Here to Stay. Here to Leave.
JANE (fake name) is that one friend. You know. The one from a place written about more often than visited, who has lived an impossibly rich life, but in relative obscurity. She has worked all over the world with some of the most incredible kinds of people: industrial designers and architects responsible for 100% of the appliances in your house, famous photographers responsible for 50% of the magazine covers you picked up as a teenager, musicians and writers who have lived in Soho since the 1980s.
She visited me in Philadelphia recently from New York where she is on but a short reprieve before going to Copenhagen. A friend making a trip from New York for me is sadly one of the greater forms of flattery, so Jane visiting me from NYC is a big deal.
We ate tacos at the Rail Park.
We talked about The Exhale of Spring 2021, coming out from Pandemic but also shedding mom-body, adjusting to a new(ish) city. I tell her that buying a house has triggered a rage for life in me, and in telling her the saga of the house, I recalled something I’d nearly forgotten. About a decision made right before we went house-hunting.
As Christian and I faced the possibility of owning a house in Philly and the commitment to staying here that it would represent, we toyed briefly with the alternative life we could lead with the money we had managed to save.
“We could do this birthright thing (Christian is Italian), and move to rural Italy where they’re practically giving away cottages. You could focus on your creative writing while I show Dario the countryside,” Christian said. I don’t know how serious he was. Before I took my current job and moved us here, C reminded me that I had sworn off “overworking” and was retiring my brand to focus on writing, and might regret life as an administrator. I got pregnant, which ended that conversation.
I did the math and reasoned that we could get away with living in Italy without a job for exactly one year. One year could be all it took for me to create work that would become financially lucrative.
For a week, I thought very seriously about quitting my job and pursuing this alternative year. The thing is, though, I also like not worrying about bread on the table, and I like being around people I can talk to. I could pick up Italian but not the way I’m habituated in my three other languages. I’ve been our exclusive income earner since 2017. Take me out of the game and what, hope life costs in the US are socialized by the time we’re back? Christian added that there was no actual way we could pull this off with Dario now. But finally, and maybe most pertinently, I had to take a cold hard look at my writing—was it worth spending all of my time on it? I have a couple dozen readers of this blog. No one is competing for my attention. Long gone are the days of a recognizable byline or my appetite for unsolicited pitching. Many days of the week I just think I suck at everything. Is that who I’m investing in?
After I explained this moment to Jane, she paused quietly for a minute and said:
I’m wondering why you didn’t go, Anne.
I am flattered to the point of childish pride that she puts me in the same breath of her own accomplishments, when she says I have her yen for adventure. Saying yes to that proposal would’ve been more characteristically “me” according to her.
Then she mentioned having been in a similar situation once—an opportunity to live in the Vermont hinterlands had presented itself to her and her then husband—somehow this was exotic to her. But without taking up the opportunity, she eventually divorced her guy, too full of regret. “That opportunity would never present itself again. We probably would’ve divorced anyway but those are the kinds of decisions you want to make differently.”
“I didn’t want to move to Italy not just because I was scared to leave Philadelphia—I was—but just think: what if I can make that kind of decision without leaving town. How much more courageous would it be if I just got a cheap apartment in Philadelphia? Spent the balance of my life creating things right next door to myself? Until I can do that, the fantasy of moving somewhere far away, where I’d have no choice but to fill my days with cheap writing…it’s useless.”
She couldn’t argue with my logic, but challenged me again.
“I wonder if you’ll do it.”
Maybe next time she visits me from New York I won’t consider it such an honor but show her how far I’ve come, instead.