The grass is always greener, they say. But you know what? “They” have never had to play croquet on this weed-ridden gopher-chewed patch of crabgrass, and they’ve certainly never peered over my fence and taken in the sight of that glorious English garden, the one with the beautiful white lambs strolling about.
Up until about a week ago, that’s how I would have described how I felt living in New York while seeing friends and family live in Utah. And then I got the job of my dreams in Utah. And almost immediately after making the decision to take the job, I started walking around the patch of crabgrass, running my fingers lovingly along the tumbleweeds and holding a bewildered gopher in a tender, tearful embrace. Plus, I now have it on good authority that the lambs over the fence have a rare form of albinism, and that the hedges of the English garden have to be pruned twice a week.
I know that I said this place was terrible – repeatedly and often violently over the course of many years – but I now see that it’s quite beautiful.
I’ve wanted to leave New York in varying degrees since the day I got here almost exactly six years ago. There was no honeymoon for me and New York. I chose a graduate school here not because it was in New York but in spite of it. I watched virtually all of my friends who came to New York when I did fall deeply in love with the place, and then I watched nearly all of them leave. These friends fell into several different categories:
Category 1: “It was only 8 months, but it was enough to enable me to tell people for the rest of my life that I’m a New Yorker! And believe me, I will have plenty of chances to do that, because my spacious home in Utah is decorated top to bottom with pictures of ‘The City,’ as we locals call it.”
Category 2: “I lived in New York for 2 seasons, I mean years. I said ‘seasons’ because I moved here in the first place because I watched “Felicity” during my formative years, and because of that I’ve thought of New York as the backdrop for my own personal TV show. I walked down many a New York street late at night with my hands in my pockets and a contemplative look on my face (while dressed in an adorable pea coat with a bright scarf!). But after two seasons I decided it was time to relocate the show back to Mesa.”
Category 3: “I’m here for reasons beyond bragging rights and Keri Russel’s undeniably adorable hair, and once I’ve logged 2 – 4 years at my job/school, I’m out of here.”
I love her hair so much that in 15 years it will be the primary motivating factor behind a major decision that will have ramifications throughout the rest of my life.
Every time someone departed, the lucky soon-to-be-former New York resident would look at me and chuckle, reveling in the irony that I, New York’s smallest fan, was staying while they, who were so in looooooooove with “The City” moved to my personal promised land.
I know, rationally, that I hate New York and that I love Utah; there are hundreds of witnesses and reams of documentary evidence that can attest to these facts. I remember very clearly three weeks back when I stood outside of Ryan’s house on a summer’s evening, overcome by a desire to live in Utah that was so powerful that it felt very nearly like physical pain. The job I’m taking is one I didn’t even believe existed and is as perfect for me as a job could be (with the obvious exception of the guy in the Navy who conducts warfare via a wave runner, and also occasionally uses shoulder-fired missiles to destroy enemy speedboats; or a professional longboarder who is paid by sponsors and loved by fans not because he is good at longboarding, but because his mediocrity is so very hard-won).
So why, in light of all this, am I so sad about leaving? It isn’t because I fear I’ve made the wrong decision, because I don’t. It’s because I am terribly, horribly, congenitally nostalgic. Once people, places, and times are gone from my life, I miss them intensely. Even people, places, and times that I didn’t particularly care for when they were a part of my life. Why would I miss people, places, and times that I didn’t like or enjoy as I was experiencing them? Several interrelated reasons, the first being that, when it comes to the past, the negative fades and the positive becomes heightened. Broke my arm at a picnic when I was 6? Remember how good that fried chicken was??!!!! Hit by a car when I was 14? Remember how the pavement used to smell? It smells so much better than the stuff they use now. That stuff seriously smelled amazing.
The second reason is expressed perfectly in FDR’s statement regarding Nicaraguan despot and all-around terrible person Antonio Somoza, of whom FDR said, “Somoza may be an SOB, but he’s our SOB.” I miss things and people from my past that I didn’t like because they were, for better or for worse, a part of my life. Good or bad, they’re mine.
I can’t decide whether I should compare Somoza to my old boss or my first semester of graduate school.
The third and final reason is the most important, and also the simplest: I miss things I didn’t like because they are gone. We’re programmed to want things that are scarce more than things that are plentiful, and nothing is as scarce as something that is entirely gone. Nostalgia is primarily driven by the fact that times that are past, people that are dead, and places that are far away are unavailable to us. We simply can’t get to them, and so we long for them.
And so it is for me with New York right now. I thought the intensity and consistency of my dislike for the place would be sufficient to render it an exception to my lifelong tendency towards debilitating nostalgia, but I was wrong. (And if you think this is bad, you should see me with things that I actually did like. Actually, the fact that you read this blog means you have seen that, as DDDT is a wholly owned subsidiary of Nostalgia, Inc.) New York is a terrible place, but for six years, it was my terrible place, and as much as it pains me to say it, I’m going to miss it.