So, I’ve been in Pittsburgh for about two months now, and in that time I’ve also visited Washington DC (twice), New York City (twice), Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Buffalo. Just today, I was in three different major cities and not via airplane. I won’t be able to travel quite this much once I have a job (which starts tomorrow!) but I’m still aiming to visit DC about once a month and New York as often as possible (probably not as frequently, but maybe once every three or four months?)
I’ve been thinking about the concept of “putting down roots” and what it means to me. When I chose to come to Pittsburgh, it was largely because I wanted a more permanent place to land, to build something — even if that “something” is just a slightly more structured life for myself. There’s some concern (in myself, in others) that I won’t be able to do this because I have so much urge to move in my blood, or just because that’s what I’ve always known; staying put is a skillset, one I don’t have much experience with. But I wanted to give it a shot.
I chose Pittsburgh over Denver, Seattle, and Albuquerque for various reasons. Mostly pragmatic: it’s affordable but there’s plenty of work here; it’s close to my family. Some romantic: it’s very pretty; it’s close to New York. But it’s also been a little lonely because I haven’t really gotten to know anybody yet — admittedly, in part because I’ve been out of town so much. My brother is here, and he’s the best, but he also has his own life and is out of town a lot as well.
I’m not too concerned about it. I know I’ll make friends eventually. I already have some idea about where and how. But shiny new friendships can’t provide the kind of emotional succor that comes from seeing people who’ve known you for five years, or ten, or in the case of one friend I recently saw in New York, twenty-six. (Or I guess, in the case of family members also recently seen, all the years.) (Shiny new friendships provide a different kind of emotional succor, and it’s also nice, but it’s only part of a complete breakfast.) It’s not entirely about duration, of course. There are a couple of people I’ve met quite recently who I feel close to, also. But none of them live in Pittsburgh, either.
So, I’ve had a bit of this sense that I’m starting over from scratch here. That starting a life in Pittsburgh means re-building my social network from the ground up. Not impossible, but sort of a daunting project at 34, and also a pretty time-consuming one while I’m also aiming to work full-time, get in shape, and write a book. Plus, y’know, I don’t actually want to make ALL new friends because I already HAVE a lot of friends who I adore and who I’m not exactly looking to replace. Time and energy are finite — even time and energy for friending, believe it or not.
What I do have, though, is quite a few loved ones and existing long-term relationships not in Pittsburgh itself, but in the region. Either who live here or who have reasons to visit a lot. And the thing about the East is that it’s so amazingly compact, “the region” is actually traversable. Not just in terms of distance, but also in terms of commuting culture and turnpikes and budget buslines, etc. I remember when one of my best friends was living in Austin and I was living in Stillwater, OK, we got all excited because we were “so close” (7 – 8 hours drive.) In reality, we were just closer to each other than to anywhere else (like Denver or California) where we had people. I probably got down to visit…twice the entire time we both lived there? But now, they live in Philly, and I basically just like drove out there for the weekend. (And then went to New York because, y’know, I was already over there, so what the hell. I’ve been to NYC a lot in my life, but never before just on a whim.)
If I were moving to Denver, I’d be moving to DENVER — because there’s basically nowhere else nearby I’d want to be spending a lot of time. No other major city, anyway. Likewise Austin. Likewise Albuquerque. Likewise San Diego. (Maybe less so Seattle. When I think about moving to that part of the country, I conceptualize it as moving to the Pacific Northwest, not to a particular city in it — although if I did pick a city in the PacNW to move to, it’d be Seattle. Sorry, Portland friends.) But maybe moving to Pittsburgh isn’t exactly just moving to PITTSBURGH — maybe it’s moving to the region and it’s the region, not just the city itself, where I get to put down some roots.
I like that because it’s sort of the best of both worlds: I can have a home base but one that allows me some freedom of movement within it. I can make new friends but keep the old. (Now you’re going to have that stuck in your head, too. Ha.) And I don’t have to completely rule out the idea that I might wind up in Baltimore (my fave), or DC, or even NYC at some point, for some period(s) of time; that doesn’t necessarily indicate failure of my “settle down somewhere” project. It just stretches the parameters of what “somewhere” includes. I still plan to give Pittsburgh several straight years and make it the centerpiece.
But this feels better. I feel less isolated. Less lonely. Less trapped. And, at the same time, happy that I have one clear place to come home to. After being in four cities in nine days (five if you count Niagra Falls, which is apparently a city, not just a landmark!) and three cities in 24 hours, it feels SO good to return to my own bed. And to my own town, with its shapely skyline and rivers and bridges and riot of green things; and to my own cute, scruffy, sadly but swiftly gentrifying little neighborhood within that town; and to a room of my own with a door and a lock and a lease that says it will still be my room in six months, and ten months, and maybe longer than that.
And now I should get some sleep, ’cause job. Goodnight.