I was talking to Hugh MacLeod recently, and we got onto the subject of location. At one point he asked me what keeps me in Waterloo. My initial reaction was that it was rather an odd question. Why wouldn’t I stay in Waterloo?

Then I gave it some thought and realized… it’s not something I’ve ever thought much about. Coming back here after Sydney was kind of a no-brainer, and staying since has been even more so.

Come to think of it, it seems like a pretty big part of life to fall to default. But really… friends here, family here. I get along with this city (never have with Toronto). I wouldn’t want to live in most of the US, and I can’t afford to live in the places I think are cool. Much as I love Sydney, I don’t qualify for any of the visas that would let me stay there, and I don’t have any connections for arranging a job to sponsor me. Plus, the visceral connection to a place fades over time, and it’s been nearly eight years…

Plus, just like the body gets less flexible as you get older, so does your life, I think, for a lot of people. It has for me. At 23 the idea of pulling up stakes and heading to the ends of the earth was an easy decision. There was a lot of change going on here then, and most of it was around me, not through me. And the person I wanted to be with was there. (I would still go to the ends of the earth for someone who’s that important. It’s just that I’m a lot pickier than I was in my fanciful youth.) 🙂

At 32, though? I can’t even think of what all would have to be in place to make me to make the same decision. I certainly couldn’t make it with the same devil-may-care attitude. I’ve thought about it a bit, and really, where my mind sticks is the reverse of going elsewhere — it sticks on what I’d need to come home. E.g. if I went to Sydney again today, and it didn’t work out, how much would I need at my disposal to come home and take care of myself while I got back on my feet. It’s not a small amount of money. What can I say, you get used to being a grown up (and an independent woman).

Something Hugh said really struck me. As background, he’s recently decided to settle in a wee little town in west Texas, called Alpine. (As someone who’s lived in New York, London, etc.) His comment was: “It isn’t that West Texas is THAT great. What’s great is no longer having the feeling of needing to be elsewhere.”

Yeah, really, maybe that’s why I’m here in Waterloo. I don’t feel like there’s anywhere else I need to be. My best friends live within a driving radius of about three minutes. Everyone I’ve dated for the last near-decade has lived within 10 minutes of me. (I’ve earned the right to be uber-gun shy about long distance relationships. I know what pits of madness they become.) I’m not a highly ambitious career woman who needs to be somewhere bigger. And, hey, my milieu is online. Hugh has already demonstrated what you can do with a global microbrand.

For a long time, the idea of living in a city made no sense to me. I always found them stressful and dirty and loud and crowded. Now? You couldn’t pay me to move back to Grey County. But would I want to live in New York? No. Where you belong location-wise balances what you need with what you want. (Where you belong in life adds what needs and wants you to the equation.)

One reason it was so easy for me to leave York U was that Toronto was never somewhere I needed to be. Part of why leaving Sydney was so hard was that I still needed to be there, or thought I did. But since? Here’s good. I’ve had no trouble finding jobs here. Enough of my network is here. Broadband is available, as is pizza delivery. And now my niece is here. While I’m not as unhinged as my mother, the idea of missing how much and how often she changes, even for a little while, does not appeal.

When I moved, a little over a year ago, I moved all of about three blocks. I got to stay within the area I wanted to live. Will I remain in this neighbourhood forever? I doubt it. Will I remain in this city forever? No idea. But I’ve learned a little bit about change, and most of the time I can deal with the fact that things happen in their own time, or not.

Pushing life in directions it’s not supposed to go is a pretty surefire way to end up miserable. Of course, resisting when life pushes you pretty much guarantees the same as well. But when the balance is there? Unless you’re someone who thrives on major change, or craves frequent adventure, not needing to be elsewhere is just right.

3 Comments on Where y’at?

  1. “I don’t feel like there’s anywhere else I need to be.”

    I lived the first 25 years of my life in Kitchener-Waterloo (the Kitchener part). And it took me many years after I left to realize just what a perfect community it is.

    The universities make it smart. The rolling, lush countryside and prosperous farms are something you dream about after you’ve left it.

    Lakes to the north, south and west. Did I say summer?

    Toronto the east. Just close enough that you can enjoy all the city has to offer. Just far enough away that you don’t feel like you’re compelled to ride that merry go round.

    And to top it off, if you have friends and loved ones in a place like Waterloo, why would you ever leave?!

    Thanks for the great post. It brought back some found memories of the community where I spent my youth.

  2. I think this comes with maturing. I grew up in Cádiz (south of Spain); went to college in Madrid, and 6 years ago moved to Puerto Rico. Big change, coming from a busy city to a caribbean island 100 x 35 miles. For some reason, everytime I try to leave, something new comes up and I stay. I want to see my friends and parents more often, but my life is here now (no relationship, though).
    I too read Hugh everyday and his idea of the global microbrand has made me understand a few things.
    Now, my medium-long term goal is “where I do work doesn’t determine where I leave”. That way I’ll be live wherever and still be able to visit family and friends when I want to. Somehow it feels easier to achieve that on this side of the Atlantic.

    “Pushing life in directions it’s not supposed to go is a pretty surefire way to end up miserable.” Tooootally agree. Somehow things start to make sense at some point, don’t you think?

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