On adjusting to suburban life after leaving NYC

I recently had my biggest “I don’t live in NYC anymore” moment, when I was speaking on a panel of an online conference. My fellow panelists and I were waiting in the virtual green room, getting acquainted and exchanging pleasantries. It was an artist, celebrity stylist, fashion editor, style director, clothing designer, and me. Other than the stylist based in Los Angeles, everyone else was in NYC. When I was asked where I was located, I said, “South Florida…but I lived in Brooklyn for the past 14 years.”

Ugh, Keiko.

I cringed the moment after I said it, because it sounded a little too desperate of an, “I’M WORLDLY AND CULTURED, I PROMISE” plea in my introduction. I use the qualifier of “South” as if half of the “Florida Man” stories don’t come out of the very county I live in — and say “Florida” apologetically, with a head tilt, knowing nod, and that weird close mouthed smile frown that we use to acknowledge a passerby (which I still do, even with a mask on). Yep, I know. Florida. Cast your judgments now!

But no one cares. Truly. No one cares! Most people are lovely about it or at the very least, don’t care because why would they? No one is going to dismiss me as not cool enough, not qualified enough, because I no longer live in the city. They’re not going to shun me because I live in the suburbs. And yet, here I am, shrinking into my chair because I was asked the simple question of where I’m living. Florida is fine. South Florida is fine. It’s hot as heck and slower paced and I sometimes feel like I stick out like a sore thumb because of how I dress, but it’s a fine place to live. It’s just not the city. And that’s the whole point of moving out of the city, isn’t it? So what’s my hang-up? And why does it only bother me when New Yorkers ask me where I live, and I can’t answer with Brooklyn?

Gosh, I kinda want to slap myself in the face.

I guess I didn’t fully realize how much of my self-identity was wrapped up in moving away and making it on my own in the big city. I was such a homebody and socially anxious basket case, no one expected me to do it, let alone by myself, so it was a pretty big deal to everyone. The fact that I was able to build such a successful career and happy existence in such a difficult city to thrive in might still be one of my biggest personal achievements. And as much as I realize that:

  1. I didn’t see myself living in Brooklyn forever
  2. I knew I wanted to eventually buy a house near my family
  3. The life I’m missing in NYC — that time in your 20s when your friends are your family and you’re together every day — doesn’t even exist anymore…

…I still can’t help but feel like I’m moving backwards. I hate to think that my peak was facing my fears and moving to a new city on my own, at 22. And the logical part of me knows that even though I should be proud that I did that, it was not my peak. I lived in a gritty neighborhood surrounded by warehouses and dirty diapers in an abandoned lot, had a mattress on the floor, no closets, and spent a whole lot of time relocating mice who found their way in to my living room. I then moved into an apartment with holes in the floor filled with Good Stuff foam, a lock stuffed with old coupon clippings to make sure it latched, and a backwards tub that wouldn’t drain properly.

It was exciting, absolutely. I was happy with the little I had, and everything felt terrifying and fantastic at the same time. But by all typical measures, even if I have peaked, that wasn’t my peak. It’s just that all the other things that came after: falling in love, building my career, making real money, moving into a nice apartment (with closets, central air and outdoor space!) were a lot more gradual than up and moving to a new city on a bit of a whim. I have been anything but an overnight success, and sometimes I really have to look back on things with fresh eyes to see how far I’ve come. But other times, when faced by successful people who are so much cooler than me and still live in the city I’ve loved for so long, I doubt myself and wonder if by removing myself from the center of it all, I’ll just fade into obscurity.

Vintage bathing suit and vintage scarf, HomeGoods blanket, Oui Fresh sunglasses

That’s still a bit of a fear, since most of my income relies on my visibility, but then I remembered that I was looking at a bunch of people who were in the same city, but apart — joined by a zoom connection and being watched by people all across the nation. And there was the stylist in LA, in a completely different time zone and on the opposite coast, who seemed just as close as the others whose apartments may have been walking distance from one another. In a moment of clarity I realized that I may have left at the best possible time, because many people are still working remotely — and coffee meetings, in store events, and other networking opportunities went out the window for a full year and have only just now started to trickle back in. In a way, even those of us who stayed in the city during the height of quarantine were just as far removed from the action as everyone who left. So my departure, toward the end of the holiday season, didn’t feel like a grand exit as much as a transition into another state of limbo: into my suburban house, where I ordered groceries and takeout and barely left, just like I did in Brooklyn for the whole of 2020.

I don’t know when I’ll get over the whole “I’m a suburbanite” thing and just embrace it, or when I’ll accept that where I live doesn’t dictate my identity. That’s clearly a personal hurdle and insecurity I need to overcome, because like I said…NO ONE ELSE CARES. But I do know that as much as I will always love the city that gave me so much of my life, every time I see Kitty Boos and Lacy flop and roll around in our yard, when I see Bobby bask in the sunshine and lean hard into the suburban life he has wanted for so long, and every time I get to see my family all in one place and hear my grandma say, “I am so glad you and Bobby are here,” I know I made the right decision. Also, I’m only a few hours away from Disney…so, that’s pretty great!

I’m adjusting. I’m trying to make my weird 90s home into something recognizably ours. I’m happy here. I just need to learn how to accept that I’m in a new place, it’s not as cool or exciting as it used to be, and that’s okay. I want stability, a future, and close proximity to my family. Cool and exciting isn’t really what I want or need in my daily life anymore.

Besides, that’s what traveling is for.

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