Thursday, June 19, 2014

Southern Comfort

A good friend of mine often tells people he loves New York the way most men love a woman. 

He does so with a southern accent standing behind the bar at one of my favorite places in Charleston.

I know how he feels. My entire life is wrapped up - with the exception of college - in a 30 mile radius from Manhattan to Long Island. I grew up and lived in the same house for 26 years in Garden City on Long Island. I drive like a maniac, know exactly what a good bagel tastes like, know every Billy Joel song by heart, I curse a lot and bleed pinstripes. 

The idea of leaving my comfortable nest in New York - which relocated from Long Island to NYC several years ago - has only crossed my mind a handful of times. When I was 21 and moving to Vancouver to be with my ex boyfriend. When I was 24 and got a job offer with the Chicago Blackhawks and turned it down. And in the last two years, several times I have come so close to pulling the trigger and moving down south to what I consider the greatest place I know: Charleston, South Carolina.

It’s just a place. No different, I’m sure, than your favorite vacation spot or the place on the lake you spent every summer. It’s warm, wet and slow. It reminds me of the first time you fell in love at 17. Everything felt new and innocent. For me, there are no bad memories connected to Charleston. No break ups, no fights, no sense of loss or memories wrapped up in what could have been. For me, Charleston is the place that saved my life. It’s the place I found when I was suffering from depression. It was the first trip I took after my suicide attempt. It was the first place I laughed after months of wondering if I ever would again. It’s Charleston where I learned to live again. 

In those two years, my affection for that place has only grown exponentially. I made it a point to go down there at least one a summer for the last three summers. Once usually turns into two or three times, or three weeks. I found myself feeling more at home down there than I think I ever have in New York. I found myself opening up to new potentials, new ideas, a new outlook on life. One I don’t know if I’d ever have learned living up in the rat race in New York. Who got engaged first, who gets married first, who has the first kid, the first mortgage, the first promotion. Fuck it dude, I still have my wisdom teeth. I have always been behind the curve of what people measure success and life by up here. But in Charleston, life doesn’t feel measured by those ticks on the lifeline chart. It just seems to be measured by experiences and….living. In your own time. In your own way. 

The friends I’ve made down there have changed my life. Made me feel comfortable in my own skin. Took me in for who I was, not what I might be able to do for them. Given me new perspective and new appreciations for smaller things. Like those really hard belly laughs in the bar. Or walks home on King St in the middle of the summer. Dinner with the friends who no matter how much time passes, that fuckin' town brings you together like you've never left. Walking up the beach and finding shark teeth. Talking about art and theatre and history over dinner. Going for a drive in the middle of the night with your hand out the window listening to Luke Bryant. Falling off a jet ski and getting right back on. Watching the sunsets over the marsh on Folly Road. Shit I'd never do in New York. None of that will get me anywhere far in life. 

If you put it up against some of the things my friends in New York have done things they do on the daily, they sound down right childish. But maybe that’s the point. In all the rush to sell my TV show, meet with Showtime, film this, write that, go to LA, meetings meetings meetings… I forgot what it was like to stop and live. To stop thinking about three weeks from now, and just think about the here and now. Stop hoping for better and appreciate what was in front of me. I stopped planning sort of and just started living and seeing what happened. And did so surrounded by people who emphasized the importance of the simple shit. For the first time in my life I saw myself potentially living somewhere else and being happy. It both scares and excites me.

My agency will alway be in LA. The flights are just as long, just as expensive. And those meetings will continue if and when I move south. My family in New York will always be there, my roots buried deep under the pavement on the Upper East side. Some people say it’s quitting. Giving up. Why, I don’t know. I’d never stop writing and I’d never give up on those things I believe in. I can write TV shows and Brobible articles just the same from King St. as I can from 50th St. 

I don’t know if I’ll move. Waiting on my writing deals puts a stop on everything right now, but I know in the back of my mind and the bottom of my heart, I feel it’s coming. I feel a homesickness for Charleston when I leave, when I’m not there, that I don’t know if I’ve ever felt for New York. And when I’m there, a warmth fills my soul so deep I can feel it in my bones. Charleston - particularly the most recent trip - reminded me how important it is not to cry over shitty people who choose to walk out of your life, but laugh hardily with the ones who want to stay. It’s hard as a writer to say that something in life - a place, no less - can leave even the wordiest of people desperate for the right way to describe how it makes you feel. But I can simply say no words, adjectives or hyperboles can do justice to the love I feel in my heart each time I land, and the ache I feel each time I leave. 

In life, I believe, you can have roots and wings (Thanks Sweet Home Alabama!). And while I used to worry that moving from New York to Charleston would be some sort of regression, going backward in life instead of forward, I think it comes down to what I want in life. That decision is looming over me and New York and Charleston are neck and neck at the moment. I don’t know who will pull ahead, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pulling for the city that makes my heart burst. 

What's holding me back is the fear of missing out. New York is where shit happens, I'm told. But after years of waiting for things to happen, and doing a lot of work to make them happen, I'm beginning to wonder what's left for me to let happen? Am I quitting the race too soon? I have no idea. But the more I think about it, the more I worry that staying here will be my biggest regret. That what I'll miss out on won't be in New York, but buried somewhere deep in the south. And at 35, I'll look back and realize I picked an apartment with exposed brick over the chance to figure out who I really am. And what I really want.

Maybe I’m wrong about it all. Maybe Charleston is one of those moments, those ticks on the wall. While my friends took a different path here in New York, maybe my tick is coming. Maybe that place will give me as much joy as promotions and weddings and nights out in the Meat Packing give my friends now. Maybe those little moments I wrote about earlier are enough for me. And perhaps in realizing that, accepting that, I can say I’m not behind the curve in life, but traveling along its edges with a brilliant insight into the things that make me happy. And giving me the courage to pursue them, as out of the box as they may seem.