At some point this winter, mostly likely as I was climbing over the three feet of snow that stayed piled on our sidewalk from late December to February, it occurred to me that I had spent twenty-one years in New York City--exactly half my life. I moved here originally in 1990, straight out of college, to go to grad school at Columbia, and lived the grad-student/aspiring writer lifestyle up in Morningside Heights for seven years. Then I moved into a loft in the West Village with the woman who would become my wife. I wrote Emergence there--in many ways a love song to the Jane Jacobs vision of the city--with a view of Jacobs' old place on Hudson Street from my study window. Our first son was born while we still lived there; we watched the Twin Towers fall from Greenwich Street on our son's first day home from the hospital. When our second son was on the way, we decamped for Brooklyn, along with most of our old friends, and fell in love with the verdant, connected life of stoop culture in Park Slope. I started outside.in inspired by the local blogging scene that was flowering in Brooklyn at the time; we spent countless hours roaming through Prospect Park with our kids (now a pack of three boys) and savoring all the new shops and restaurants and coffeehouses opening in the South Slope.
All of which is to say that I have truly loved those twenty-one years in New York, but also to say that we are leaving that life for a few years. Next month, we are moving to Marin County, on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge across the bay from San Francisco. It's a two-year move: an adventure, not a life-changer. But it's a move that has been in the works for many years. As a kid, growing up in Washington DC, I oscillated between thinking I would end up in SF and NY; each February, for the past five years or so, my arguments for a California move have rolled in, as predictable as the gloomy weather itself. But somehow this year the argument stuck.
In part, it stuck because our children are the perfect age for the adventure: old enough to appreciate it, but not so old that they refuse to make the move because they can't bear to leave their girlfriends behind. I still love New York, and especially Brooklyn, intensely, but there are things I love about Northern California too -- its epic natural beauty, its long history as a driver of cultural change and new ideas. And one of the sublime things about my job is that it gives us as a family the opportunity to live wherever we want to live. To not take advantage of that opportunity, even for a few years, seems like a terrible waste.
But the other reason for the move, in truth, is that I've come to think that this kind of change is intrinsically good in itself, wherever you happen to move. An old friend who did a similar westward migration a few years ago told me that the great thing about moving is that the changed context helps you understand yourself and your family more deeply: you get to see all the things that you really loved about your old home—and the things that always bothered you without you fully recognizing it. Like a good control study in a science experiment, the contrast allows you to see what really matters. Changing the background scenery helps you see the foreground more clearly.
And then there's the passage of time. Another old friend -- my oldest, in fact -- wrote an email to me after I told him the news of our move. We've both been in New York for two decades, and we are both watching our kids growing up at lightning speed. "Change like this slows down time," he wrote. When you're in your routine, frequenting the same old haunts, time seems to accelerate -- was it just four years ago that our youngest son was born? But all the complexities of moving -- figuring out where to live, getting there, and then navigating all the new realities of the changed environment -- means that the minutes and hours that once passed as a kind of background process, the rote memory of knowing your place, suddenly are thrust into your conscious awareness. You have to figure it out, and figuring things out makes you aware of the passing days and months more acutely. You get disoriented, or at least you have to think for a while before you can be properly oriented again.
So that is why we are moving: for the natural beauty, yes, and the climate, and the Bay Area tech scene, and the many friends out there we haven't seen enough of over the past twenty years. But more than anything, we're moving to slow down time.