next steps

When I was 17, I fled from Pennsylvania to New York, because there was nothing there for me and I couldn’t imagine having a future in a rural place where the grocery store was a 20 minute drive away. But you know, I say fled, but really I was heading toward college and a life I chose for myself by god.

When I was 26 or thereabouts, I fled to San Francisco because the relationship I was in was toxic, and he wouldn’t let me break up with him. He wouldn’t move out. It sounds so absurd now, so absolutely absurd—what the fuck are you talking about, he wouldn’t? You call the cops if he won’t get the fuck out of your house. You make him leave. But I was scared and I felt trapped, and I had to get out.

But I was also heading for grad school to get my MFA and be the writer I always wanted to be but could never quite manage. I had never finished anything I wrote, ever, not once, until I went to grad school. In grad school, I wrote a book—not a good book, but a whole book, from front to finish. I found friends who are some of the most important people in the world to me. I started heading toward the person I wanted to be, someone independent and smart and creative. I started to believe in myself and it was the most amazing feeling in the world.

When I was thirty four? Something like that. I met a man and I loved him and he loved me and I chose to move to Utah, forward into the possibility of our future etc. and also to a place where I could afford to just be a freelance writer. To see if we could have a life together, and if I could make a living from things I made up. And we did, and I did. It was a really beautiful life, for a really long time and it was good. He and I grew up together in a lot of ways and took care of each other in a lot of ways and it is a sadness that it did not work out. But we have left each other better people, and that is such a good thing.

In Utah I have met some of the most amazing people in the world. In Utah I have found people who know me and love me anyway. Utah has been such a good place for me.

But I am done with Utah. This is the most beautiful place in the country, maybe, and it has been a gift to have the trails at my back door and the mountains shouldering up against the sky and there is so much that is good here, but I can’t stay here any more. It is redder than I can stand for much longer, less diverse. So small in too many ways. There is much that is wonderful here, but it wears on you, it does.

Last year, in the fall, I started to think it was time. Not to flee (maybe it felt a little like fleeing). But I needed mostly to find a place I chose very carefully and very deliberately. To find my chosen home. At first I was ready to go anywhere and everywhere—back to San Francisco, to New York where my mom and brother and his family are. To Portland or Seattle or. I don’t know. Somewhere.

My friend Karen said, wait. Wait, come to Madison. Come be with my family. It ended up on the short list. Because it’s beautiful, and green. Fresh water lakes instead of a fetid sea-monkey broth. Midwestern-kind and polite, but still sophisticated, or sophisticated enough for me. Because I realized every time I went back to SF or NY or Chicago that I was kind of done with big places. Maybe Utah ruined me. Maybe spending so many years in Pennsylvania planted a small-town seed. Something.

I chose Madison for family—so many people I love in a small radius, from right in Madison to Milwaukee and Green Bay and Chicago and Minneapolis. Closer to the east coast. A walkable neighborhood again, oh thank god for I have missed being able to walk to the corner for milk. Colleges I can teach at and a lake I can run along the shore of and put my feet in and a big open horizon. I love the mountains, but I have missed the horizon.

I made the decision to move last year, and to Madison before the year ended, and have always planned to move, maybe by the fall, definitely by the fall. On the burner—maybe a side burner. It depended on work and my house and family. But then, suddenly, everything came together, with work and my house and a place to live exactly where I want to live that accepts dogs and suddenly I was moving in just a month, a few weeks. I’m moving this weekend, to Madison. In the middle of a shower of insane things happening and travel and work and other work and everything that has kept me from sleeping these past six months.

My problem is that usually, I think people can read my mind. Or they know everything that has happened with me and to me and in my life. Or more accurately, they don’t care that much. That is something I have always struggled with, remembering that people want to know these things. I have told some people and not told others and I never remember what and who. And probably I should get better at saying, for instance, oh hey, I’m moving to Madison.

6 Replies to “next steps”

  1. Ooohhh. Ever since my first trip to WisCon, I have fantasized about moving to Madison! It’s at the top of the shortlist Patrick and I made of cities we’d want to live in if we ever moved (back) to America. Those beautiful lakes! Those fabulous coffeeshops! So much great left-wing culture!

    Huge good luck with the move itself, and as you’re sitting in one of those fab coffeeshops or walking by a lake, give me a thought! *hugs*

  2. I’m envious, Jen. Have a great life in Madison! I’m from northeastern WI originally. Now I teach in a small college town in PA that we wish was more like Madison. Thanks for your book – I read it in May and have a vertical sleeve procedure scheduled 8/8/13. Ditto what Stephanie posted ^^.

  3. The world is a funny place. I just finished reading your book this morning (checked out from the Madison library!) and thought, “This girl seems pretty cool. I want to know more.” So I check out your website and oh ho ho, you’re moving to my city. The city that I JUST moved to two months ago. And believe me, it’s awesome. I love it here already and you will too.

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