I’ve been listening to Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book” on audiobook recently and came across this quote:
“It’s like the people who believe they’ll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn’t work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you. If you see what I mean.”
— Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book
In the context of the story, our young protagonist, Bod, a boy who’s being raised in a graveyard by ghosts, is asking his vampiric guardian about the unconsecrated part of the graveyard and specifically, why some of the people buried there, would have committed suicide. His guardian’s answer is one that I found similar to an answer I’d heard previously by author/speaker/YouTube vlogger, John Green, on his podcast, Dear Hank and John when asked by a listener about the best place to live if you have depression, which is essentially that the grass ISN’T greener on the other side. This is because while you might have a change of scenery, you’re still bringing along whatever inner turmoil and unresolved issues you had with you from before.
Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.
This idea seemed incredibly prescient over the weekend during a writing meet-up with my friend Alanna. We recently started a mini-writing group where we get together every week or so and spend around 20 minutes writing or brainstorming on a topic and then share out. (Hooray for motivation and accountability!) The topic we wrote on this week was this:
What are the things I like and don’t like in the place I now live?
What can be done to improve things?
From this topic, I generated the following list of things I love about my current city, Richmond, VA:
- Creative Opportunities
- River/Outdoor culture
- Extended family nearby
- City life/architecture/murals
- Events and things happening all the time
There are so many good things about where I’m living now. I am inarguably much happier at my current job than where I was two years ago. And one of the reasons is that Richmond just has more to offer for someone in the creative industry than my hometown. Plus it generally feels like it’s full of opportunities, whether they be events I could attend, jobs I could take, or new hobbies I could pursue.
But as with any place, there are things I don’t like about where I live:
- Too big sometimes/get lost in crowd
- Feeling disconnected from the fun things I see going on
- Not having many/any single friends
- Don’t see exactly the career path I had imagined for myself
- Expensive to live in the places I’d really like to live
- Far from home
- My ex lives here too
All in all, the downside of Richmond is not so much the city itself (though it’s size, standard of living, and distance from my family can be frustrating at times), but how I feel a bit like I didn’t get to CHOOSE Richmond for its merits. I moved here for a relationship, one that had been long-distance for four years, and one I thought was heading toward marriage. So when I moved, it wasn’t so much that I was choosing Richmond, I was choosing a person who happened to be in Richmond. And in comparison, Richmond was much better career-wise than Lynchburg so it made sense. But the way we had talked about it, Richmond was still only a stepping stone on the way to bigger and better things.
But now, with my life plans, not necessarily in shambles, but at least, a bit scattered and confused, where does this city I now live fit in?
As my relationship was deteriorating, I made the decision NOT to take my dream job in Missoula, MT. It’s more complicated than I want to get into here, but about a year ago when I had the job offer on the table, I very much felt like running away. Like if I took this job, it would be a good test for the strength and future of my relationship. I would have had to move across the country to Montana, away from family and friends and boyfriend. It would have been quite a culture shock in many ways. But I knew that taking it, JUST to get away from the problems I was having with my boyfriend at the time, was not the way to make life-altering career decisions.
Because: Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.
So I turned it down, and made a plan of what I wanted to do since I was staying. And top on that list was doing everything in my power to make my relationship work.
While that particular tenant of my “Staying in Richmond” list was not the healthiest, the other pieces began the Richmond life I have now and am continuing to grow: reaching out to local family and friends, finding ways to plug into the community and make new friends, enjoying the Richmond outdoor scene, taking freelance projects, learning the ukulele, and trying new kinds of video formats on my YouTube channel.
Many of these things, especially the pieces that require connection with other humans, are NOT easy for me. They require me to overcome some of my fears of social interaction, judgment, and self-doubt. But if I want to live a full life—a life that makes me happy—I have to overcome those fears NO MATTER where I go or where I live. Pining away for the job and potential life I turned down in Montana isn’t helpful because moving across the country or even moving back home isn’t going to solve my problems. I have to learn to live with and love myself. To meet myself wherever I am in the moment.
Currently, it’s in an unattached life, in a place I thought I’d only stay for two years before charging on into the unknown with a partner by my side. But wherever I go, I have to take myself with me. And it might be much better if I loved that person, wouldn’t it?
Sometimes I look at my break-up as being “abandoned.” Like I’ve been left utterly alone. But what I tend to forget is that no matter what, I always have myself, which is why working on that relationship with myself is so important.
Because I’ll always take myself with me. In Richmond. In Virginia. Or beyond.