The end of 2014 brought the unwelcome but not unexpected news that Brooklyn is now the most unaffordable place in America to buy a home. I’m not at all surprised; the spouse and I were priced out quite a while ago, and I figured things would just get worse. And, unsurprisingly, we weren’t the last people to trade the borough of our dreams for a vastly more wallet-friendly, if not quite as dynamic, place to live. For the past year or so, it’s seemed that every second person I’ve met up here in Vermont has recently immigrated…from Brooklyn. The guy who helps me out at Sephora in South Burlington. The people who own Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier. The program director at our local public library (OK, she’s been here 20 years, but only 20 years, so I think she counts). We got our own Trader Joe’s last spring, and I swear most of the staff hails from the Court Street store. (Except for Kelsey, who used to be a manager at the Chelsea store. What’s that, Manhattan? You miss her? Sorry. She’s ours now.)
But the growing exodus, although it is a great story, wouldn’t be enough in and of itself to make me abandon my old blog and head on over here. So what’s the back story, you ask?
When we moved north a few years ago, I was a starry-eyed novitiate in the convent of All Things Vermont, eager to make my mark on my adopted home. I dove into our new community with both feet, offering my skills on a volunteer basis left and right and accepting pro bono consulting assignments with abandon. To my surprise, the reality of living full-time in a community that had been so welcoming when it was our home away from home was much harder than I thought it would be. My willingness to serve the common good was often met with skepticism; my desire to compliment the pioneer spirit I saw everywhere around me was often mistaken for condescension; and far too many times, I was told that I ‘just didn’t understand’ the way things worked in Vermont.
I’ve spent the last couple of years going through a bunch of changes in order to reconcile my past with my present, and three years on, I’m happy to report that I’ve learned my lesson. I don’t shrink from my identity as a ‘foreigner;’ in fact, I embrace it. I cheerfully admit that I don’t understand the way things work here a lot of the time, and I’ll probably never figure it out. I volunteer almost as much as I ever did, but only when I really feel that my work will make a difference. I talk about my identity as a Brooklyn expatriate whenever I feel like it without worrying (too much) that someone will think I’m weird. I wear makeup on a regular basis, and my toenails are rarely without polish. I’m open about the challenges of living here as well as the delights. I frequently refer to our town as ‘the farthest of New York’s northern suburbs.’ Oh, and I’ve even started wearing my pointy boots again. Yes, in winter, too.
I’m good at being an expatriate—I grew up as one. I’m also good at inhabiting a lot of different mental spaces simultaneously. So, while I listen to The Brian Lehrer Show every morning, I’m looking out the window at what in Brooklyn would count as a wilderness. As I talk with Chris-the-UPS-guy about the antics of his daughter’s puppy, Sophie, he’s probably delivering the hair conditioner that I learned to depend on in my Coop days and that I now order by the dozen from Amazon. When I prep dinner in my giant-for-Brooklyn kitchen, I’m likely to be cooking one of the cuisines that I learned to adore in the City and often find it necessary to create for myself here. In short, I love all my worlds, and I don’t see why they can’t coexist.
Leaving a place you love and that has come to be your home is always wrenching. Often, the exile comes with a deep, restless, almost human sense of displacement that gnaws continually at your core and attacks you at inconvenient times with memories so immediate and so painful that they are almost overwhelming. I hope, if you are an expatriate of any city, town, state, province, or nation, that you’ll discover here not just random musings, but a sense of community that will ease your homesickness and remind you that we are, after all, a global village—one in which, often, residence is an accident of circumstance or fate as much as it is a conscious choice. To former readers of Licorice Hill: Welcome! The Friday 13 will resume its usual publication schedule this week. To those of you who’ve landed here by happy accident: I hope you’ll keep reading. Who knows what you’ll find as we continue? (I certainly don’t.) And to my fellow Brooklynites in exile: Let us go forward together. Eendracht maakt macht.