In three days, I’m moving to Romania.

This is probably the most exciting thing I’ve done since the time I went to Romania to live there for a year, when I met my wife. But this time I’m not going for a year—I’m going to stay, and my wife and kids are already there. They headed off to Romania about a month ago, while I stayed to finish up some final projects at my work and at home.

Those things are done now. Tomorrow is my last day of work. The day after that I tie up loose ends, and then I fly out.

But I hear you ask: Why are you moving from a comfortable and well-paid job in the US to Eastern Europe, of all places? Don’t they have bears and Communists there?

Of course they have bears and communists! In fact, there are over 6,000 bears in Romania, about a third of all of the bears in Europe, making Romania a major destination for European hunters and sportsmen. As for Communists, well, my wife calls herself a Communist to anyone who will listen, but what she means by that is probably not what you’re thinking. That’s a topic for another post.

But let’s get to the real reasons. There are three:

Family

Ciprian and his Grandmother

My wife has three sisters who live in Romania, along with her parents and something like sixty cousins. The trajectory of my life over the past decade has towards a greater engagement with family and long-lasting communities, and away from urban areas and high-stress jobs. In 2011 we moved from Seattle to Minnesota so we could spend more time with my family, and as a result of this change we were able to develop deeper relationships with my cousins, grandparents, brother, and parents that we would never have had the opportunity for otherwise. Moving to Romania continues this trend: we’ll be minutes away from Larisa’s sisters, and my children will get a chance to know many Romanian cousins whom they had never previously met.

My wife’s family has deep roots in the area where we’ll be living. She was willing to uproot herself and come to the US with me for a decade. Now it’s my turn to go to her hometown, and I can’t wait.

Freedom

I kind of got sick of sitting at a desk all day with a manager looking over my shoulder, you know?

The office

Don’t get me wrong: I really liked my software job, but as part of my shift in priorities, I found myself progressively more disengaged from the work I was getting paid to do, and more interested in other things. Selling my house in the US and moving to Romania (a country with a lower overall cost of living) allows me to go into freelance programming, something which offers me tremendously more flexibility and freedom. I hope to cut back on the number of hourse I spend programming, and put that time into other things.

One of which is publishing. I’ve been writing like a madman for the past several months, and I’m hoping to use some of this extra time turn my writing output from “substantial” to “OMG SO MANY WORDS”. I have a half-written series of six books which I’m going to start releasing next summer, and beyond that there are many, many worlds that I want to visit. I have a crazy dream of putting out a novel every other month, and with all this newfound time, I might just be able to do it.

My wife, meanwhile, is working hard to bootstrap her aromatherapy and therapeutic massage business in Romania. This is something she had worked on here in the states for the past few years, and there’s a large untapped market for this kind of thing in Romania. I think she’s gonna make it big.

Oh, but there’s one more thing that I’m going to do in Romania:

Philanthropy

The main thing that my wife and I want to do, the thing which really got us thinking about Romania in the first place, is make a positive difference in people’s lives.

Gypsy children in Aiud, Romania.

Larisa’s sister and brother-in-law spent the last several years working in a small Gypsy village in Romania providing social services and education to the impoverished population there. They initially contacted us about two years ago wanting to know if we would be interested in joining them. We thought about it seriously, but for various reasons that arrangement didn’t work out for us. But we couldn’t shake the idea of revamping our lives, and using some of our money and expertise to reach out to people in Larisa’s home country.

The idea we decided we could act on was to open a kind of after-school program for children from poor families who are struggling in school. The Romanian education system is set up to require a lot of parental supervision: the school day is only 4 hours long, and children are provided with homework and lessons which they are expected to complete with the help of their parents. However, economic changes in Romania mean that there are lots of families with absent parents or parents who aren’t able to support their children’s education due to their own poor education or personal problems. Romania is relatively lacking in the kinds of extracurricular activities and remedial education which can help these kids. We hope to step in to fill this gap in our local city.

We’re focusing on children in grades 1-6, hoping to intervene before people fall too far behind. Initially, we’ll simply be going to local principals and offering tutoring in common subjects (English, math, reading, and writing). Soon we hope to expand this into an after-school program which offers a healthy meal followed by a structured time for homework and mentoring. Eventually, we hope to integrate the after-school program a fuller family-oriented curriculum that offers counseling and support to parents and their kids together.

But that’s still a ways away! We’ve determined to go slow and take things as they come, discovering exactly what the needs and priorities of the people we work with are. We’ve already had to change plans a few times, and we might have to change them again. But we’re definitely going to do something.

(Because we often get asked: we don’t have a formal non-profit organization yet, and we aren’t asking for donations. Our plan is for me to continue working and support the family, while the profits from Larisa’s business are put into the charity work.)

It’s going to be an adventure. I’m incredibly excited.

spouse ringed spouse with cold pointed words, dishes bled down walls
we hid where we could to keep warm
mostly behind statues of ourselves
doors were cheap umbrellas for that sort of storm
books were best, hardbound deep cover
hear us reciting the logic of myth:

nail your trials to the lightning tree
ink them in crimson on the folded boat
whisper to a crack by the salt-clean sea
feed them to the bird with the ruby throat
sneak grief in a crate of smuggled tea
box damage in alder and pile with earth
banish pain with a dagger or sharp bit of bone
willow binds trouble in a fairy crown
burn notes on the ground by the upright stone
petition the bent man at the far edge of town

worn talismans break with heavy load, crow’s feather frays
so walk until you find a fire
circled strangers with the bent hearts and the worn hulls, making light
warming their hands over the embers
of the crooked timber that comes from family trees
from time to time

Stefan S.

This poem appeared, of all places, in a comment thread over at Making Light. Too lovely not to share.

My own family life was (and is) nearly idyllic, but this is offered as a gesture of sympathy for those whose homes were a battle zone and not a refuge.

Today, I am lazy, and have outsourced most of my blog-writing duties to George Orwell. We continue our readings from Chapter 7 of The Road to Wigan Pier, with Orwell talking about the social conditions in the working-class areas of the industrial north:

Take for instance the different attitude towards the family. A working-class family hangs together as a middle-class one does, but the relationship is far less tyrannical. A working man has not that deadly weight of family prestige hanging round his neck like a millstone. I have pointed out earlier that a middle-class person goes utterly to pieces under the influence of poverty; and this is generally due to the behaviour of his family–to the fact that he has scores of relations nagging and badgering him night and day for failing to ‘get on’. The fact that the working class know how to combine and the middle class don’t is probably due to their different conceptions of family loyalty. You cannot have an effective trade union of middle-class workers, be-cause in times of strikes almost every middle-class wife would be egging her husband on to blackleg and get the other fellow’s job….

In a working-class home–I am not thinking at the moment of the unemployed, but of comparatively prosperous homes–you breathe a warm, decent, deeply human atmosphere which it is not so easy to find elsewhere. I should say that a manual worker, if he is in steady work and drawing good wages–an ‘if’ which gets bigger and bigger–has a better chance of being happy than an ‘educated’ man. His home life seems to fall more naturally into a sane and comely shape. I have often been struck by the peculiar easy completeness, the perfect symmetry as it were, of a working- class interior at its best. Especially on winter evenings after tea, when the fire glows in the open range and dances mirrored in the steel fender, when Father, in shirt-sleeves, sits in the rocking chair at one side of the fire reading the racing finals, and Mother sits on the other with her sewing, and the children are happy with a pennorth of mint humbugs, and the dog lolls roasting himself on the rag mat–it is a good place to be in, provided that you can be not only in it but sufficiently of it to be taken for granted.

This scene is still reduplicated in a majority of English homes, though not in so many as before the war. Its happiness depends mainly upon one question–whether Father is in work. But notice that the picture I have called up, of a working-class family sitting round the coal fire after kippers and strong tea, belongs only to our own moment of time and could not belong either to the future or the past. Skip forward two hundred years into the Utopian future, and the scene is totally different. Hardly one of the things I have imagined will still be there. In that age when there is no manual labour and everyone is ‘educated’, it is hardly likely that Father will still be a rough man with enlarged hands who likes to sit in shirt-sleeves and says ‘Ah wur coomin’ oop street’. And there won’t be a coal fire in the grate, only some kind of invisible heater. The furniture will be made of rubber, glass, and steel. If there are still such things as evening papers there will certainly be no racing news in them, for gambling will be meaningless in a world where there is no poverty and the horse will have vanished from the face of the earth. Dogs, too, will have been sup- pressed on grounds of hygiene. And there won’t be so many children, either, if the birth-controllers have their way….

Curiously enough it is not the triumphs of modem engineering, nor the radio, nor the cinematograph, nor the five thousand novels which are published yearly, nor the crowds at Ascot and the Eton and Harrow match, but the memory of working-class interiors–especially as I sometimes saw them in my childhood before the war, when England was still prosperous– that reminds me that our age has not been altogether a bad one to live in.

One reads with horror Orwell’s description of the "Utopia" awaiting far in his future. A century from Orwell’s time is only twenty years from now. And while some of his vision has come to pass (invisible heaters, furniture of rubber, glass, and steel), horses are still with us, and so are dogs.

But now contrast Orwell’s discussion of the working-class family with this discussion of the British riots. Some things have gone better than expected. Some things have gone worse.