As odd timing would have it, an old friend of mine, who happens to have been my stalwart companion when it came to city-love and anti-suburbanism back in the day, is also moving to the country this summer. We were the a-holes that used to make fun of people who wear sweatpants to go shopping, and now we’re both guilty of wearing yoga or pajama pants, which, despite being somewhat more flattering, are still the modern counterpart to sweats. And, despite the millions of times that we smirked sarcastically at what we deemed “suburban” mannerisms, both of us have made a pit stop in the suburbs on our way out to the country. I would like to correct my youthful self right now by noting that neither my recent clothing choices nor my living arrangement actually means that I have, as previously assumed at age 23, “given up.” Therefore I offer this piece of advice to young people: try not to be too snobby in your 20’s, it will probably come back to bite you in the ass later.
Awhile back I was having a quick conversation with the aforementioned friend about the progress of our moves, and actually used the phrase “like lemmings off the cliff,” as if, in keeping with our old attitudes, we’re moving to the country to die. The ad that Christina Kelly quotes in this post on her blog Fallen Princess also came to mind:
At the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, there was an obnoxious ad for a storage company. “The suburbs have bigger closets,” it said. “Perfect for you to hide your dreams in.” I was kind of obsessed with the placement. What was the point? Would it be good for business to insult a customer base you have already lost?
The point is that I think that for anyone who has loved the city, and has identified herself (perhaps a little too) strongly with it, there is some angst associated with moving out of it. Unfortunately, though the first two stages of city grief are standard (1. Shock, 2. Pain/guilt), the third embarrassingly immature stage (3. Anger/bargaining) is really about whether or not it’s still possible to be “cool” outside of the city. And, as Ms. Kelly discusses in the post quoted above, does moving out really mean that you have given up on your dreams?
To mostly-get-over phase 3 of city grief I needed only to examine whether or not I was actually living out my dreams in the city; which also requires actually looking at all the drawbacks that one ignores while one is in love. For example, I nearly had an aneurism trying to complete the simple task of picking up a coffee for my brother in Uptown last weekend. The traffic is insane. The parking is atrocious. It is over-crowded and loud and dirty and a general assault on the senses. How could it take over 45 minutes to pick up a cup of coffee in an area of the city that probably has the highest coffee-shop-per-capita in the state?! Ugh. I will not miss that part (though, living there it is much easier because then you walk or bus everywhere. But my point is that it is crowded and overbearing!). You just have to deal with a lot of people on a daily basis, and that can often get stressful: constantly having to explain yourself/your needs, having to be patient with/understanding of other people’s needs. These are things that all human beings have to do, but when you have to do it 10 times as much, it can really wear you down and make you crabby and sometimes even a little less human yourself.
Also, because of the number of people observing/judging you on a daily basis, you have to put a lot more effort into keeping up your “cool” – whatever contrived/competitive persona you may emit because you have to protect your soft innards from the assault of awareness that happens every day. When I lived in the city, most days I felt sub-par. I felt frumpy. Maybe because I gave up a lot of my contrived persona before I left there (being over 30 and all), but it really did not do wonders for my self-esteem, which really didn’t do much for the whole “following my dreams” bit. The fact that it is possible for me to feel like I look normal (even good!) when I’m in the country really frees up a surprising amount of mental space for other things.
Finally, and this is sort of a mix of my first and second points, the stress was getting to me. When I think of all of the places in the city that I will miss with my whole being: the museums, the music venues, the restaurants, etc., I realize that when I live in the country I will probably go to most of those places as often as I did when I lived in the city. When I’m really honest with myself, I spent most of my time in the city (outside of work): a. drinking, either at bars, at home on the porch with my husband, or at friends houses, or b. hanging out at parks with my dog. I wasn’t exactly being the poster girl for following one’s dreams. I was neither actively pursuing writing/art nor working in any focused way on cleaning my life up so I could have a family. I was basically drifting along in the psychic fuzz created by overstimulation.
So, maybe I’m just not that driven variety of person that thrives well in the city. Maybe I’m just not the sexy-shiny type that everyone is trained to want to be. Maybe moving away from the city isn’t so much about giving up, but is rather about letting go. I guess we’ll see. I’m aware that it is just as easy to romanticize the country as it is the city. I know that living there is going to be a lot of work in other ways, and that it will have its own stressors and challenges. I’m just thinking and hoping that it’s possible that the stillness that comes with increased physical space will be exactly what a person like me needs to actually thrive instead of just live.