Faraway

I’ve always taken great pride in being a New Yorker (New Yawka, thank you).  It’s a huge part of my identity.  When I went to college, I thought everyone at my small liberal arts college would think I was *so cool* that I was from the City.  Turns out, they were not.  Upstaters are not fond of New York City, especially when it seems only people from the City can claim the title of New Yorker.  They also do not like the City’s simplified version of New York geography, wherein you have Long Island, the City, Westchester, and then everything else is Upstate.  They like to tell you about Central New York and Western New York, although to be honest, I would just nod along politely and go back to calling it all upstate.

Point is, even when I found myself in a situation where it was uncool to be from NYC I was still hella proud of it.

Interestingly, in England I get much more the reaction I originally expected when I say I’m from New York.  I have used my accent to command the respect and attention of a class of students.  When people notice my accent (and they always notice my accent), they ask where I’m from, and when I say New York, I have gotten an actual gasp of awe.  Even MR has gone on record saying that he finds the NY accent kind of hot (really??).  I’ve branded myself as a New Yorker.

I think I can claim the title.  Both sides of my family settled in NYC when they got off the boat from Italy and Germany.  That makes me a fourth generation New Yorker on my mother’s side and third on my father’s.  I went to NYC public schools.  I taught in NYC public schools.  My cousin is a NYC police officer.  I used to have a super thick accent, along the lines of ‘dawg’ and ‘cawfee’ and most of my family still does, even when the NY accent is dying out.  I even grew up in Queens, which is one of the more ‘authentic’ boroughs inasmuch as nobody goes to Queens unless they’re from Queens.  Or going to the airport.

It doesn’t get more glam than Bell Blvd, people.

My family being in New York was an institution.  It would always be–until it wasn’t.  The transition started a long time ago: distant cousins moved to Florida; my grandparents sold their house in Brooklyn and moved to the Poconos.  My father’s parents followed suit, and my uncle went to Jersey.  But that was all fine, because my parents were in NYC and they weren’t leaving.

Only–rents got high.  My mom kept looking at apartments and realised she could never move because she could never afford a new place.  My dad got sick and my sister lived too far away to help as much as she wanted.  New Yorkers will know that a drive from Croton-on-Hudson in northern Westchester to Queens is too much of a trek to do on a regular basis.  So my parents compromised–they moved to Tarrytown.  At first I hated the idea of them leaving NYC, but as it happens, I find Tarrytown amazing.  Gorgeous views of the Hudson, amazing restaurants, still proper NY food with good pizza and bagels…MR and I visited my parents there and promptly fell in love.  We would move there in a heartbeat if we thought we could ever afford it.  But we can’t, so we settled for visiting.

Actual view of Tarrytown–it is actually that gorgeous.

 

Also delicious NY pizza here. And the bagel place next door rocks too. I am getting hungry.

Only then my sister moved to Massachusetts.  My dad’s no longer with us, so that left my mom alone in Westchester.  She shouldn’t be alone–she’s kind of isolated from everyone because she doesn’t really drive and everyone’s pretty far.  Not just my sister, but to get to her brothers in Staten Island and Brooklyn is easily a couple hours’ journey involving several modes of transportation, including a boat to get to Staten Island.  So obviously my mom needs to move to Massachusetts.  I 100% think she should do this.

But selfishly, I think that my ties to New York are getting severed.  My children will never be able to call themselves New Yorkers unless they choose to move there.  But even then, won’t they be transplants with their British accents?  And can I even call myself a New Yorker anymore?  I don’t live there.  When I go to the States I will be visiting family in Massachusetts, and I almost spit out the name.  Not because Massachusetts is a bad place (I actually quite like it, if I’m honest), but because it’s not NY.  And the bagels and pizza will suck.  So if I don’t live there and don’t have ties to the City, how can I claim it as ‘my’ city?  Do I have to start saying ‘I’m originally from New York’ instead of ‘I’m a New Yorker’?

When I left NY for England I thought I would probably come back.  But gentrification and skyrocketing rents mean that the financially comfortable life we lead in Coventry is well beyond our means in NYC, an injustice that stings.

This is definitely an existential crisis.  I want to go home, but I don’t know where home is.  Faraway is the City that raised me.  That’s part of me, but I don’t think I’m part of it anymore.  I live in Coventry.  I like England and I like Warwickshire, but if I’m brutally honest I still feel like an outsider.  I’m always the only American, and that gets a bit lonely, particularly when I have to explain/ represent some of the idiocy this country gets up to.

So where is home?  I don’t know.

 

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Source: Faraway

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But No Cigar

Yesterday I wrote about things in my life which worked out exactly as I had planned.  MR is a person who seems to always land on his feet, and he says this is not because he’s especially lucky, he just knows how to seize opportunities.  I think I’ve done the same at certain points.  Sometimes, though, with all the will in the world, things don’t work out exactly as I planned, and that is certainly true for settling into my marriage.

Everything began perfectly.  I’ve detailed the story often enough here, but it still amazes me, because when I hit 30 and had been on exactly 3 dates in 8 years, I thought one of my life dreams, having a family, was never going to happen.  As 30 clicked over to 31, and then 32, I started to really panic.  Time was running out.  I had to kiss a few frogs before I found the One, didn’t I?  And I wasn’t even catching frogs.  Then if I did find a guy, we’d probably date for a couple of years before getting married, and then want to be married a couple of years…basically my logic turned into panic along these lines:

Then my friend introduced me to MR and we were exchanging emails before we met as though we were already a couple.  When we met in person several months later in August, it was already a fait accompli.  Then he went about some serious day seizing and surprised both himself and me by proposing at Christmas.

Suddenly my life was falling into place.  Perhaps that’s one of the ways he’s the right person for me, because he goes after the things he wants in the same way.  We started planning a wedding, a big wedding with a 14th century Guild Hall as a venue and a phalanx of bridesmaids and a Big White Dress.

Then things started to crumble a little bit.  MR’s family, especially his mother, is an efficient person, and this is no fault.  Also, this was the first wedding of her 3 children so naturally she wanted to be involved.  However, I as the bride was across the Atlantic, so the efficient planning meant sometimes cutting out the bride, and that was just the beginning of transatlantic difficulties.  I thought when we decided to get married in England that I would have a small cluster of guests.  Not a lot, because a trip to England isn’t cheap, but I thought a handful of people would turn up.  My bridesmaids did, and I was so grateful to them for making that happen even when they didn’t have tons of available funds.  And I did have two friends make the effort to come.  But none of my extended family could come, friends who I had counted on because they said they would.  In the lead up to the wedding this made me feel a bit lonely, particularly because of the immigration circumstances.

By far the most difficult thing was trying to sort out immigration. We were getting married in England because we wanted to live in New York, but the US Department of Immigration had other ideas.  If we wanted to get married in England, MR would have to wait 9 months for his paperwork to be processed before he could even enter the US.  If he tried before then, even to visit, the border guards could send him home because they could say he wasn’t trying to visit but sneak in.  We could give up our big wedding in favor of a quickie courthouse wedding, but even that would require paperwork and months of waiting if we did everything on the up and up.

I thought when we got engaged that I would have everything–a job I loved in a home city that was a part of me,  and newly, a man I loved who I was going to start a life with.  Immigration law quickly squashed that have it all feeling, and I had some decisions to make.  So I decided–I had been a romantic my whole life, and I wasn’t about to give up on that ideal.  I waited so long for MR, I wasn’t going to wait anymore.

I miss NYC terribly.  It’s still my home.  I miss my friends, and I miss my job.  I worked for a stint at a British school, and part of the reason it didn’t go so well was because it wasn’t the job I had loved for so long.  I’m only just now starting to branch out and make friends, a year and a half after arriving here.

But I don’t just have a husband, I have a family.  If I had agreed to wait those 9 months, I wouldn’t have my daughter next to me as I type this.  We would still be waiting to start a family.  And sometimes I wonder–teaching was always the backup career.  It turned out so wonderful that I really started to devote myself to it, but I had wanted to be a writer since I was 12 years old.  I mentioned yesterday I was afraid that writing wouldn’t work out, and the story above is why.  But then I think–even though this isn’t the ideal I set out for myself, it’s still a pretty great life.  And while I may miss home, that doesn’t mean I regret going for this life.  So maybe it’s time to grab a little courage and give my final dream a try.  Carpe diem…carpe horas.

Rolling Stone

The phrase ‘rolling stone’ calls to mind a couple of things:

First, the adage “A rolling stone gathers no moss,” which people tend to take as a positive thing–no baggage!  Life of freedom!

But I tend to agree with Bob Dylan’s take: “How does it feel/ To be without a home/ Like a complete unknown/ Like a rolling stone?”

It’s a pretty bleak picture, leading a nomadic life.  I’ve made the move to a completely new place four times in my life, and each time there was a long settling in period where I was finding new friends, getting used to the place (for every place is different from New York City), and trying to carve out a new life that would in some way match up to home.  This is a tall order.

Each move I’ve made has been worth it for one reason or another.  I went to college in upstate New York and found that the rest of the country, and especially the rest of New York state, does not view the City with any kind of awe or reverence–more fear and distrust.  I saw what life was like in a quiet-ish college town where the only thing open past 2am was Wal-Mart.  I learned that life outside a throbbing metropolis is very different to life in one.  Along the way, I also made some decisions that would influence the trajectory of my life–making a couple of really important friends, finding my first boyfriend, choosing French as a major, discovering that after all, I did love to teach and wanted to make that my career.

My junior year abroad in Paris was the fulfillment of a dream.  I saw Paris for two days my freshman year of college and fell in love.  I have never loved a city the way I love Paris.  The grace and beauty among the grit, the centuries of beautiful architecture clashing with the odd extremely modern building, the food, the people, the vistas everywhere I looked–it was all amazing.  In a year, I went from quasi-conversation to highly proficient in French, which I consider an achievement.  I traveled around Europe for the first time. I found the fun in being a penniless student.  I made friends in a strange land.  I loved it, but I also grew fatigued from thinking and working in another language constantly.  In retrospect, I would look at the relationship I clung to as a weight holding me down, holding me back.  But I came back from that year wiser and more confident in almost every way.

I went to Durham, North Carolina on a mission for love.  There I found a love of sweet tea, barbecue, and fried chicken, but also saw that I am definitely not a Southerner, and that urban sprawl is not really my cup of tea.  I also went thinking myself a romantic heroine and came back shattered and disillusioned–I had given so much up for love, a chance to live in France again, a chance to return home to my friends and family in New York, and it all ended up in nothing.  I thought then that I was a fool, and the bitterness stayed with me until I found a man who I really loved, and who really loved me, and then I realized that year beyond the Mason-Dixon line was only a year of preparation.

Now I’m in England for almost exactly a year, and in a way all the other moves have prepared me for this one, and yet not prepared me at all.  I know what it is to be homesick, and how to deal with it.  I know that eventually, I will make friends, even if I’m a slow mover.  I know how to navigate all the cultural differences, because in their own ways, Oneonta and Durham have the same amount of culture shock as Coventry when you come from NYC.  But of course nothing in these moves could prepare me for the other shake-ups–immigration, marriage, buying a house, having a baby.  Those are what make this journey its own.

I don’t regret any of these moves, and I value the struggles I went through to settle in new places.  But they are struggles.  I need roots.  I need to belong.  I need a home.   I cannot call myself a free spirit in that regard.  Sometimes a little weight holding you down to a place is a good thing.  It’s good to have a home.

Been there, done that

Despite the fact that I have much to say about my current state of affairs, the post I’m most inspired to write is a tangential one.

I tend to run with people who love to travel.  I suppose that isn’t too hard to do, as most people enjoy the exoticism of hopping on a plane and leaving the world behind for a few days or a week.  I can’t say if my friends travel more than most, I just know that several of my close friends make it a point to take at least one big trip a year, sometimes to far flung places like Thailand and Australia.  I have an uncle who I’ve always known for traveling, and he is making his way across the globe in a lifetime of trips, thoroughly exploring Europe, then South America, now Asia.

I love traveling too.  There is something inexplicably fascinating and freeing about standing in a city you’ve only seen on a map before, or in pictures.  Exploring the hidden corners that never make it to tourist books gives me a real sense of adventure, something that I think is hard to come by in this day and age. Continue reading