So Many Places To Go, So Many Lives To Live
February 23, 2022 § 5 Comments
by Kathy Stevenson
Even though I am not actively looking for a new town or city to move to, and I am quite content in my home of the past twenty-five years, just north of Chicago, whenever I travel to a new destination part of the fun is imagining myself living there. I often travel or vacation with a subliminal purpose, leaving myself open to the possibility that someday I might decide to give in to a subconscious urge that has always pulled at me – the urge to just “chuck it all” and try on a new life. Trying on new lives – imagining ourselves into them – is what writers do.
Of course, trying on a new life isn’t quite the same as trying on a new pair of shoes. Especially now that our travels have been greatly constricted by the pandemic. But daydreaming about and writing stories about other places – even if you are stuck at home – can be aided by the many websites devoted to Chambers of Commerce, travel, and real estate. While perusing these websites, I am suddenly peering into shop windows in Asheville, North Carolina, or lounging on the redwood deck of a rustic cabin at the foot of the Bitterroot Range. Maybe the character in my short story could be ensconced in a writers’ cottage in Key West, or an Arts and Crafts bungalow in Santa Fe. Everything is possible. And yet…
Linked with traveling (real traveling) is the tingly sense that anything is possible. After all, there you are, visiting Healdsburg or San Antonio, and you have found the people delightful, the restaurants enticing, the local culture intriguing. Barring any unforeseen catastrophes along the way (leaving your purse in the airport bus, no cars left at car rental, dropping your suitcase on your foot), you comfortably settle into your new temporary home experiencing one of the great joys of travel – the feeling of belonging in the larger world. But what if that larger world is suddenly snatched away?
Pre-pandemic, I would make lists of local attractions to visit on my travels. I would find a new favorite bookstore, a restaurant whose chowder I could no longer live without, a museum that I wanted to visit many times over. I often found myself pausing in front of the storefront display windows of realtors, scanning the “properties offered” fliers.
I really have no intention of moving. But why shouldn’t I? I’m a writer – my work life is portable, and my children and friends are scattered all over the country. My husband and I sometimes discuss whether we should move near to one of our children. But which one? Shouldn’t we just live in the place that most suits and nurtures us, and let them come to us?
It’s about at this point in the circular mind game that reality creeps in. We love visiting San Francisco, La Jolla, and Boulder, but can we afford anything there that is comparable to our current home in Illinois? (No.) Would we want to eat lunch at Hog Island Oyster Co. in the San Francisco Ferry Building every day? (Maybe…) Or do we love these places so much because they are a vacation splurge, and not part of our everyday routine.
Part of this lusting for a new place to live is the chance to reinvent ourselves – a sensation writers are very familiar with. Traveling sets us down in new and unfamiliar surroundings – a chance to jumpstart what may have become complacency or even boredom. The sleek, minimalist condo with an “in town” location, posted in that Realtor’s window, appeals precisely because it is not what you have now. You begin to fantasize about your potential new life. A life that doesn’t include snow shovels in the summer and mosquito repellent in the summer. Or perhaps skating on frozen ponds and making snow angels is what you are after, having lived in Florida your whole life.
Still, this sense of home eludes me. I was born in New Jersey, grew up in and went to college in Colorado, lived a long stretch of years in southern California, followed a husband’s job to Chicago, another husband to Philadelphia then back to Chicago, and once owned small vacation homes on the Jersey shore and on an island in Florida. My son lives in Reno, my daughter lives near me in Illinois, my mother and siblings and nieces and nephews live mostly in California and Colorado, my husband’s grown children and grandchildren live in Michigan and Philadelphia. When we had vacation time we often traveled to visit these family members, and on each visit I would wonder, “Is this where I’m meant to be? Could this be my home?”
The Irish poet and novelist George Moore wrote, “A man travels the world over in search of what he needs, and returns home to find it.”
Lately I have come to accept that I may never feel quite at home. I am content and feel great satisfaction to be living in my chosen city in Illinois, in my house – my home. But will there always be this longing for somewhere else?
Kathy Stevenson’s essays have appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Newsweek, The Writer, Philadelphia Inquirer, and many other publications, including the Brevity blog. Follow her on Twitter @k_stevenson01 or her website http://www.kathystevenson.com