The Second Stage

Learning to find freedom in stability.

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This weekend, my wife Nora and I drove across Los Angeles to visit a house for sale in Highland Park. It was the first time either of us had visited a home with the idea of buying it.

It was not long ago that I swore I would never own a home: I couldn’t imagine taking on such a debt or being responsible for the yard and plumbing. I’m used to calling the landlord to change ceiling lightbulbs.

Similarly, in my late twenties, I concluded for a time that I did not want children. I found my own life difficult enough to manage and couldn’t imagine adding a child to my list of responsibilities.

For a long time, ideas about domesticity conjured dread in me and made me think of John Cheever stories about disillusioned families in the suburbs. I wanted to keep my options open, and ideas such as taking on a mortgage and having kids seemed to represent the permanent closing of alternative possibilities. Such ideas are incompatible with dreams of, for example, moving to Tokyo to work as a teacher or attorney.

But as we were driving east on I-10 to visit the little house Nora had found, I realized that I had fundamentally changed, and many of those rootless adolescent dreams no longer tugged at me. They had been replaced by new dreams of putting down roots, building a thriving law firm, and teaching my future children chess.

I searched myself for signs of self-deception and found none: I was genuinely excited about the prospect of buying a house. Just as I had, over the past five years, become increasingly excited about getting married and then increasingly excited about having kids.

In high school and college, I kept a blog called “The Wanderer,” which is how I saw myself. A sense of open possibilities was central to my self-identity. I never thought that would change, but it did. I learned to see the possibilities that come with staying put. Perhaps staying put is like writing a poem that must stay within a form, but is made more beautiful by that constraint.

For those who do not know me, I am an attorney and educator in Los Angeles who is committed to lifelong learning and growth. I’m not yet certain which direction this newsletter will go, but I hope you’ll subscribe and follow along. I anticipate writing short essays, memoir fragments, notes from my readings and travels, and recommendations for things I’ve discovered.

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