When to Move

I tend to move cities about every four years. This is not a planned thing, it’s just a pattern that seems ingrained in my unconscious, like I’m some kind of slowly migrating bird that only wants to live in progressive cities with a vibrant theater scene.  

I went to high school and college in Knoxville, TN, which is the longest uninterrupted stretch of time I’ve lived in a single city. During my third and last year of college, I began to have repeated nightmares about driving up and down I-40 for the rest of my life. The street signs were familiar to me, and I would see them flash by over and over, from my parents’ house on the far west side of town to my last apartment east of the University– Lovell Road, Cedar Bluff, Gallaher View, West Hills, Papermill, 17th Street, James White Parkway, 17th Street, Papermill, West Hills, Gallaher View, Cedar Bluff, Lovell Road, Farragut, Lovell Road, Cedar Bluff… Over and over again until I woke in a cold sweat.

By the time I started having these nightmares, I was thoroughly sick of Knoxville and even more sick of I-40. I’d always planned to move after college (well, I’d planned to move for college, but I hadn’t gotten in anywhere but UT), and after graduation, I moved to Chicago, and I loved it.

For awhile. I even thought at times (always in the summer) that I might very well live in Chicago forever. But then, in my fourth year there, I started to have nightmares about circling around on the L from my part-time job in the Loop to my apartment in Wrigleyville — Sheridan to Addison, transfer at Belmont, Wellington, Diversey, Fullerton, Armitage, Sedgwick, Chicago, Merchandise Mart, Clark, State, Clark, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, Sedgwick, Armitage, Fullerton… After having this nightmare for a few months, I realized that it was time to go.

So I moved home for a summer, backpacked around Asia for four months, and then moved to Brooklyn. Brooklyn! I’d wanted to live in NYC my whole life, it would be amazing, I was sure. And for awhile it was, if not as amazing as I’d expected (NYC is one of those annoying places where all the cool people have always just left, and everyone who is still there tells you repeatedly how awesome everything was 10 years ago), a perfectly enjoyable place to live. And then sure enough, the fourth year I was there…Nassau, Greenpoint, Court Square (walk, walk), Lexington, (walk, walk), Court Square, Greenpoint, Nassau (walk, walk), Greenpoint, Court Square…

Clearly, I had a shorter commute in those days, but that made the repetitive nightmares all the more repetitive. Between real life and my dreams, I must have circled that tight MTA loop more than I drove I-40 and rode the L combined.

So I moved again. But here’s the thing: I live in Albuquerque now. I work from home, and I hardly ever drive anywhere, except to the grocery store a few blocks away, and to the airport about once a month. I don’t leave my house much, and that’s working out well for me.

I just re-signed this lease for a second year, and it felt good. All told, I’ve moved sixteen times over the fourteen years since high school (not counting the months of backpacking). I’ve had fifteen roommates (not counting family members, pets, and temporary weird situations).

I’ve slept for up to a year at a time on slowly deflating air mattresses, chair cushions on the floor, and half-broken futons that were passed down through several generations of Chicago improvisers. I’ve harvested street furniture and left it on the street again when I was done with it. I’ve kept my portable belongings to about seven boxes and this standing punching bag I’ve been hauling around forever. I’ve said things to myself like, “You can keep the ten most important of these books.” I’ve moved abruptly and unpredictably due to evictions (not my fault), exploding roommate situations (mostly my fault), persistent smelliness, musical neighbors, slowly growing claustrophobia, rent hikes, roommate relocations and/or engagements, roach and bedbug infestations, and interfering or abusive landlords (no one’s fault).

I’ve just sat here for five minutes trying to think of a single possession I’ve carried with me throughout all of this, and the only thing I can come up with is a Cabbage Patch Kids pillow case, although there must be others.

I’ve moved a lot, is what I’m saying. I think…I’m not certain, mind you…but I think I might be sick of it. I’ve been in this house for a year, and I still don’t feel confident enough to hang artwork or anything crazy like that (well, I’m also too lazy), but I have bought a shit ton of books and they’re all standing quite confidently on actual bookshelves (well, Target bookshelves). And I bought a couch!

So I don’t really see myself moving any time soon. But then, who knows? I’ve always felt this way in the dewy-eyed honeymoon of year one, when everything is new and sparkling and I haven’t yet involved myself in any troublesome relationships. Maybe in three more years, I’ll suddenly wake in the middle of the night after a long, repetitive dream during which I’ve been circling from my bedroom to the bathroom to the spare room to the office to the kitchen to the living room to the kitchen to the office to the spare room to the bathroom…and I’ll think, “you know, I’ve never lived abroad…”


  1. I read the first paragraph and scrambled to get these to links together:

    Become my neighbor! This is the view!”.

    But oh well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Elizabeth says:

      So gorgeous! Maybe in three years…


  2. Rachel says:

    Watch out! Once you start thinking about moving abroad, moving between cities within the US never feels like quite enough of a change. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. We were on a three-year cycle. It was almost uncanny. Then I read in The Brain That Changes Itself that it takes about 2-3 years for the brain to re-wire itself in response to a new environment and suddenly it made sense and I figured I could persuade my brain to rewire itself and get the high off all those neuro-chemicals *without* total changes of location by providing alternative challenges so I enrolled in a master’s degree instead. Then we had kids and my brain unravelled and the moving thing is not my issue any more.


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