DVD.
My moving process involved wine and Felicity on DVD.

Finally settling into an apartment that’s ours — not a corporate apartment, or a hotel, or some other form of short-term housing — has made me feel very happy. It’s also energized me practically to the point of mania (hence, the scurrying), which only began to peter out this afternoon, after I finished color-coding my bookshelves. Tomorrow, I think I’ll start to settle into my life outside the walls of my apartment: I’m trying out a new yoga studio, going to the Walmart a couple of blocks away, and having dinner and drinks with friends.

It feels good to be back.


The Wizard of Loneliness

The Wizard of Loneliness was the title of a book I read in middle school.  I remember literally nothing about the book other than the title.  I even looked it up on Amazon and read the description and still didn’t remember anything about it.  It obviously made a big impression on me.  Nonetheless, the title popped into my head today because I’ve been thinking a lot about loneliness.

Being lonely when you’re actually alone somewhere is a heavy burden, and I’ve experienced it several times.  I’ve brought it on myself, of course.  Over the past eight years or so, I’ve had the habit of showing up places where I know absolutely no one – or close to absolutely no one – and staying a while.  I did this in Cuba (2004), Argentina (2009), and Brazil (2005 and 2010).  The times I’ve felt most acutely lonely in my life were these times, when I found myself in a foreign country with few friends and, even worse, few distractions.

I distinctly remember dreading Sundays in Brazil, both times that I lived there, because Sundays are family days, when Brazilians get together with their loved ones to eat long lunches, drink beer, and catch up.  On Sundays, I’d take myself to the movies or go to the gym or sit in my apartment doing crossword puzzles, waiting for the day to be over.

When I went back to Brazil in 2010 for work, I wasn’t prepared for the riptide of loneliness that sucked me out to sea as soon as I got there.  It was easier the first time I had moved by myself to Brazil, in 2005, because I had been truly alone – no boyfriend back home – and I was twenty-three.  It must be said that meeting people tends to be easier when you’re single and twenty-three. But in 2010, I had left behind my then-boyfriend (now husband) and it hurt, almost physically, to know that he was still in Boston with our friends, while I was completely and utterly alone in a city of 20 million people.

It took me a long time to make good friends in Brazil, both times that I lived there.  Making friends as an expat in Sao Paulo requires a Herculean effort.  I forced myself to go to Meetups and Internations events and then forced myself to introduce myself to strangers, to walk up to clusters of people talking and ask if I could join.  I set myself up on blind friend dates.  I accepted every social invitation I received, even if it was for something I didn’t particularly want to do.  Eventually, it paid off, and I made friends, some of whom I’m still close to.  But man, it was hard.

Here in Johannesburg, things are different.  I feel a small tug of loneliness during the day, as I begin to write, take my gym break, eat a solitary lunch, and return to my writing.  Usually, by the time I wrap up my work for the day, there are several long hours before Al will return from work.  Without friends to visit or talk to, those hours can drag by.  But I’m not experiencing loneliness as a lodestone around my neck the way I have before.  I know that, no matter what, on weekends, I have my husband to cook dinner with.  I won’t ever have to go to the movies alone.

But while I relish the solitary lifestyle of the writer (I have always worked best when left alone), I also want to have the option to close my computer and go meet friends for drinks or dinner.  It’s a big burden on Al to have to be my only companion in this country.  Even though he is endlessly fascinating and wonderful and I love being with him, we both realize I’m going to be miserable if I spend the next eight months here without my own group of friends.

So, I’m starting the process again of reaching out, of joining Meetups, of contacting friends of friends.  It’s hard. And slow. And difficult without a car and GPS.  But it’ll happen.  No Wizard of Loneliness in this house.


Moving is the worst.  And the worst of the worst? Packing.  And the worst of the worst of the WORST? Packing by yourself.

These people are liars. Packing is terrible.

Packing for a move sucks because it involves taking things out of their Rightful Places and putting them into boxes, where they might be broken or bent. It involves turning a well-ordered apartment into chaos.  It involves breathing in clouds of dust and dander.  And it involves tough choices, like, do I keep this seven-year-old MAC lip gloss in an unflattering shade (frosty purple) because it cost $18 when I bought it (circa 2005)? I mean, $18! That’s nothing to sniff at.  Especially in 2005 dollars! What am I, made of money?

I’m also facing a dilemma about what to do with all of our canned goods. I don’t have a car so I can’t take them anywhere to be donated and I would feel weird just leaving a box full o’ cans in front of my apartment door, but I can’t bear to throw away perfectly good cans of diced tomatoes.  I’m part Italian, I can’t just throw away tomatoes.  That’s like spitting on my heritage.  I don’t know what my excuse is for not wanting to throw away the canned beets I have in my cupboard, but it just feels wrong.

I realize these concerns are objectively dumb and I should be throwing away as much as possible, but a not-insignificant chunk of me sympathizes with those people who can’t open their front door because there are too many cats in the way.  Not that I’m condoning animal hoarding. But I get it — it’s hard to throw away perfectly good cats.

So, to keep my mind off the misery of this process, I’ve been listening to an excellent Canadian podcast called Stop Podcasting Yourself (http://maximumfun.org/shows/stop-podcasting-yourself) and catching up on TV shows I’ve been meaning to watch for years now (“Freaks and Geeks,” for one, and “The League”).  But it’s still a slog.  Tomorrow morning the movers come and whatever I have packed will have to do.  The rest of it, they’ll have to pack. And there’s something weirdly intimate about having strangers pack your dishes for you, but what are you gonna do?

Kay, back to packing.

Stephanie’s no good very bad week

So, uh, I’m moving to South Africa in four days.

I know.

And I’m completely unprepared.

Guys, I know.

The (abridged) backstory: my husband (Al) works for a great company that has a Global Rotation Program that allows employees to work in two of the company’s many offices for six to nine months each.  Al applied last year and was accepted (hooray!) and we decided to do nine months in Joburg and nine months in London. I’ve written about the decision process and my feelings on it here.  Suffice it to say it was sort of a fraught decision but I’m feeling good about the move and even better about my decision to quit my terrible, toxic law firm job and become a professional writer.

Anyway.  It’s really happening now.  Stuff is getting real.  But as I sit here, four days out from boarding a flight to Johannesburg, I feel woefully unprepared for this move.  I haven’t packed half of our appliances, I have a load of laundry that needs doing, I don’t have enough boxes for the rest of our stuff (and why do we have so many novelty hats?), and I ran out of bubble-wrap before I could wrap up all of our wine glasses and ceramic mugs.  Oy.

I couldn’t really pack before this because I was busy suffering through a comically terrible last two weeks of work and I had little time for anything other than crying in my office.  See, Al left for Joburg two weeks ago but I had decided to stay on a couple extra weeks at work because of a big filing deadline for one of my cases.  So there I was, in DC, working bonkers hours to try to get this brief filed, when I started feeling sick.  Really sick.  I had a terrible headache, body aches, joint pain, chills, fever, and sharp abdominal pains, and I completely lost my appetite. I went to the doctor and — long story short! — I had typhoid fever.


I’ll spare you the gory details but my last week of work was truly hellish, and not just because I was dealing with a disease that you contract from eating or drinking something contaminated with human feces.  Oh, wait, I guess I didn’t spare you the gory details at all. Well… real talk. Deal with it.

The point is, I don’t recommend working at a law firm. It’s TERRIBLE. Worse than typhoid! And I should know!  Actually, typhoid fever is a pretty useful metric for deciding on the horribleness of any given thing. For example: Drinking a frosty eggnog with rum > watching a baseball game with beer > getting a stubbed toe > watching a baseball game with no beer > having typhoid fever > working at a law firm.

Anyway, I’m better now (thank you, Cipro) and I really do need to pack.