Dear Susu #10: Goodbye to All That
On Leaving the City, Real Estate & Big Dreams
Welcome to the latest installment of Dear Susu, my advice column where I answer your questions about writing and life and everything in between. Today’s question is from “A Disillusioned City Mouse,” who is longing to leave city life but doesn’t know where to go.
I am 34, recently married, and after years of struggling with the idea of settling for one person, I am now faced with another dilemma: how to settle for one geographic location. In our adult lives, my husband and I have lived in six different countries and moved more times than we can count. We are both tired of moving and renting and are ready to buy a place of our own, which we seem to be in a lucky enough position to do. The problem comes when we decide on where.
For the last 14 years, my life has been centered on living and working in or near one of the biggest cities in Europe: London. Having grown up in a small town in the north of Slovakia, with limited options, I had always dreamt of leaving and making it big. And by the standards I had set for myself, I did. I settled in one of the most expensive, competitive, and ruthless cities in Europe, and I work a highly specialized job that many in my field would envy. I don’t earn a lot of money, but I can get by.
But my commute to work takes me an hour (standard for London), and I get shouted at on my commute by passers-by a few times a month. I don’t want to spend ten hours a week fighting my way through a crowded, angry city trying to justify my existence to strangers. I yearn for a slower pace of life, for a community to be a part of, for time to grow my own vegetables and to read in the evenings. I want to breathe clean air. I want to feel like I belong. Yet I can’t seem to let go.
I remember reading your post when you bought your first house and how excited you were about it. How did you decide on the place? Are you still happy with your choice? What would you have done differently?
A Disillusioned City Mouse
Dearest Disillusioned City Mouse,
I dreamed of owning my own home for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, I obsessively made drawings and paintings of the house I’d live in one day, always the same thing: a farmhouse on a hill with dogs and cats and goats and gardens.
Years later, while I was on my 15,000-mile cross-country road trip after my first bout with leukemia, I again found myself fixated on the idea of home—of where it’d be, of the person I’d become there, of the people and animals who would make a life in it with me. In my book Between Two Kingdoms, I wrote about how, after crossing the entire country and reaching the Pacific Ocean, I thought I’d know where I wanted to land, but I had more questions than answers. I felt so small, so rootless.
One morning, I stood beneath ancient redwoods, which seemed omniscient and clairvoyant, arrowing as they do toward the heavens, and I yearned for their perspective. That night, I wrote in my journal: Lately, every new place I visit, I find myself trying it on for fit. Could I move to this town, this city, this region, this state? Could this be where I finally settle? Just last night, I spent an hour before bed looking at real estate listings in Humboldt County and dreaming about buying land, somewhere quiet and remote, some place I can call my own.
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