Tuesday, September 22, 2015

manifesto-ing destiny: making the move from NYC to PDX (finally)

More sky, less traffic.

Guess what? We live in Portland now! Just like that. Blink and you can live in a completely different state. Like magic!

Magic means thinking really, really hard about something, planning, saving up the dough, and finally doing it even when it means leaving everything you knew behind, right?

For more than a year we agonized, about the need for "improved quality of life." As two folks who live with, um, tricky immune systems we discovered - in my case after almost a lifetime lived in NYC (the literal city of my birth) - that we were not getting any healthier (surprise!). As people who love to walk, our "urban hikes" had become something of a joke: arriving back from 2-3 hour walks through the parks and streets covered in dirt, soot, and droplets of The Stew of Humanity and Accompanying Menagerie (I shall leave this very real phenomenon up to you to decipher). Going to bed with the glare of street lights, traffic noise, shouting, barking, singing, hollering, etc. became - how do you say? - not fun. Every morning I would wake up wondering why my face looked so puffy and red and then J. would dust the window-sills (every day) and scoop up black dust as though we had actually taken up residence in Victorian England. Anti-histamines and stomach acid blockers were popped to assist our respective commutes which in my case became something akin to The Inferno.

Anywhere and everywhere there was a crush of people, things, noise, smells. The omnipresent "New Constructions" piled up to accommodate more and more people and overwhelm a transit system built more than a hundred years ago, signaling a sickening kind of gentrification. $15.00 for a salad and $4.00 for a bottle of water. Extreme wealth, extreme poverty, and a so-called "middle class" on a continuum so vast as to render the term nonsensical. And all of us shoving through the ludicrous "Greenways" just angling for a little tiny scrap of personal space. By the end I pictured myself as the love child of Raskolnikov, Samsa, and Bartleby: Blowing around town, pushing through the madding crowds, feeling sick, and preferring not to.

I grew up in New York City in the 1970s and 1980s. My father was a prosecutor in the Bronx during a time when violence - particularly against women, minorities, and children - was rampant. My mother was a middle and high school teacher; a woman whose academic pursuits included biology, law, and computer science (She also got one of the first Master's Degrees in the subject offered by City College in 1977). My sisters and I grew up surrounded by smart, interesting, talented, diverse, artistic people. We didn't have much money, but we had a life that was full of intellectual and creative stimulation in a city that was broken, but didn't put on airs. It was home. Until it wasn't.

A trip to Portland (where J. had briefly lived in 2003) to visit some of our very best friends solidified the decision that, truth be told, we had been considering for a few years but felt too terrified to do anything about. We are planners and worriers. We like to feel safe and aren't big on leaping without the proverbial net. But the stress of life in NYC had become untenable and so we researched apartments and the job markets. We reached out to the connections provided to us and found new leads. We empowered ourselves with information and suddenly...Well, almost suddenly, the net began to appear. Job opportunities arose (thanks in large part to those same friends). Coincidentally, my family decided to sell the Harlem apartment which we had been renting. The stars began to align. We said goodbye to our beloveds. J. finished her last project and I left my hospital job in the Bronx working with crime victims and transitioned my private practice. None of this was easy. Saying goodbye is always hard, but thanks to the miracles of social media it hardly feels like we've left. So we get to keep the good that we loved (friends and family), while trying out greener, less concrete pastures.

Cannon Beach. Much less concrete. 

And what have we found now that we've gone through the looking-glass and come through to the other side? Everything we hoped for and more. Clean air, walkable streets (we don't own a car or bikes and don't plan to any time soon), fresh food (you haven't lived until you've had a piece of fish or an apple that hasn't traveled 3000 miles to land on your plate), kind folks. As a therapist who works with people who have experienced the traumas of interpersonal violence, or that of living with chronic, acute and terminal illness, I am aware of how "the body keeps the score" as Bessel van der Kolk, one of the founding fathers of trauma studies, has said. My body felt like a raw nerve before we left and is just now starting to stop buzzing. The simple things that I teach my clients - get enough sleep, eat simply and well (good food doesn't have to be expensive), love and be loved, move more, laugh, experience some quiet and solitude - I am finally able to practice more myself. Life experience up to this point has taught me that there is something so incredibly healing about having a little space of one's own without the garish bloat of an unwieldy environment. It doesn't have to be huge and expensive. It doesn't even have to be an actual place. Remember in Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree when that crappy kid prays on a martyr of a tree who gives everything she's got until she's nothing but an old stump and even then the thankless kid comes back as an old guy and sits on her? Yeah, well he's looking for a quiet place to sit and rest and isn't that we're all looking for except not at the expense of others. And with that, I give you a gentle reminder from one of Portland's great wonder's in Washington Park:

Always stop and smell the roses

1 comment:

  1. So happy to hear the move has been so positive for you! We are still cleaning that black soot off our things as we unpack them in this new state too. :)