My third life: Reinventing myself by moving to another city

January 4 | Guest post by Melissa Aki
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Recently, I moved from Brooklyn, New York to Greeley, Colorado. How did this self-proclaimed "Girl of the City" get here? I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and when I was five, I told my mom that I was moving to New York City one day. By a fluke, I finally got my chance to move there when a coworker, who was moving to Brooklyn, said she needed a roommate. I planned on living there forever.

In New York, one of the first questions asked when you meet someone is, "What borough are you from?" I quickly learned that I needed to "represent." At first, it felt weird trying to profess my pride for a place that I had only know through TV and movies, but as months passed, I felt less and less like a Clevelander and more like a Brooklynite.

My new city had given me a whole new identity. I was thankful for being able to reinvent myself and happy not to be stuck in the same city, career, house, etc, for the rest of my life.

Now, when people ask me where I'm from, I instinctively say Brooklyn because this "second life" is what defined my adulthood. Cleveland, on the other hand, is a distant memory to me, despite living there well into my twenties.

Unfortunately, after 14 years, the New York City that had I loved since childhood pretty much vanished in front of my eyes. The cool, gritty shops were turned into boutiques that you needed to earn six figures to shop in. (R.I.P. Antique Boutique, Canal Jeans, and 8th Street Lab.) Historic venues like CBGB closed and Dunkin' Doughnuts and Subway started popping up everywhere. In addition, it was more expensive than ever to live there.

My boyfriend (a Brooklyn native) and I had become fed up with the sky-high cost of living, over-crowdedness, and increasing violence. Just as we were contemplating leaving, we got an offer to stay with his family in Greeley, Colorado.

It was complete culture shock the first time I walked past a cornfield to go get groceries. But, as the months go on, I feel more comfortable here, and I'm (gasp!) starting to lose my Brooklyn ways. I no longer walk at breakneck speed. I say "wait in line" instead of "wait on line." (Although, I refuse to start calling soda "pop" again.) What other changes will slowly creep up on me?

Of course, I miss certain things about Brooklyn. In Greeley, there aren't delis on every corner, Halal food trucks, Japanese bookstores, or hookah lounges. But name just one outdoor festival in NYC where can you get quesadillas, soup, hamburgers, hot cider, and more all for FREE!

I've lost some things, but I've gained a sense of relaxation. I no longer feel the need to "do something" 24/7. In the city that never sleeps, you almost feel guilty for sitting around doing nothing, but now I relish sitting quietly at home, reading books and magazines, like I did when I was growing up. Away from the rat race, there's more time for me to just be me.

My third life is just beginning. What will be the next incarnation of me? Maybe there will be a fourth or fifth life one day. Who knows?

Who else has noticed that they've a big move caused a big re-invention?

  1. Ohhhhhhh culture shock indeed! I was born and raised in Greeley, and now live outside of Boston, MA. I am still working on saying "soda." Good luck settling in to the slower-paced way of life! And not all of town is cornfields, trust me 😉

    1 agrees
  2. Yes, a few time 😀
    I moved from Walla Walla, WA to Cheney, WA (Life #2) for college in 2011 and that definitely changed me. My then-boyfriend (now husband) and I became much more social with strangers, and college gave me a confidence I never knew I could feel. I even took a 3-month contract in Everett, WA in September 2013 (age 22), and I loved it! I hated the long distance, but it gave me something more than even college. I came back in love with the city, traffic and all. I wasn't as afraid of the dark anymore either, which was huge for me.

    Then, in June 2014, I convinced my husband that we should move to Everett. A few days after our move, my work contract ended with no option to renew, and my online grad school program started a few weeks after that. This was probably the most difficult year for me and my husband. We had few friends, little money, and so we became isolated like bever before. I was extremely depressed, I sabotaged a contract because of it, but I came out of it even stronger. It took moving back to our hometown to see its benefits though. Now, we're on Life #3, and this time we're back in the Seattle Area. I have an awesome job as a Technical Writer, and I can feel that – like your life in Brooklyn – this is not forever, for the same reasons.

    TL;DR: Moving changed my life, took away my fear of the dark, and strengthened my spirit.

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  3. Welcome to Colorado! I've lived here all my life except for a brief stint in Nebraska. My family has ties to Greeley, as my mom lived there throughout high school and college, and most of her buddies from that era still live in those parts. Admittedly I live in Denver, where the scene is slightly more lively, but only slightly. Hope you check out the comic book shop, seems like a decent place and is way cuter than the local chain we buy from!

    2 agree
  4. Leaving city-life in California (San Diego, Oakland, Berkeley, Hayward) for a home in the Sonoran Desert outside of Tucson for seven years definitely had an impact on me. Our home in one section of an old stone dude ranch that the landlady couldn't afford to maintain was as grittily romantic as living in castle ruins. The desert, too, had its own gritty romance, dangerously beautiful, persistently uncomfortable and inspiring. I became inured to extreme heat, extreme cold, prickly everything, hauling water for the washing machine, and close proximity to potentially deadly animals. This gave me confidence and a sense of strength that I didn't know I had. You can't bumble about in a fog in the desert. You have to become highly aware of every step you take, every movement of your arms (lest a cholla cactus grab you and remind you painfully to pay attention) every rustle in the bushes (Coyote? Mountain lion? No, just a packrat, this time) while smelling for javalinas (and incidentally picking up all the wonderful desert fragrances.) You cannot hurry. You become very present, very in tune to everything around you. Away from streetlamps, you let the gradual change of the moon shift your sleep patterns, getting really deep rest in the dark part of the month, and really vivid dreams when everything silvers in the moonlight, in a regular cycle which I think we evolved to enjoy. Time and seasons become more than the markings on a clock or calendar. You learn more and more with less and less words.

    Now I've made another adjustment moving to Portland Oregon. How I love rain! And it falls so gently here, not in rare yet intense monsoon storms crashing with thunder and lightning, but a constant sweet patter that makes everything so lush and green! I love moss! And I love the persistent hippy culture up here. I am still having trouble, three years later, with streetlamps in my windows, traffic noise, and seeing nary a wild animal save for a squirrel, but my relationships with trees are making up for it. And I'll admit to enjoying the decadent luxury of temperature control.

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  5. I love the idea of living many lives. Right now, while raising a young family, I'm all about stability, but I hope to live long enough to have different priorities and goals. This essay made me happy and excited to see all the different places and ways I'll have lived.

    1 agrees
  6. Geographically reinventing myself has been a sort of a hobby of mine for a while now.
    I grew up in an old farmhouse out in the country, 20 minutes outside of a small town, in the midwest. I went to college in another small town less than an hour away from home. I had never left the midwest.
    Then in my early 20s I packed up my car and drove to Portland, Oregon. I lived there happily for quite some time – always living and working right in the heart of the city, rarely ever leaving the city center. I enjoyed having so much to do and see within walking distance, but I had a feeling when I moved there that I'd get sick of it eventually.
    When I hit 30, the number of people I was constantly surrounded by started to feel oppressive. I skipped town and spent a few years living a nomadic life, moving around the west and working seasonally in National Parks. That was fun for a while but I missed having a home. I wanted a garden. I wanted to own more than what I could fit in my compact car.
    Now I'm 35 and settled in a little house out in the country, 5 miles outside of a tiny town (population 267) on the Oregon coast. I don't have a concrete plan for my future, but at the moment I can't imagine much better than this. All the peace and quiet I could want, and a truly stunning daily commute.
    We'll see how long it lasts though! I've been here for just over 9 months and it's the longest I've stayed in one place since 2011. Nomad life is a tough habit to break.

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