Living in a small town, it’s easy to be seduced by concrete and neon. And with a life chockful of awkwardness and misery, my mantra became “anywhere but here.” For most of my life, “anywhere” was New York City.
I know, the whole move-from-rural-Alabama-to-sophisticated-NYC is such a cliché. Which may be how the notion got lodged in my brain in the first place. Well, and the Arthur movies. Eventually I wised up and gave up the dream of living in a tiny roach-infested rathole and suffering for my art. If you call comedy writing art. I set my sights on slightly smaller cities.
Okay, I’ll be honest, my decision to not move to NYC was made in part thanks to the decade-plus battle I had with my mother titled “No, that’s too far away…why don’t you just move back home?” which usually resulted in my remaining in the Southeastern quadrant of the U.S. Though my mother has lost at this point, the battle goes on, silently. My sister and her daughter are preparing for the reenactments.
To be fair, I did give my mother false hope from the outset. I moved back home after my first semester at university when my roommate, a Bible-thumping perky blonde girl annoyed me with her fear of black people (and you’re attending a predominately African American school, why?) and insinuations that my late nights were a result of frequent fornication sessions with my boyfriend when I was really getting bleary-eyed and cranky at ridiculously long theater rehearsals.
When I turned 19, I quit university and moved to Atlanta. Living in Atlanta quenched that thirst of big city life. My father had lived there when he was my age. But here’s the thing—it’s not what you’d call pedestrian-friendly. To me, Atlanta is the Southern perception of what big cities must be like. The drivers are crazy impatient and there’s a cacophony of horns on the city streets. I quickly grew disenchanted with the city and its multi-storey escalators. While trying to decide on my next destination, my mother and I locked horns and I wound up moving in with a different boyfriend. In retrospect, moving in with a boy I’d only known for mere weeks was not the smartest move romantically. But it was a successful move in the ongoing NTTFA… battle. It sent the message that I would rather deal with unpleasant Boy Drama and mentally disturbed felines than move back to the cozy bosom of Home. To do that would be to admit failure!
Of course, when the inevitable end came to my tumultuous affair, my family was so willing to jump to my aid and help me move anywhere I desired, given that it was far away from That Boy. My list of potential destinations by early 2000 was whittled down to Chicago and Orlando. I didn’t know anyone in either place and was going by pure instinct. We hauled my stuff from Northern Georgia down to Central Florida. My mother lived in Orlando in the ’60s with my sister’s father. We vacationed in the area frequently. My mother spoke often of moving to nearby Ocala. I did not expect the backlash I got several months later, as she became increasingly bitter over my decision to live where she vacationed. I did briefly consider packing up and heading up to the Windy City. But I stuck it out.
After six years in Orlando, it was time to pull up roots and relocate. Eventually my family stopped vacationing where I lived. Opportunities were drying up. And so we set our sights on points North. I don’t want to delve too much into the Big Move, so I’ll simply say that some stuff happened, people did some things, and now I live in Toronto. The decision to move here wasn’t impulsive. And, if you think about it, it’s not all that surprising. See, Toronto is like that friend you like but never really thought of in “that way.” While NYC is the hunk that everybody wants—including you. In the end, you realize that friend has everything you were looking for and was right there the entire time. After watching tons of movies set in NYC and Chicago and finding that they were actually filmed in Toronto, I found that I’d been lusting after Hogtown my whole youth.
I was able to visit NYC in 2004. We were sidetracked by a hurricane that wouldn’t let us get home, so we stayed with friends in the city. After having spent a week living it up in Toronto and Montreal, I was tired and cranky and in no mood to be wooed by the city I’d dreamed of for so long. It failed to charm me and I was secretly comparing it to my new love. I should give it a second chance sometime. Maybe I could phone up my old college roommate and we could meet at the Empire State Building.
Would my life be different if I’d refused to compromise and moved to NYC? Or even Chicago? Sometimes it’s fun to ponder the what-ifs. But after I’ve pondered, I’m content to hop on the TTC and visit all those places I saw in the movies. “Anywhere but here” may still be my mantra, but the meaning is a little different these days.