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Max Roytenberg

Max Roytenberg: Starting From Scratch: What was this like for you?

By Max Roytenberg September 2014, Vancouver, posted Jan 15, 2014




I am not complaining. One is not very attractive to people if one is a complainer. So, I am not complaining! I am just remarking on the reality of the challenge involved in starting from scratch.

When we are young we are born into a framework created by our parents. We arrive. We are there. Others have created the framework within which we live and operate. If our parents have the capacity for nurturing, if we are that fortunate, they equip us with the physical and emotional resources for lives of a kind we will want to emulate when we are on our own. Or not.

Some of us can’t wait to strike out and build a place of our very own. Others will want to cling as long as they can to the nest that has been created by their parents or guardians. Most of us will be out there building our own place at sometime or other, starting from scratch. If one does any travelling for extended periods, or if one changes partners, there will be more than a few occasions when we will be starting from scratch. We all seek to surround ourselves in our living spaces with the nitty-gritty that ensures our creature comforts, physical, and even emotional, the treasures, the structures, big and small, that become, that are, valuable to us. We may not always succeed.

We talk about the physical, but often more important is the emotional. If we are brought up in an emotional environment that is nurturing, that is secure, it will be so much easier to handle the physical disruptions in our lives which we will face, however taxing they may be. Most of us will get a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Wherever we start, we will have to cope with come what may. Woe betide us if we go through times where we will have to face disruptions in which both the physical and the emotional are laid waste at the same time. We can easily imagine how those things can arrive. In their absence we become disoriented. Not much fun. None at all.

When I first left home as a young man, setting up a household with a new wife, it was a wrenching event, aggravated by our inexperience. Setting up a new home with a new partner should be a joyful experience. The glorious adventure facing young people can be a exhilarating, at least on an emotional level, even if the material side can be tough. Being your own boss, not being second-guessed by parents, isn’t that great? If partners care for each other, isn’t that a time of fun and discovery?

These can be some of the best of young people’s lives. But, often, aren’t we frightened out of our wits? What if we make a mistake? We know these times can be beset with the strains and stresses of tight money, wanting so much and having so little. But for caring partners, even starting from scratch can be a wondrous time, to be cherished all our lives. Don’t we sometimes look back on those times and laugh? But, when the caring is not there, this period can be a nightmare, a time to just be gotten through with gritted teeth.

I have travelled a great deal in my life. Sometimes I have been absent from my home base for extended periods of time. In my later life it never was a chore because I knew I was well-rooted in a home within which I had the feeling of a constant presence even though I was not physically there. The adventure of the new, the exposure to the novel and unexpected, always attracted. Nevertheless, over time, it became more and more difficult to accept those absences, though they were so necessary to help maintain my home.

In the end, I had to surrender a lucrative consulting business because I could no longer tolerate being away, and starting a new habitation from scratch every few months. The flesh was willing but the mind was weak. My most agonizing memories were of the commute I had between Ottawa and Toronto for seven years, living in a single room, with only weekends at home. I was sure that I would ultimately end up in a fiery crash on a busy highway. After that experience, I retired and never left my home and hearth again.

Since those ancient times, I have recovered the youthful dream of my life, living with the person inhabiting my original visions of the good life. Within the emotional halo of our existence, it has always mattered little to me where we make our physical home. This has, of course, been more difficult for my Bride, who would have that natural nesting instinct. But for me, I was ready to start from scratch anywhere at the drop of a hat. Naturally, we seek pleasant and interesting surroundings, but they could be anywhere as far as I was concerned, with the proviso that my best half is a happy camper. That is the rub, isn’t it?

Now, with my Bride, we have had the good fortune to establish what I believe is our final new home. We have again started from scratch, after abandoning a refuge we found across the waters. We now live in an entirely different sphere, an altered reality from anything that has gone before. In the past few years we have set up homes in both Phoenix, Arizona and Dublin, Ireland, after abandoning permanent homes in Winnipeg and Ottawa. To me, our new places always appeared to be temporary locations. We moved some things around, but our furnishings always seemed to me as stop-gap, chosen with the make-do attitude.

Now that we have returned to Canada, everything seems much more real. This is really a horse of a different colour. We are no longer tourists. We are starting from scratch, but, somehow, things are different. We choose each item for our new home with a particular care. These choices are for real, for the long term. This is the place. How fortunate it is that we have chosen so well, a place of bright light, with an air of spaciousness, in the midst of all the beauties of nature, and a streaming polyglot human environment. We are optimistic that we face a long happy future here, despite both being around the age of eighty.

We feel like newlyweds, building our new home together. We exercise vigorously each day and throw ourselves into the multitude of community activities around us. We are re-building our social infrastructure, gathering old/new friends to our bosom.

We seek to maximize what we have. Even if it is physically small in size, we know we are massive in emotional wherewithal. We wish to make our new home a nexus for all the people of our pasts that we care for, a lodestone, a gathering place. We are seeking to assure that we can make it a place as compelling as possible to realize that dream. We know we are starting from scratch again in our new home, but we have lofty objectives.

What’s it like around your place?

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