My race began…
at the age of ten when my family moved from Sydney, Australia all the way to Chicago. My brother, a teenager at the time, was the very definition of emo, belting out Piano Man mournfully whenever anyone entered the room; but I was a veritable Tigger, bouncing and jumping and singing my way into my new home. I loved moving! I loved snow, I loved making new friends, I loved the different book selection at the local library, I loved my teachers (who, wonderfully, all seemed to be some sort of derivative of Miss Honey from Matilda), I loved how many kids we had as neighbors so that we could form our own motorcycle gang (read: tame-bicycle-riding-for-half-an-hour-before-dinner-crew) in our cul-de-sac. I loved it all. I was hooked on moving.
For the next eight years, though, I was stuck in one geographic location, thanks to my sulky brother and my parents who couldn’t be convinced to trade in job security for an endlessly nomadic life. Fools. We took little road trips and vacations here and there, but they didn’t feed my moving habit nearly as much as I would have liked. And so I turned to books. With a novel in hand, I could travel around the world and even beyond it in the span of just a few hours. It felt like magic. Bad ass bookworm that I seem, it may be surprising that I was a rule follower as a kid—I didn’t like getting into trouble, so I did everything I was told, got good grades, and didn’t even need a curfew, I was so on top of being at home all the time (#dorkconfessions). But reading felt illicit to me—whether I was following Sethe’s story of being haunted or Hester’s journey of shame, I felt as though I was breaking the rules. I was traveling through space and time, making new friends, and, mostly, feeding my addiction, all within the confines of my suburban middle-class home.
Of course, soon, I craved more. At eighteen, I moved to California for college, while most of my classmates stuck to the quiet familiarity of the Midwest. I took day trips and road trips and Spring Break trips. I explored the ethnic food scene of LA, the beach culture of Santa Monica, the gardens and museums that dotted the landscape. Over summers, I went to New York to intern at publishing houses, getting a hit from the heady excitement of each street, the endless possibilities of neighborhoods, and food and books and new friends around each corner. Still, I was desperate for more.
Junior year of college, I trekked over to Edinburgh, Scotland for what was meant to be a semester abroad but which soon turned into a full year. I got chills hiking Arthur’s Seat, felt a jolt of energy and pride every time I understood anything a Glaswegian said to me (for real, I’m still not convinced they’re not speaking a different language), and ate enough chips to feed a small village. The cobbled streets, the shopkeepers chipping away at sidewalk ice with knives (oh, crazy Scotsmen), the nip in the air, the tales of beasts and monsters at every turn—I was enthralled. Eventually, though, you’ve explored every side street, peeked into every haggis emporium, and maxed out on adorably accented new friends. Eventually, the old familiar antsiness rears its ugly head. Even with a romantic Christmas with your best friend in Belgium, Italy, and France, the new becomes the old familiar.
So I returned to LA for my final year of college, and from there, it was over to New York for a publishing job that made me feel like the luckiest girl alive. Early copies of all the bestsellers? Free books forever? Editing and reading all the time? Meeting Lauren Graham? What could possibly be better?
It’s alarming to me that I wasn’t worried by the prickly sensation under my skin every time I got settled in somewhere. Why did no one tell me I had a problem? Why did no one tell me to get help? Would they have ignored a cocaine habit if I’d had one? (Badass bookworm here again to explain that I clearly don’t understand the difference between a kind of problem and a real problem.) Sheesh.
Two years working in the big city, one apartment in the LES and another in Williamsburg, and all sorts of new friends and experiences later, I again started to crave the hit I had felt the first time I moved to a new place when I was ten. I hesitated briefly, fighting with the Tigger inside who was clamoring to have a new experience. Ultimately, though, the antsiness won out, and I found myself leaving New York for Melbourne and then Sydney, Australia. Maybe a reverse move would do the trick—undoing the events of my tenth year would finally make me a normal, sedentary person.
I lived in a Williamsburg-esque neighborhood, then moved to the beach (because, come on, it’s Sydney!). I got a graduate degree in teaching and segued into a profession that made me feel endlessly stimulated, fulfilled, and energized. I made new friends and went on coastal hikes and ocean swims nearly every day. I ate the most amazing Asian food and learned the most hilarious Aussie lingo (note to all of you sports fans out there—rooting for a team means wanting to have sex with them, not wanting them to win). And still…
By now, I knew that constantly moving was not a sustainable way of life. For one, it cost money. I was also sick of furniture shopping, of putting myself out there to meet new people, of setting my directionally-challenged-self loose on a new map and getting shot at in a national park (true story). I missed the closeness of my friendships from college, I wanted to know what it would be like to love a place so much I wanted to stay there for years, I wanted to have bedroom furniture for long enough to get sick of it. And yet…
When I graduated from my graduate program, I found myself moving back to the States, this time to San Francisco. I had always loved my visits there during college and had even made a silly and half-nonsensical pact with two of my best friends from college to move there within 5 years of graduation. It felt like as good a next step as any.
I hated my new job (something out of a Sister Act 2 nightmare); due to circumstances outside my control, I moved 3 times in my first 9 months; I earned next-to-no money; and making friends took longer than ever before. And yet… that old familiar prickly sensation under my skin that told me to GET OUT was absent. Slowly, I visited every natural landmark the city had to offer, took day and weekend trips to the surrounds, and made sure I knew the profile of every single neighborhood in the area. Still, I felt calm. Happy, even. The old familiar was not boring me. Travel brochures were not beckoning to me to move just one last time. I was cured.
I had spent my whole life racing toward that Tigger-like sensation I had felt as a 10 year-old moving from one country to another, but it turns out that the trick was finally slowing town, soaking things up bit by bit, and realizing that the moments in between (like making a perfect batch of your mother’s famous Frankie’s—a South Indian street food phenomenon—or lesson planning well into the night because you’ve just settled upon the most exciting way to teach Persepolis ever) are actually infinitely more thrilling than those sprints toward new and exciting. Finally finding a place and job and lifestyle that feel sustainable, even—or especially—in the in-between quiet moments has ended up being well worth slowing down for.