Sunday Scribblings: Town Mouse & Country Mouse
I could be an actor, waiting tables in New York City.
I could be a college professor, all tweedy with cat-eye glasses, enduring New England winters.
I could be a Peace Corps worker, somewhere hot and humid with giant bugs that I learn not to fear.
I could be a radio producer in Chicago or Seattle.
I could own a horse farm deep in the mountains of North Carolina.
I could work with political refugees in London.
I could run a bed and breakfast in Nova Scotia.
I could make jewelry and textiles in San Francisco.
I could live in a loft, a flat, a studio apartment, a farm house.
I could walk out my door to the forest. To a coffee shop. To the beach.
I could be.
And I am. I am living in a Pittsburgh suburb, struggling to figure out what it means to be a writer, and a self-employed one at that.
The grass is always greener, the sky bluer, the living easier. Over there. Wherever we are not. Just over the fence or across the tracks or around the bend or beyond the sea. Anywhere but here is where we want to be.
When I chose a college, I wanted a small, non-urban campus that was no more than three hours from my home. I ended up at a lovely school, two hours away, where I made wonderful friends and learned much about myself and the world. I was where I was meant to be.
After leaving my idyllic college years behind, I moved to London for a year. It was exciting and scary. Living abroad was a dream come true. I made wonderful friends and had fabulous experiences. But I was also lonely a lot of the time. Walking past houses at twilight would fill me with profound sadness. The light inside was so inviting. Even ugly little houses looked cozy because they were homes. People lived there with families. I lived in a room at the YMCA. But despite my lonliness, I was where I was meant to be.
Today, I live about 45 minutes outside of Pittsburgh, the most livable city in America. I'm also equidistant to the Laurel Highlands, home to gems such as Fallingwater and myriad state parks. My location means that I escape the traffic of the city and the isolation of the country. But it also means that I have to drive 35 minutes to get Indian food. It's an equal drive if I want to take a hike or sit by a rushing stream. I have the best and worst of both worlds. I live in a sort of suburban purgatory.
I daydream about moving. But I can't make up my mind. I can see myself in a trendy loft apartment, with cultural amenities just steps from my door. But then I'd miss the green open spaces and hillsides heavy with trees. I can see myself in a 100-year-old farmhouse with acres of land and gardens galore. But then I'd long for easy access to the theatre and cafes.
Town Mouse and Country Mouse live in me, side-by-side. They argue over who has the best cheese. But mostly, they try to be happy where we are. When they're not bickering, they say encouraging things like:
"Listen here," says Town Mouse. "You live less than hour from America's most livable city. Stop whining, chickie. If you want 'cultural amenities' that badly, get in the damn car and drive to them! Okay, so it's not London with it's convenient maze of public underground tunnels, but you can afford gasoline, even at this high price. Go get your urban groove on!"
Equally emphatic, country mouse says, "Listen here, sweetie pie. You have a big backyard and plenty of trees around. Sure, you can see your neighbors' houses from your deck, but you know you'd feel anxious out in the middle of nowhere with just the cows and crickets to watch over you. If you need some more fresh air, take a short drive to the mountains. I know you don't like to burn too much fossil fuel, but you don't commute to a job. So treat yourself to an afternoon in nature. After all, it's oh-so-close."
The suburbs have a bad reputation of being full of box stores and soccer moms. Sadly, too much of that stereotype is true. But for now, this is where I live. And there is beauty and love here. Whenever I start to feel restless or ungrateful, I remember those cozy English homes. It's trite, but true: Home is where your heart is.
Last month I went to New York City for a writing conference. I was excited for the big city buzz, but knew that I'd be relegated to the tourist traps since I had very little time and no practical knowledge of the city. And then I met fellow writer and conference goer Kelly, an Austin native who's lived in NYC for about seven years. We hit it off like old friends and she saved me from tourist trap hell by having an extra concert ticket for Mason Jennings and the willingness to show me a tiny bit of her New York. We ate at a crazy Indian restaurant (which deserves it's own blog post) and had a great time.
My city-envy was on full display. But Kelly admitted that she might eventually like to get away from the bright lights. Being the only writer in a square mile seemed like a refreshing concept to her. It was another good reminder to appreciate the grass in my backyard as well as the pavement on my street.
I may have given up a thousand lives to live this one, but I get to live this one. My responsibility is to do that where I am. And for now, this is where I live. I am where I am meant to be.
Where do you live?
Read others' thoughts on this topic at Sunday Scribblings.
6/8/07 Addendum: Check out One life must be enough for further thoughts on this topic.