Should I stay East or go West?

I'm an East Coast woman, but I fell in love with the West.

By Cary Tennis
July 27, 2007 2:55PM (UTC)
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Dear Cary,

I'm torn. I'm an early 30s East Coast woman, but I spent time out in the West and it stole my heart. True, I'd always felt like an outsider, and there was a little bit of escapism involved (not dealing with the boatload of expectations for exploring my potential that I was led to believe I had much of, etc.). After a number of years out West exploring myself and my soul and generally enjoying the easier way of life, I started to feel a nagging sense of something that it's hard to put my finger on, but it had something to do with coming to confront the old self that I had left behind. This is all very complicated, unconscious, etc. (I still don't think I've confronted the whys of it all.) I will say that I think my quality of life went down after returning East (I left all my friends behind, namely, and a settled life), but I also felt more centered in myself, strangely, and have since pursued my life dreams and creative goals more fervently. A work opportunity has since briefly taken me to the Midwest, but now that my gig is up here, I have another chance to figure out where to live. I am still single, and don't really have any urgent responsibilities keeping me anywhere right now. Except maybe to my family, who wants me to stay in the East.


I'd definitely like to be around my family when I have kids, which I hope is soon. I just can't fathom why my heart keeps pining for the West, though. The East Coast has everything I could want in terms of career opportunities and family, so why do I still yearn for the West? The question, the big question, I'm grappling with is, How important is physical location? Or maybe it's another question that's evading me, that I can't put into words.

But when I think of the East, I get a knot in my stomach. I hate flying across the country to visit, and that's one reason I moved back, but I guess I could stomach it, right? I just think of ripe tomatoes, sunny skies and organic food (and feeling thus healthier and brighter), and the good friends who I felt I formed a community with. I think of the East and I think of dark; I think of concrete and fewer trees. But I can't imagine living that far away for the rest of my life, either. I really do want the future kids to be near their grandparents.

Other people seem fine with living a plane ride away from their parents and siblings and their roots; should I just follow my heart? The West seems to make my heart sing when I think of it, even though I also feel I'm blocking out the voices of my past. I'm forging my own path there, though, and that feels good.


Why does the East make me feel so antsy, so full of some kind of dread?

Caught in Delusions

Dear Caught,

It sounds as though you are feeling acutely the vexing tension between the invented life and the received life.

Here is what I would say to you if you were my friend and we were talking: Stay East and visit West. It's easier that way. My feeling is that, much as you love the West, you should make a life in the East. Place is important, but mainly for what it offers. If you can pinpoint what it is that the West offers you, you can find those things in the East. So what are those things? What did you find in the West, exactly? What are you able to do in the West that you cannot do in the East? Is it the connection to nature? If so, maybe you need to stay on the East Coast but change how you live there. Maybe you need to live in the country, close to the land, high on a hill in a sunny glen, with a bubbling brook nearby and colorful houses. The East Coast is a big place. It's not California. But it's plenty big. They've got nature there. Is it the kind of hip, spiritual community that one finds so easily in the West? They've got that on the East Coast. Maybe it's not as visible, but it's certainly a component of life throughout America. They've got Deadheads and woo-woo spiritual people in New Jersey, and certainly in Vermont! Or is it the light on the West Coast? Well, there are few places in the world with light like the light on the West Coast. But look at the light in Florida. The light in Florida is amazing. Or go down to the Caribbean if you want light. They've got light.


Get what I'm saying? Figure out what it is about the West Coast, and see if you can find that on the East Coast, so you can stay close to your family. I am one of those people who feel acutely this tension between the invented life and the received life. I left Florida in my early 20s and have lived on the West Coast ever since. I love San Francisco, but as long as I have been here, I do not think I will ever be at home here the way I am at home in Florida. I will forever feel that my home is in Florida. My family is in Florida. I am a Florida boy. Simple as that. So if I could do it over, knowing what I know now, I would seek out an intentional community in my given community. I would blend the invented life and the given life in a way that kept me close to family. Because family is not something you fly to. That's not family. Family is living with. Family is familiar, dropping in, coming by, staying over, sitting in old chairs. Family is not airports. Family is carports. Family is garages and the stuff that's in them. And sure, some of that is dark, the stuff of irreversible memory, the weight of history. But it's also the stuff you can't find anywhere else, no matter how good the food and how brilliant the light.

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