Chapters, Grand Plans, Alternate Lives.
Sometimes, when I think about my life, I think of chapters in a book.
Chapter 1: Ages 0-18: Cape Cod. Growing up.
Chapter 2: Ages 18-24: Boston. College + my first job.
Chapter 3: Age 24-39: New York. Adulthood.
When I moved to New York fifteen years ago, my intention was to stay for two years. It was all about getting work experience.. and then, getting out. I was dating a guy who lived in Boston and he wanted to move home to Cincinnati. The Midwest sounded fun? In my head, we’d do long distance and then I’d move back to Boston or try out Cincinnati. It was the perfect plan and at the time it felt like all the stars were aligned to take me in that particular direction. I was working for P&G out of their Manhattan offices, and it seemed like the logical next step as P&G was headquartered in Cincy.
How serendipitous… it would be good for my personal and my professional life! Besides, New York was not for me. Oh no, I hated New York! I was creatively sharing a one bedroom apartment (we split the living room with bookshelves to make an extra bedroom) with an acquaintance from my job in Boston. I hated the crowds, the noise, I did not like public transportation. And I didn’t have money to go out and do all the fun things that shows like Sex and the City had glamourized. And I was constantly broke and living paycheck to paycheck or needing to put my groceries on my credit card.
I was in New York to get the work experience and then I was getting out!
I remember giving myself pep talks on hard days. I’d tell myself what amazing work experience I was getting at P&G (“The Harvard of Marketing,” a phrase I cringe at now but used entirely too much in my twenties) and that I could go back to my quieter life in a couple years.
Work experience!! I drilled those two words into my head, I even had a post-it on the mirror at one point or another.
It’s funny how life goes. You make a grand plan and life will just come along and say, “Actually no, I have a better idea.”
That guy and I broke up. I was heartbroken. For a little bit. I cried for a few days straight, picked myself up, and started having FUN. Once I stopped running back to Boston every weekend, I fell in love with New York. I devoted myself to finding free or inexpensive things to do in the city. I built a community. That acquaintance I was living with became a best friend. I was in a book club which was more of a drinking club in hindsight, but that’s your twenties. I got promoted at work. And I started acting like a 25 year old, stopped thinking about “work experience,” started making a life for myself, and continued to fall deeper in love with New York.
There were more boyfriends. There was a recession. I was laid off from that job in 2008 and started working at a different beauty company. My friends got married and left the city. I moved in with another boyfriend. My friends had babies (so many babies!). I started my blog. I started earning enough money to be able to travel and go out to nice meals. Then I started working for BaubleBar (at the time, a small unknown startup). I experienced horrible, real heartbreak. I moved to the studio with the loft bed. And I made new friends.
I left my day job to run my site full time. I moved to Brooklyn. My time here has been filled with excitement… tremendous highs, tremendous lows… and everything in between. I built a life here. I went from barely surviving to thriving which was truly not an easy thing to do. And I wouldn’t change any of it.
Now, there’s chapter four, coming this April:
A move to Charleston. Perhaps this will be another long chapter, or maybe it will be a shorter one. I don’t really know. I am in a place of (to use Jackie’s words), meeting the moment as it unfolds. And I don’t plan too far in advance anymore as you just don’t know what life will throw your way. It’s also kind of nice to just be present and enjoy the “right now” as opposed to constantly getting ahead of myself. If my life so far has taught me one thing, it is that when you make a big grand strict plan, it usually gets blown to bits.
Also: do you ever imagine what your “alternate lives” could look like? Sometimes I imagine what my life would be like if I had only stayed here for two years, had married the guy from my early twenties, and moved to Cincinnati. What would my life be like? Would I have this blog? Would I have a bunch of kids? Would I be divorced? What if I’d never moved to New York at all? What if I quit blogging in those early days when it was just a weird hobby that people made fun of?
What if, what if, what if!
This exercise was somewhat brought on from reading The Midnight Library which I can’t recommend enough. The book’s main theme is that regrets are futile and while I don’t have too many regrets on this life, I have been thinking a lot about our “alternate lives” and how this life could be so different if I’d even done even just one small thing differently.
But back to Charleston. Several people sent me this article in The Atlantic and I really related to it. Topophilia.
Topophilia, to quote Wikipedia, is “a strong sense of place, which often becomes mixed with the sense of cultural identity among certain people and a love of certain aspects of such a place.“ That’s always been Charleston for me. I can’t even describe it. It was never home, I didn’t grow up there, but it feels like home.
I will be honest and tell you that I am having a lot of “leaving New York guilt.”
It feels akin to kicking a good friend (or even a family member) while she is down. I hate to be any part of the conversation around New York being “dead.” Sure, New York is struggling right now, but isn’t everywhere? New York isn’t dead, not even a little. I am also not leaving because it’s awful here. In some respects I feel like I am blowing up a perfectly good life. I’ve questioned myself up and down. But the biggest things I have taken away from the pandemic is a yearning to be closer to family and also an urge to chase the things that light me up inside.
So here we go! Chapter four. Charleston in April. I am really excited for this adventure. I’m of course also going to take you along for the journey. The moving process, the decorating process, and so on and so forth. I can’t wait.
Thank you for sharing all of this, Grace. Fascinating to read…and oh so true. My greatest adventures have followed when I’ve simply taken the next right step. It’s all that you say… high and low and big and new and …change. You’re doing it. Living life. Being human. Isn’t it marvelous. I so look forward to coming along your journey.
So exciting! New York will miss you, but it’ll always be here <3
I’m excited for your new chapter, Grace! ❤️✨
Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
I loved this, Grace. You are a wonderful writer! Thinking about my own “chapters” this morning!
This is a beautiful post, Grace! Thanks so much for sharing with your readers! Wishing you all happiness in your move and next chapter!
Grace, I love this post and can deeply relate as I made a big move from the Midwest to the east coast at the end of 2019. Somehow I just *knew* it was the right thing to do and I haven’t looked back since Wishing you lots of luck in this next chapter and so excited to be along for the ride
Long time reader, but infrequent commenter here. Just wanted to say how fun it’s been to see parts of your story unfold on the blog. Excited for your next adventure! Whenever I think about “alternate lives” I reflect on an essay by Cheryl Strayed about your ghost ships. Thought it may resonate with you and some other readers too! https://therumpus.net/2011/04/dear-sugar-the-rumpus-advice-column-71-the-ghost-ship-that-didnt-carry-us/
Ooh thank you – I can’t wait to read!
I was literally just coming here to link this essay also! Grace – what an incredible post. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for this link. I’ve bookmarked & I’ll return to this often!
Grace, wonderful post. I love the idea of life chapters
This was so enjoyable and insightful, Grace. It really made me think about the different chapters of my life and reflect on how I want my future chapters to look like. Thank you for prompting this! And continued congrats on your decision to move to Charleston! I am sure you will continue to bloom for yourself.
I love this and looking at life in chapters! I’m excited for this next phase for you and can’t wait to follow along b
Such an awesome post! So excited for your next chapter. I so relate to letting the moment unfold. Cheers to good things ahead!
Congratulations Grace! I did the same thing a few years ago, and moved from the big city to a smaller city because it felt right for me, not because of a job or some other external reason. I’m happier than I’ve ever been and feel more at home than I had in a long time. I wish the same for you!
Sending lots of love and prayers for a successful new life chapter. Sometimes I try to look forward (rather than what if) and dream of future possibilities to brighten my mood. Can’t wait for the ride along!
I love that idea!!!
This post really resonated with me! I moved from New York in July and have been very homesick for it these past few months. I go back and forth between yearning for the past and being optimistic about things getting better again and excited about my future in Boston. The Boston area has always been by “topophilia.” I look forward to following your journey to Charleston! Even though we have never met, I feel like I am going through this new move with a friend!
Aw, thanks Kristy! I feel like you all are my friends, too!
What a beautiful reflection. Can’t wait to follow your next chapter!
Why am I crying while reading this? I am beyond excited to see people living their authentic lives and leaning into what feels good. And that’s exactly what you’re doing Grace. I can’t wait to see how you grow and change over this next year during your move and as you get settled. And I love that you talk about the guilt of moving and leaving NYC. But you’re not closing the door on the city, you’re just expanding on a beautiful life. No move or change is ever permanent if you don’t want it to be. Wishing you all the best and can’t wait to watch this all unfold for you.
Thank you so much. Cried a little writing it!
The important thing, Grace, is that anyone who knows you – in real life or just via the blog – knows that you would never leave New York just to leave. We all know that Charleston has been pulling you for years. What better time than now, when so much is uncertain about life, than to just simply do what makes you happy? I’m proud of you!
thanks Jordan 🙂 xoxo
I love this post so much! Thank you for sharing, gave me strong ‘In Five Years’ vibes too. Cannot wait to follow along on your next chapter <3
Oh you are right! Such a good book.
My husband and I left New York in 2016. We wanted to “start a family” which is a phrase we used then and a phrase I have come to hate. We were a family before our daughter was born and we are a family still — we didn’t need to start anything! We moved to Denver, CO and thought, “Perfect! We will live here forever!” We were so, so wrong. Denver just wasn’t for us — we had picked Denver because we thought we wanted the convenience of two cars, a big house, easy access to Target. It turns out, we missed public transportation desperately and would take dropping our laundry off at a laundromat over having to fix a broken washer that was flooding our basement anyday. Who knew that we were these urban people? Neither of us grew up in New York, we both grew up with all the things we had moved to Denver to give our daughter. So, in 2019, we called our bluff. We moved back to Brooklyn. We’ve been home (and yes, home is the only word that fits) for a year and a half and even with a global pandemic, there is no where else we would rather live. The Atlantic article is right — you find a place you love, you move there — no matter what. So proud of you, Grace and can’t wait to watch your journey unfold. XO
I love this, and couldn’t agree more re: “Start a family!” xx
Reading this made me surprisingly emotional. So happy for your next chapter –thanks for taking us along!
I’m sure many people will reference this but I always think of the Bell Jar fig passage (re-popularized by Master of None) when I think of what my alternate lives could have been, where I could be, WHO I could be. Sometimes the potential alternatives are so overwhelming that it’s hard to pick just one path when faced with a decision. But what I love more than the passage from the fig tree passage is that a couple of pages later, Plath writes that perhaps the reason for these images was because she (main character) was hungry. Ha. So it’s a passage both with immense meaning and none at all. What gives me comfort from this is that when we choose something, it *usually* works out for the best (as long as we’re sound in mind and body while choosing!) It’s better to pick one than to let all of the options wither out from passivity and indecision.
I’m so excited to follow along on your new chapter in Charleston!
(Passage included below for reference!)
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet”
This is so beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing it!
I LOVE this post! So beautifully written! And I definitely have Topophilia! I never knew there was a word for it!
Grace, did you read the Midnight Library?! so many of the “what if” scenarios are played out. The book was a bit over-hyped BUT the imagery of the library is stunning and really makes you think about things. Could be quite relevant to you right now!
Yes I sure did! I talked about it in this blog post!!!
I moved out of NYC five years ago as my husband and I moved to his hometown. Pre-covid, I was in NYC all of the time – and cannot wait to get back!!! “Once a NY’er, always a NY’er” rings true for me (and I’m sure many others!); no matter where you end up after a long run in the city! Any time you start to miss it, just remember – you can go back to visit! I also get a certain type of confidence any time I am back in the city knowing my history there.
After moving from Boston to Charleston, I must say it’s just an easier life. I prefer living near the ocean, having more space, and when I miss city life, I hop on a plane (Pre-Covid, hopefully again soon.) Welcome to Charleston, Grace!
I can’t wait. Thanks, Sara!
Maybe I’m just in a weird place (emotionally, hormonally, who knows!) but I cried through reading this whole post. The way you speak about New York and building a life is so beautiful, and really how everyone should reflect on their 20’s and 30’s (I think, at least). You are so brave to be making such a big life change, and I am so excited to hear how beautifully you write about Charleston next!
Aw, thank you! Sending you lots of love.
Loved Midnight Library and bought it for my girlfriends for xmas.
Your post made me think of Cheryl Strayed’s quote:
“I’ll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”
Love this quote so much!
Good luck! Excited to see what this 4th chapter brings you.
Grace, loved this post. I personally have the hardest time balancing planning for the future and allowing life to lead me where I’m meant to go. I think this gets messier when you have to factor in other people (aging parents, family, SOs) and comfort levels with change. Maybe all that’s needed is a higher threshold on discomfort? Who knows, I’m still trying to figure this out.
I’m so excited for you, but as a current NYC-er I also must admit, I’m definitely sad you’re leaving. I love all your NY recs and have enjoyed spotting you out and about or meeting you at your events! The first few months I moved to NYC, I bumped into you at The Dutch and that remains to be one of my exciting “I live in NYC!” moments. 🙂
I remember that!!!
I will be back all the time, and I keep my New York and Williamsburg guides meticulously up to date 🙂
I loved reading this! I moved away from home for a job I hated. I was only three hours away, but I missed my family so much. My dad started dialysis in 2009 so I decided to quit my high-paying job (with no backup) and move back home. And I have been happy with the decision ever since. My dad just recently passed in December. My mom passed two years ago. I think about how grateful I am to the 25 year who took a risk in 2010 every day. I’m so glad I moved home. I’m forever thankful for all of the Sunday dinners we shared. I just don’t think you will ever regret moving to be closer to family. The laughs you share now will heal your heart in years to come.
That is amazing, thank you so much for sharing!
I’m so sorry for your loss, Sarah. 35(?) is far too young to have lost both your parents. Sending love your way.
Loved this post and cant’ wait to read this book!! Thanks for sharing Grace – so very excited for you! xx
Grace!! I commented before I finished the post and it says you read the midnight library, IGNORE MY COMMENT! haha
hahahahahahahaha! I was like what!!
I was clearly SO excited to recommend it! commented, joined a client call…came back to finish and was like WOW BRIANNA, good one.
HAHA honestly I get it, it was one of my favorite books from the year.
So fun to follow along on this chapter! I have that topophilia feeling in New York (I am FROM there after all, but never lived there long or in the city). But I feel at ease and at home when I’m in the city. Like I’m among my people (quite literally I am, Jewish Italian isn’t very common in the south, ha!). I’m eager to have a chapter in NY one day. Hoping 2021 or 2022 is that for me. And can’t wait to follow along with the decorating process, isn’t that the best part?!
an indigo day
I do really feel like you would love New York!!!!
I soooo enjoyed reading this! I am going through a move as well and I feel the same way. It is really cool to reflect on all the individual moments in our lives. Thanks for sharing Grace!
In Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny, Beautiful Things there are words that I return to over and over again about What Ifs:
“We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”
I love that line!
It will be exciting! I look forward to reading about your journey. I love Charleston! I’m heading there for 10 days in March.
I love this piece, Grace. I just moved in the summer of 2020 and it was filled with a lot of similar questions. I love your point about meeting the moment. Nothing is permanent and we have the autonomy to make a change later if a decision doesn’t end up being right. Thank you for sharing your thought process, your fears, your victories. It’s inspiring as hell!
It takes a lot of guts to build a life you love and to leave something that’s working for something like might work better. Congratulations on your next chapter!
I love this so much! My husband and I are looking to make a move this year and this boosted my confidence! I’m so excited for your move and teared up a little when you mentioned it on the pod! Thanks for taking us along for the ride!
always love the quote, “home is where your mom is!”
Oh my gosh YES!
Grace. I think any true reader/follower knows of your love for NYC. Also, you’ve not shied away from your Charleston longings. Your parents live there. I’d give anything to live closer to my sons. Go for it. We’ll enjoy the move through you. Peace
Grace, I loved reading this so much. Such a good summary of your life so far! I love your life. Absolutely cannot wait for your next chapter. It will be so fun to follow along!!!
I thought of this a lot after reading The Midnight Library. What would have happened if I went to college somewhere different? Would I have struggled to make it to a stable place in my career for so long? Would I live somewhere different and be dating/married/etc.? What would it be like if I had experiences with both sides of my family?
At the end of the day choosing to be grateful for where we are and living for the moment make those fun thoughts versus unending regrets. I’m always a believer in “you’ll always ask yourself ‘what if?’ if you don’t try.” Good for you for taking a leap and stepping into a new chapter. We’re all rooting for you! -Alex
This was wonderful to read Grace – and a good reminder about how your 20s can be so hard! I love the quote “meeting the moment as it unfolds”. Also, need to read that book! Wishing you the best of luck in your next phase of life.
Grace, I really related to this! Thanks for sharing this journey with all of us; its giving at least one reader a great deal of comfort & encouragement in her own journey 🙂
So well put! One of the fun things about reading blogs is that sometime it does feel like you are reading one of those Midnight Library books about a different life you could have had. It’s fun to peek in on other people’s lives, but at the end of the day, we are where we are supposed to be for a reason. I am excited to watch your next chapter unfold and live vicariously through your exiting adventure while simultaneously appreciating where I am in life right now. The Midnight Library has helped put it all in perspective!
You should write a book- such a thoughtful and practical way with words. And you are the total package. You deserve all the good that will come your way! I enjoy your posts so much. (And I never comment on anything!) xo
from someone who has lived, loved and left New York, 100% recommend reading Goodbye to all That: on loving and leaving new york https://www.amazon.com/Goodbye-All-That-Writers-Leaving/dp/1580054943
AH that has been on my list. Thank you!
Beautifully written. I loved reading this and had a smile on face the entire time….I just felt so happy for you for your next chapter! Wishing you the best in Charleston.
Grace! I loved this post. Thank you for treating me to the story and next adventure 🙂
What a beautiful post!
Thank you for sharing, Grace! Excited for your next chapter.
I also think a lot about idea of alternate lives as well…one night I couldn’t sleep so I wrote about it (inspired by Ghost Ships, and this idea of our counterfactual lives): https://www.wanderwego.com/home/ghost-ships
Great to read how you’re feeling and your mindset. Your upcoming move sounds so wonderful. As a longtime reader/follower, I have also been so happy to see how much you’ve been willing to learn and listen and grow this year with the political firestorm in our country and BLM. I do think that moving to the South is *awesome*, and I think it would be cool if you showcased a bit of the history of where you’ll be living and your area, since there is such a rich history and there is complicated history there as well. Charleston was a major hub of the slave trade and a powerhouse of the 13 colonies, amongst lots of other history. Of course, maybe you have read a lot about this, and know a lot of this history, and I have missed it, etc.! Just a thought from someone who really adores your blog and not meant as anything else!
Beautiful post, Grace! Excited for you, my Internet friend!
It is comforting to see someone else going through the same transition. This winter I decided to leave Brooklyn after 10 years, and to kick off a new chapter in Austin. I’ve been away from Clinton Hill for just a few weeks, and I’m already disoriented. But staying optimistic. One of the hardest things about growing up is that there’s no natural end to any chapter – you have to choose to pick up the pen, turn the page, and start something new. I found your writing on your experience of doing this really beautiful. Thank you for sharing. We can’t wait to see how it unfolds (or really, what you choose to write next).
All the best.
Thank you for sharing your lifestory Grace, it’s so inspiring to read. I also love the idea of thinking about our life as “chapters in a book”, it’s such a fun way to look at it. I’m exited for your next chapter in life and I can’t wait to continue to follow you along on your adventures! 🙂
The best is yet to come………❤️
The midnight library is my favorite read this year. As a new follower, I loved this summary of your life “chapters” so far. I am sure this next chapter will be amazing! Charleston is beautiful.
Thank you so much, Sam!