Back again, 24 years later

The women are still lean, in Tevas and cargo pants. The men wear beards and drive pick-up trucks. The kids are plentiful.

I used to live up here, far from a big city. Muddy Subarus everywhere. Ads at the local cinema for a tattoo parlor. I knew Route 89 like the back of my hand.

I came to live in New Hampshire, in a small town, in the summer of 1988, with no prior experience of rural or small town life. I’d always lived in large cities: London, Paris, Montreal, Toronto. The absolute silence of our street was astonishing.

I followed the American man I would marry in 1992 — and who would walk out of our apartment, and our marriage, barely two years later.

The woman who lived here 24 years ago was terrified.

She — I — had left behind her country, friends, family, a thriving career. My whole identity. Anyone who moves to a new country “for love” better have a Teflon soul, a full bank account of her own and the stamina for re-invention.

I remember exactly how I felt as I crossed the border into the U.S. from Canada to move here — like a raindrop falling into an ocean. The United States has a population 10 times that of Canada. Surely I would simply disappear, never to be heard from, or of, again.

How would I ever re-build my career? New friendships? A sense of belonging? Who would I be(c0me)?

And so I used to look at all the women here — almost every one of them mothers or pregnant — apparently so secure in their identity and their marriages, roaming in packs.

I didn’t want children, and everyone here did, eagerly. I’ve never, anywhere — not even far, far away in foreign countries — felt so alien, isolated and disconnected. There were no jobs for which I was qualified. I knew not a soul. My boyfriend, then a medical resident, was always gone, returning home exhausted and grouchy.

That we were unmarried, even then un-affianced, seemed to make everyone deeply nervous. What was it, 1933?

It was the loneliest I’ve ever been.

I did love our apartment, the entire ground floor of a big old house. I did a lot of sailing. I spent every Friday at the local auction house and learned a lot about antiques.  Eager for more, I drove 90 minutes each way to Massachusetts to take a class in it there. For amusement, alone, I drove the back roads of Vermont and New Hampshire. I drew. I even drove every Monday back to Montreal to teach journalism.

But, after 18 months of my best efforts, I was desperate to flee, to re-claim a life that made some sense to me, socially, professionally and intellectually. So we moved to New York, just in time for the (then) worst recession in journalism in decades. After six relentless months of job-hunting and with no contacts to help me, I found a magazine editing job that required my French and Spanish skills. I’d never edited a magazine before.

Coming back now, I sat in the sunshine at the farmer’s market, listening to a band play bluegrass and eating a slice of wood-fired- oven-made pizza. I stared at all those mothers with their babies and their swollen bellies — and felt at ease.

I’d gone to New York. I’d achieved my dreams, surviving three recessions; in 2008, 24,000 fellow journalists lost their jobs nationwide.

Achieving my dreams would have been impossible here, then. There was, in practical terms, no Internet or cellphones. Social media barely existed. And no one had ever heard of me or read my by-line.

Nor had I yet paid my American dues — attending all those meetings and panels and conferences, getting to know editors, serving on volunteer boards, showing up, landing a few good jobs, getting fired, getting other jobs, getting laid off. Finding an agent, and then another one, and then another. Selling two well-reviewed books. Mentoring other writers.

It felt sweet to sit in the sunshine here, now, content in having done what I’d hoped to and which looked impossible, here, nestled deep within these green hills.

I no longer have to prove myself to anyone here.

Especially myself.

18 thoughts on “Back again, 24 years later

  1. A great story. I can barely remember 24 years ago, but I know I’m not the same person. I can only hope that is 24 years from now, I’ll look back on myself and see how far I’ve come – just like you.

    1. There is certainly plenty I can’t remember, but that was such a huge change and adjustment for me. I was used to moving around and easily making new friends. It was terribly upsetting to feel so roundly rejected for so long.

  2. I was born 24 years ago and graduated into Ireland’seconomic collapse. I worked hard and saved before I could travel and pursue my dream to write. The recession has humbled me. I’ll be glad for any work and if I do ever become a writer, I’ll know that it will have been down to hard work, determination and persistence, not luck. You should be very proud of your achievements, particularly in light of a difficult environment.

    1. Thanks for the compliment. I think this generation of new grads, like yourself, will have (or already do have) a very different vision of what work means to those who assume there were decent jobs awaiting them, and more like them available.

  3. The closest I can come to relating was my move to Dallas Texas from an LA suburb. Texas seems to be another country compared to California culture. I was culture shocked for a few years. It is truly amazing how different mentalities change over the span of fourteen hundred miles within the same national borders. If I didn’t play blues harmonica, I am not sure I would have lasted.

    1. This doesn’t surprise me at all. When I wrote my first book about guns and women in America, I found extraordinary differences in attitude and opinion even within NY state. Downstate, people looked at me in horror for even touching the subject — upstate, many people hunt and sport-shoot and so do many of their friends and family members.

  4. Eidyia

    “Anyone who moves to a new country “for love” better have a Teflon soul, a full bank account of her own and the stamina for re-invention.” – I really love this! So very true 😉

  5. Not that you’ll be surprised, however…..As one of your many blog admirers, I’ve nominated you for the “One Lovely Blog” award. Visit me at for details. Acceptance involves a bit of work, but please know you’re appreciated for your thoughts and creativity. Have a wonderful day!

  6. You should feel deservedly proud of overcoming (and not succumbing) to the overwhelming push for conformity you felt when you moved there. I don’t doubt that you tried hard … but deep inside you felt it was a temporary thing. Good on you 🙂

  7. It was crushingly lonely. I knew who I was — I was already 30 by then — and knew I would never ever fit into a place that felt so parochial. NYC is also parochial, but at least I’ve made some good friends and been able to earn a living as a writer.

  8. This post is very uplifting, like your blog. I’m an ‘aspiring writer’ (or so I like to think!), I’m 22 and just starting to explore writing, via my blog and on some of my own projects. The recession has made it really hard to find opportunities to write competitively in the job market, but I believe that if you have a talent which you are passionate about and find the time to nurture, it will bring it’s own rewards at some time or another.

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