Years ago, when I was young, I moved to New York City to be a dancer. I loved the city. I loved the energy of the bustling commerce, the sophistication and art, the opportunity to make dreams come true, and the endless diversity I witnessed in people and things to do. I never saw the city as a concrete jungle or dirty, overcrowded pit of despair as New York has often been called, but as this marvelous open canvas upon which I could color my life and paint a world of creativity and unique experiences. I was deeply happy to live in a place where every day an adventure popped up unexpectedly and opportunity abounded for me in regards to my art, my career, community, and personal growth– and this was before they cleaned up Times Square!
Then, I married an actor who had grown up in Long Island. He was a lovely man, but he had a different view of the city. While I saw an exciting place unlike anything I’d ever explored before, he saw the familiar, a place far removed from the beautiful beaches and open stretches of land in Florida (where he went to college). He constantly talked about how he hated the city. He hated that you had to wait so long in the DMV to get service, or that the streets turned to mush after snow fell. He hated that people begged on street corners and you had to hold your personal belongings close or you might get mugged. He constantly pointed out the flaws in our home town.
As our years together clicked along, this constant focus on what was negative about New York encouraged me to change perspective. I became increasingly aware of the threatening element of the city and what I once viewed as a fascinating mix of diverse people suddenly seemed a den of weirdo’s with misplaced priorities. I never hated New York, but inevitably, my love of the city turned into something less respectful, because the appreciation and wonder I once felt had been overshadowed by the strong opinion of someone I loved. If he was unhappy in the city, then the city had to go. And when we had a baby, I felt no choice but to escape, least I subject her to this negative environment too.
We moved to Florida.
I loved Florida. I loved the warmth, and the beaches. Perhaps I wasn’t privy to the same exact kind of opportunity, because here I was not forging a career as a dancer anymore, but as a new business owner and a new mother, Florida seemed a place where the community could support my long term goals for happiness. I loved the tropical nature and the art that seemed to penetrate all corners of Sarasota. I loved that you could visit the county and the beach in a single afternoon, and see sophisticated Broadway shows on tour, just as easily as you could hang out in a bistro outdoors and hear street musicians. Sarasota had farmer’s markets and festivals, and boat races and more. In a way, everything I loved about New York was here, if I just made time to enjoy the seasonal opportunities. I felt lucky to have landed in a place with such profound diversity and opportunity.
Sadly, my marriage didn’t survive the change of climate when we altered our life to fit Florida, but I felt very at home here and loved my town and community, so when my soon to be ex left to return to New York, I stayed. Florida was good to me. I was successful here.
Eventually, I married a dancer who saw Florida differently than I did. He complained that there was nothing in our town but restaurants and malls. He hated the fact that, in his opinion, the seasons don’t change in Florida. He missed snow and fall leaves. He thought the suburban people were boring and superficial and the houses in neat little neighborhoods lacked character. We had children, and as we strove to afford entertainment for 5 people now rather than 2, he constantly pointed out that Sarasota is nothing but malls and movies and restaurants that were expensive. We were in that stage of life when a couple is exhausted from raising a family and running a business, so frankly, all we did was go to malls, movies and restaurants because anything else seemed too much work. I loved boating and the beach, but he wasn’t much into that sort of thing because he didn’t like what the salt water did to his curly hair. I was runner, and I spent what time I could outdoors. He was an avid gardener always trying to turn our Florida backyard into a North Carolina looking landscape – which of course would be disappointing since you can’t fight nature’s regional design, but despite our time outdoors of our own selecting, we insisted Sarasota lacked the connection to nature that we longed for. Our lives felt narrow from living in this stifling place, so we determined we needed to move.
We moved to the Georgia mountains.
We thought Georgia was so quaint and held the promise of real opportunity. Instead of spending money to go to indoor activities and organized entertainment, we found things to do that were free, such as outdoor festivals and walks in the woods. And since we now were “retired” and didn’t have to kill ourselves to run a business or raise a family, we had time and energy to live more expansively. We believed we finally had real “things to do” because we took note of, and pursued lots of diverse opportunities for low-key, inexpensive activity. The truth was, there was so little to do without malls, restaurants or movies, without art, or diverse people, or expansive thinking, or educational programs other than a few craft classes at a local folk school, that we had no choice but engage in those more subtle things that were available if you bothered to get off the couch to enjoy them- like taking walks or making crafts at home or visiting a local park to listen to local musicians.
In time, the shadow side of Georgia proved that real opportunity (in our art ambitions, forging a liberal community, or work) truly was lacking in this region of the world, and when our life imploded, I had no choice but to leave. If you can’t make a living where you live and the people around you cling to a different mindset, thus alienating you from deeper friendships, you are headed down a spiral that will eventually cause more grief than moving and starting over involves. So, as much as I hated to do so, I returned to Florida.
I had a hard time coming back to the place I had left with such arrogance and assurance because I had convinced myself there was nothing here but cookie cutter homes and superficial people and nothing to do but malls, restaurants and movies. But when I got here the second time around, I spent more time outdoors – at the beach and visiting farms, and seeing the art of Sarasota. I took some classes and enjoyed conversations with interesting, stimulating people. I discovered a huge community of like-minded liberal people who loved art and organic living and yoga. I was constantly shocked at how much there was to do, and how little it cost. I felt like Sarasota must have changed, but deep down it was obvious. I had changed – changed attitude at least. These things have always been here. I just didn’t embrace them due to the limits that come with always having small children in tow.
In time, I met and married David. A man who LOVES Sarasota. David sees Florida as a place brimming with opportunity. He loves the weather, the tropical plants, the beach and the bay. He loves the water, the farmland, the orchards, the art, the sophistication, the music and the diverse people. He loves that Florida is intellectually stimulating, with classes, meeting groups for just about every interest, museums, public non-profits, festivals and more. He constantly expresses appreciation for the career opportunities, varied lifestyle choices, diverse, open-minded people, varied architecture, and the endless entertainment available to us here. Just about every day, David tells me how grateful he is that we live in such an amazing place, and he constantly points out the merits of Sarasota with true joy, keeping me in a state of appreciation too.
Odd. I am happy, living a full, expansive life filled with opportunity and adventure in the very same place that I once saw as limiting. What a revelation!
This isn’t a blog about spouses killing the vibe of a place, but about how each of us must take responsibility for our happiness and protect our authentic opinions. Naysayers can influence your view of the world, and that is sad. There are no boring places, only boring people, and when we look for amusement externally, or when we are too tired (or lack creativity) to make life adventurous no matter where we live, we get what we deserve.) What I want to say is that loving where you live has mostly to do with HOW you live, and that is up to the daily choices you make.
Anyway, this week, David and I went canoeing. We rode our bikes to enjoy the amazing spring weather. We’ve been to a movie and to a restaurant for a lovely meal out. We went to the Dali museum in Tampa last week to see a fantastic “Disney & Dali” exhibit with Neva, but since we are watching our spending, we followed this up with a visit to the John and Mable Ringling Museum on Monday (It is free to the public on Mondays) to walk the grounds, enjoy the landscape, see the renaissance art and the two new exhibits – the silk art of Muslims and the new Japanese modern art room –without spending a dime. We read on our hammock, had a glass of wine in our garden, and later, lay in bed to watch Game of Thrones. Tomorrow we plan to go Strawberry picking at a innovative farm around the corner with hydroponic systems we want to reproduce here. I devoted time this week, as always, to building my business , which thanks to Sarasota’s enlightened community has endless potential. David talked to a few people about new job opportunities. I hosted an amazing weekend with 4 workshops celebrating body, mind & spirit and enjoyed the company of like-minded people that were fun to share conversation with.
How could I ever have thought there is nothing to do in Sarasota? Taking off the blinders I realize I can’t find enough time to fit all the things I want to do in a place so brimming with beauty, opportunity and grace. Work, leisure, study… it is all nurtured here.
We see what we choose to see, and by our view, we create our world. A life of opportunity begins with having a positive attitude and making sure the company we keep supports our appreciation for life’s grand diversity.
I live in an amazing place with someone who will never let me forget that. It is so good to love where you live.