when a joke turns into a plan

April 8, 2013 |  Category:   life nyc



Something seems to have happened within the last year that makes me sort of hold my breath. I never really think about leaving New York, ever. We’re committed to raising the girls here all the way through college and beyond and I’m not done with this city yet. When I look back at my own NYC childhood and reflect on how the city has shaped me and how I see the world, I feel good about raising the girls here. I have a feeling that we’ll be in our current apartment for a good long while even though many of our neighbors are upgrading to bigger spaces or moving to the suburbs. But when I try to visualize our senior citizen selves living in this apartment, well…I’m not sure I can see it.


You know how you absentmindedly joke about something for awhile and then all of a sudden you start thinking that it might hold some truth? We used to joke about retiring in Washington, but while I’m sure Mark wouldn’t mind going back to his home state at any point in time, it was always something that I tossed around without much thought or seriousness, partly because it was so far into the future. But as you know, I’ve been thinking about the future a lot lately because the future is suddenly not so abstract and the more I think about it, the more I think it’s possible that I might be able to let go of New York.
It almost hurts me to think this.
But I’ve been through this before. When I got on a plane 21 years ago headed for Seattle, I didn’t think I was ever going to come back to New York; it wasn’t in my plans to move back. I was done with the city. Done. But the city has a way of getting under your skin and weaving nostalgia and memories into this undeniably luring web. After awhile, I became homesick for this crazy place – the characters, the food, the friction, the diversity. 5 years later, it was time to go home.
I do really believe that we are meant to be in specific places for certain stages in our lives. Sometimes it’s not apparent when you’re there at the moment, but when you can reflect back on a personal timeline and see it spread out in front of you, it often starts to make sense as you weave together the pieces. I was meant to be in the East Village in the late 80s and early 90s. I could argue that without that experience, my world and my mind would be tremendously smaller. In much the same way, I feel like I was meant to go to Washington in the early 90s to figure out who I was again after those years of experimentation and stepping out of every comfort zone I possibly could. It wasn’t that I wanted to go back to my high school self – no, not at all, but rather to find a compromise between the life that I was living at that point.
When I left the Northwest, I said good bye to the rain and I thought that I would be leaving for good; it felt so right to be back in New York and I didn’t ever want to leave again. But a funny thing happened. I don’t think that I would have ever predicted that I would again feel a similar sense of nostalgic longing about the place I once called home – a 5 year blip, really, in my life as a New Yorker. Through our yearly trips back to Seattle to visit family, however, I’ve come to realize that this feels like home too.
Who knows why we feel the pull towards some places while we feel nothing for others. I look at these 2 photos above and feel different things that draw upon memories from distinct periods in my life. Some of it is steeped in youthful dreams and fantasies before the realities of adult life and responsibilities take hold. Maybe it’s all based on nostalgia, but the point is, I feel something and they both pull at my hearstrings. And so we begin to talk about where we want to be in 20 years long after the girls are done with college. Maybe our parents will be gone by then too. And I think for the first time since I’ve moved back 17 years ago, I might be ready to be done with New York again.

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  • Carrie Snow April 8, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    Seattle is magical too– I hear that. We lived in New York City for 9 years, and for most of that decade, we felt like New Yorkers. It took about a year and a half to get over the heartbreak of leaving the city, but Seattle is really feeling like home now.

    As much as I think raising kids in NYC longer would have been truly wonderful for our family, I am so happy with our decision to move here. The quality of life has been expansive in unexpected ways. It’s so nice, for instance, to see vistas, long horizontal vistas. Lushness and the ability to work the soil, a garden in our own home. The air is magnificent too. This place is starting to settle into my soul, but I was so hesitant to let go of NYC at first.

    I love this post– your writing is so engaging and really makes me think. Thank you.

    • Lauren April 8, 2013 at 4:34 pm

      Carrie, I am coming out of my silent readership to chime in–I just left New York a year and a half ago, and I still ache for it. I’m going back to marry there in October, and planning that wedding kind of hurts.

      But you wrote near-exactly what I’ve been saying: those long, lovely vistas kill me every time, and the sky here feels so big and three-dimensional. I’m not sure I’ll ever get over New York, and I wouldn’t rule out returning for good, but Seattle feels so fresh and green and GOOD.

      • Carrie Snow April 8, 2013 at 4:45 pm

        Lauren, it sounds like we are in a similar boat! But yes, the love of NYC will never go away, it really was a profoundly wonderful time of our lives and we were able to cut our teeth as both professionals and later as parents there. It is bittersweet, but I’m making it a conscious effort to love where we are now. Seattle makes it pretty easy. ; )

        • Jenna April 8, 2013 at 5:04 pm

          I remember your comments and email, Carrie, and mailing you that photograph of Prospect Park ( I think that was you). This city can be a pain in the ass, but it really does get to you in a way not many places can.

          • Carrie Snow April 9, 2013 at 8:48 pm

            Yes, that was me! Your photo graces our entrance wall and I love having that touchstone to PP. Spent many happy years with that park as our “front yard”….

  • Wendy April 8, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    I can relate to this “I belong to 2 places”.
    That was not really a joke, but once, we talked about moving to Montreal with my ex bf (who is american, and I’m french). I went on my own, had a crush, and now it feels more like home there than in any city in France.
    I hope I’ll be able to find a balance between here and there like you have 🙂

  • Anne April 8, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    Your writing is so beautiful and gets me every time! Thanks for sharing!

    • Jenna April 8, 2013 at 5:04 pm

      Thanks Anne

  • Ann April 8, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    Wow! I just wrote an email to a friend about how I’m thinking of leaving the city and how it hurts to a to even write that! I love this city but I’m wondering if it’s the best for us right now. We are battling the DOE over my son’s school. I am sick of fighting. This city has a way of invigorating me most of the time but it can also exhaust me.
    I’m hoping this feeling will pass.
    Thank you for yet another wonderful post.

    • Jenna April 8, 2013 at 5:05 pm

      Ugh, good luck with the school situation! Yes, I hope it does pass for you.

  • linda April 8, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    love the two compositions you posted! very nice contrast.

    good luck with your moving adventures if you guys decide to do so.

  • rebecca April 8, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    just love this. really do.
    dream big.
    love large.

  • Leslie April 8, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    Jenna, if you haven’t already, I think you should frame these two photographs side by side. Just lovely.

    • Yj April 21, 2013 at 11:23 pm

      I also just want to chime in about how these pictures took my breath away!

  • Christina April 8, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    It’s funny you write this. After 6 years in Chicago, I’ve been thinking of increasingly making the big leap and moving to New York. Even though Chicago is a big city, it still doesn’t have that feel of the excitement of New York… I worry, though, about the cost of living, and sometimes I feel too old to be uprooting at this point (I’m 28 and wouldn’t be moving for at least another year) … but that’s a silly thought, right? Anyway, I get the appeal of a place like Seattle. All that greenery. And I agree, I think different places are better for us at different stages of our lives…

    • Jenna April 8, 2013 at 5:06 pm

      Oh my god, you are not too old! You’re never too old to uproot anyway, is what I think. I was 26 when I moved back. I wish you luck if you find that your life leads you here.

    • Jocy April 8, 2013 at 8:42 pm

      You’re not too old to move!!

    • Theresa April 10, 2013 at 10:50 am

      Totally not too old to uproot. 7 years ago at the age of 35, I moved from New York to Sweden. I won’t say it was easy but now I can’t imagine raising my kids anywhere else!

      Jenna, I agree with the others… great post! I also have another place which draws my mind, body and soul back year after year. We are already speaking of possibly retiring in the New York. Couple of months here, a couple of months there. Living the dream. Why not.

  • Connie April 8, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    This post resonated with me. In the past six years, I’ve lived in five different places due to school obligations. It’s hard to plan for the future when you don’t feel rooted, so I’ve taken it upon myself to start city-shopping early for medical residencies. At the very least I’ll have a solid four years in one location! I can only hope to find a place that makes me yearn for it as much as you do NYC and Seattle.

  • Jocy April 8, 2013 at 8:40 pm

    I know the feeling. I just moved back to the US and what surprised me most during this first month is how much my heart ached for all the craziness and frustration of living in Southeast Asia. I never thought I would feel that way because I was just so frustrated by the place. The US, or at least where I am right now, feels very cold and not homey at all. But I understand that this might be the place for a few years and I may also grow to miss it someday. I feel like my heart has been split. I’ve left a piece of it everywhere I’ve lived – there’s a piece in LA, a piece in Portland, a big piece in Phnom Penh, a small piece in Bangkok…

  • paulina April 8, 2013 at 10:58 pm

    Lovely writing Jenna. My husband and I have been talking about retirement locations for awhile now (we’re in our 50s so it’s a soon-ish kinda thing.) It dawned on me recently that with both of our adult kids living happily in our current city, I don’t really have it in my heart to move. Maybe you will find the same thing – maybe your girls will solve your dilemma for you.

  • Lena April 9, 2013 at 10:16 am

    this made me cry. we are planning to leave NY in the Fall after 16 years and i feel incredibly torn. you’re so right that we are meant to be in specific places for certain stages in our lives. you have such a great way of putting thoughts into words jenna.

    • Jenna April 9, 2013 at 7:05 pm

      Lena, I remember you mentioning last year that you guys were going to move. It will be great, I’m sure, but we’ll miss you.

  • Debbie April 9, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    Great photo’s!

    And nice words about two cities I both love. They both have a place in my heart. I didn’t live in the cities but only visited. I am now counting the years that I can show my daughter (not 2 years old yet) NY and Seatle.
    We live in Amsterdam and I absolutely agree that kids can grow up in a city.

    The reason I follow your blog is the loving words and pictures about NY!

  • Maura April 9, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    gorgeous picture + words
    finding myself in a similar yet not the same place
    wondering about life pulls
    geographic + professional
    specifically when to act and when to observe.

  • Clara April 10, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    Why not! I don’t like to think of my life in term of retirement!!! Your girls are young and is easier at that age to move than when there are teenager!!!! Living experiences, challenge day to day live. The feeling of liberty, to be is own master!!!! I belong between two continents, two languages and rising three boys. Two of then are finishing is highschool this year… the kids growth so fast … Spring give us wings!!! by the way, i love you way of sharing your feeling, of writing! my best from Quebec!

  • ana April 11, 2013 at 9:03 am

    I have been living in Amsterdam for the last 9 years and I am at the point where I cant stand it any longer, the place never felt like home and since I got a child of my own, I ache for my hometown in Croatia that I always wanted to run away from….How crazy is that….

    This post got me completely

  • jen April 11, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    i love this post. thank you jenna. also, you should sell some of these prints online. i would buy them in a heartbeat.

    • Jenna April 13, 2013 at 1:28 am

      I have sold photos in the past. Trying to find the time to put together another shop.

  • Deirdre April 17, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Sigh. I loved how you put this, Jenna. There are things that get into our bones that we can never really let go of, that make a place feel right.

    We just found out our landlord is likely selling, and it may be time for us to test the waters elsewhere. Kind of feels like kismet that it’s happening now, as we’re opening up more and more about where to be, at least right now.

    It breaks my heart to think of leaving, but I also get a twinge of excitement thinking about being somewhere new.

  • Erika November 21, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    Working my way backwards, and chiming in with another recommendation, if you haven’t read it already, “Goodbye to All That”, an essay collection on loving and leaving NY, based on a Joan Didion eassy of the same name. The Joan Didion piece has shaped my life in incalculable ways, but I’ve just finished the book, and enjoyed/related to a number of the essays. Judging by this post, I think you would, too.

    I feel like NY will always be “home” to me (there’s an essay in the book about someone who lived just outside the city growing up, and how being close forever changes your ideas about cities and The City, and I agree with that, having grown up about an hour and a half upstate), there are days I walk through Brooklyn and think I could never love another place more, but I spent four years living in London that completely turned my world upside down, and changed me, in so many ways. And one of those ways was discovering that there are places outside of this city where I can make a life. And discovering that has left me feeling homesick no matter where I am, in weird ways. I’m always thinking about the next move, and yet always imagining myself in here (especially since making the concerted effort to move to Brooklyn on our return from London). I want to be both places at once (oh, to be Gwyneth Paltrow!), I want to raise my kids here and in London and yet also want them to live on a farm in Vermont. I want everything all at once. Maybe it’s best to look at everything in phases, and be happy with that…