After almost 10 years in NYC, I’m moving west. On the turn of a dime, my wife and I are passing the baton of “home” to Portland, Oregon without either of us having a paying job out there yet. The how’s, the why’s and the logistics that go into changing everything, all in a 27-day period (which included getting married, thank you very much) is the stuff of legends, and whose story will have to wait for another day.
As we pack up our apartment and prepare to drive cross country on May 1, I’ve been left with that rare sensation when a long period of life (for me, 25% of it) ends, and a whole new one begins. It’s delineation is as clear and precise as a guillotine. One day I will be living and working in NYC, the next I will be neither.
How do I process it? What does it mean to live somewhere?
When people ask, where were you when:
- You turned thirty?
- You met your best friend?
- You met your wife?
- You got married?
- You got that award?
- Obama got elected?
- Trump got elected?
Or when they say, “Remember that:
- wild night?
- company we started?
- festival we threw?
- talk we gave?
your brain goes into the “Wayback Machine” and picks the data card that coincides with that day and time.
The longer we spend in a place, the deeper our roots entangle in the dirt, the greater our cache of local knowledge becomes. The more we know what it means to be somewhere, to understand the cadence and soul of a city, the more we fit in.
Our connection to a city is often defined by the happenings/changes that took place in the city during our stay (Hurricane Sandy, One World Trade, etc.). Our sense of self comes from how we changed during that same period (coming of age, work, setbacks, etc.). And our community comes from who was there with us during all this (coworkers, friends, lovers).
The cities we live in are the backdrops for the drama of our lives. The people in it are what makes it a story.
And now, in a blink of an eye, I’m being unplugged from the NYC mainframe. For a brief flicker of time, I was part of NYC. I was NYC.
What I’ve learned is that when you move your belongings you’re also moving your sense of belonging.
The heart still beats, the earth still rotates, but like a tree plucked from the earth and planted somewhere else, the individual sense of “me” and its frame of references are all about to change.
When I come back to visit, I’ll see old friends and old favorites but I’ll also see new buildings, new plazas, new people, new things.
I’ll reminisce about the “old New York,” the one where I mattered here. I’ll recall who I was when I was here, the habits I had, the routines I repeated. “I remember when that was…, I remember when I used to be able to…, I remember when my friends and I…”
But it won’t actually be an “old New York” that I’ll be missing. I’ll miss the “old me” who experienced a version of the city (and all the people in it) that now only exist in my memory. It’s not that the “old me” is automatically better off than the “new me,” what pains us when we leave a city is that it goes on without consulting with us first. People will happily make plans for May 2nd, even though I’m leaving.
What felt like a very personal story, as if the city shaped around my life, is just an ambiguous moment in time.
It’s a reminder that we are not the center of things, that we too shall pass.
What is special and unique about our individual experiences, these personal pods of time, is not the city or the epoch we lived in/through, it’s what made “here” feel like home.
Portland, I’m excited to see what’s up ahead around the bend in the river. I can’t wait to learn the rhythm of a new place. New conversations, new norms, new work, new friends, new opportunities, new experiences, new life (same beards, same hipster culture though). Thankfully, I’ll have my wife. That’s the biggest head start to making any place feel like “home.” This new “me” will be part of a new “us.”
Thank you, NYC. It’s been a hell of a ride. I became a proper adult here. I became the fabric of a company here. I started businesses here. I met my wife here. As the human body adopts foreign organisms (like mitochondria), so too “New York” and “Brooklyn” are part of my cellular makeup now. I’m proud of that. I’m proud of the edge, of the ability to grind, to wonder, to explore, to experience, to tolerate, to connect, to never trust the C train.
I’m thankful for the friends I’ve made who will stay in my life forever. I’m calling them “tattoo friends.” They couldn’t get rid of me if they tried.
For all those on the forefront of change, expected or unexpected, lean into the discomfort, lean into the growth. Change always brings growth. Trust it.
For now, I’ll keep paddling with the current, controlling the very little I can control, and enjoying “home” inside of a car driving west.