I've been on the road for three weeks, with stops in Nashville, Columbus, and Washington DC. Nashville was a particular delight--I haven't been in five years, and it was great to see family (especially my Aunt Linda, who was a big help in coping with the divorce last year.) In Columbus my Dad and I hung out a lot, and I stayed with my old friend Todd. In DC I was consumed, somewhat, by the Medical Library Association conference. But I have friends there too, so I wanted to see them more than participate in the conference's evening activities. Next year I'll be back in the full MLA groove when the meeting is in Minneapolis.
Then I came to New York City for three days. This was the final stop, and my flight to San Francisco leaves in a few hours. Although this was the shortest part of the trip in duration, it left the largest impact on my heart. I love New York City and miss it terribly, it turns out.
This love manifested itself culturally, with trips to independent art film houses; stopping in to see an amazing production of "The Glass Menagerie" last night; popping into the Cooper-Hewitt Design museum today. Love bloomed with the ridiculous profusion of photos I posted to Facebook, at a much higher rate than during any other time in the trip. And I even showed some love athletically, by running along the Central Park Reservoir two days in a row (and the East River promenade once.) When I lived in New York I thought all the runners and joggers were crazy, but now that I'm training for the SF 1/2 Marathon I'm crazy too.
This entire trip was my "East of the Mississippi" voyage. Until moving to California three years ago, I'd always lived in Eastern or Central time zones. My immediate family, except for Dad, has migrated west. But the extended family, and all the people I grew up with, are still very far away. I love living in Berkeley and love my job at UCSF. But for the entire time I've been west I've felt somewhat cut off from my roots. This trip was about going home, literally and figuratively. (The big chapter not included was Chicagoland, where I went to college, met Helen, and lived for seven years in total. At one point I considered driving from Columbus to Chicago for a few days, but decided that was too much rushing around.) In many ways, New York City is the truest home I've ever known. I knew I would love my few days here, but was surprised at the depth of feeling I felt for the city.
It's not like New York doesn't have problems. It is too expensive, too crowded in places, too rushed, too ruthless. When I was preparing to leave three years ago, I suddenly became aware of all the annoying aspects of living here that I'd always overlooked. These past few days I've mostly taken the city's character in stride, except for being surprised by all the swearing I heard while walking down the sidewalk.
At the end of June this year I'll have lived in the Bay Area just as long as I lived in New York City, and I have no plans to leave it. My best guess now is that I'll be in the Bay forever, forming roots and hopefully making my community better. My writing life has taken off on the West Coast, as it is easier to be noticed there than in the literary hothouse of New York. My job is better than anything I had in New York, and I'm now in a good relationship too. Life is grand, I believe once again.
While strolling Sixth Avenue last week I came across the Best American Essays of 2007, edited by David Foster Wallace. I already had too many books, because I always pack books excessively; but how could I resist something edited by DFW? One essay in the collection is by San Francisco's literary lion Richard Rodriguez, about the disappointment of discovering there are problems with the California dream. Rodriguez mentions that New York City was once the literary foil for his beloved California. He loves New York but knows where his true home is. Right now I'm in some transitory state between love of New York and a full embrace of Northern California. I'll get there, but it will take a while...and when that embrace happens, I'll still be grateful to New York for showing me the glory of how to live a vibrant life. But you can do that in California too, it turns out.