(Un)Packing Up, Again

I’m someone who is fascinated by starting over, probably because it took me nearly 24 years to finally start a new life for myself. I’m not a fan of sitting still. I also wear a necklace everyday that my mother gifted me which bears an arrow and the words, “Find Your True North.” However, in order to locate that True North, one must eventually, inevitably, reach a destination from which they aren’t meant to depart, at least not for a good deal of time. I also once wrote that I wish to have 1,000 homes in this life, but how we define “home” and “True North” changes with the wind.

In November of 2019, I landed a remote part-time job while living in Ohio that was set to turn into a full-time position, which would require me to move to New York City to work in the office. At that point, I had spent the majority of the year embracing the newly unpacked ‘nomad multitude’ that lives inside of me; however, I was getting tired of living out of a backpack and I was electrified with the idea of finally having my first apartment in one of the cities I’d always envisioned as a home for myself.

Before this, I had packed up & changed homes three times in the previous two years, and after months spent on the West Coast and abroad, I was just excited to have a bedroom of my own again, a front door, and some space to unpack for a bit. Maybe I’d even get some furniture. Plus, my family belonged to the East Coast for the first six years of my life and my father has called Brooklyn home for the entirety of his, so I was bound to wander back one day. Don’t sons always follow in the footsteps of their fathers, anyway?

Naturally, almost poetically, my father made the eight-hour drive with me last spring. After he dropped me off that weekend, I jumped on the train to The Strand (because I was yet unaware of the vast wealth of indie bookstores scattered across the city.) I found a book called Goodbye To All That — a play on the timeless Joan Didion work — which is a collection of essays from writers of all genres about falling in and out of love with the City That Never Sleeps; on the infatuations we have with places, which are just as intense & intimate, if not more so, as those we have with people. My hopes held high, I made my way back to the apartment and with the trees in the (inaccessible) backyard still bare from the icy, end-of-winter air, I could see the Empire State Building all the way from my partially-punctured air mattress in Brooklyn.

But just three days after signing my lease and finally making my appearance in the office, my job became fully remote, I started to see just how bad it could be when you decide to get an apartment with people you’ve never met before, and the romanticized New York City of every writer’s most desperate fantasies became nothing more than a hallucination to me, not much unlike what I could see from my bedroom at night in Crown Heights. And soon, the leaves bloomed, and I couldn’t see a goddamn thing for months.

Buried in the essays from various writers such as Emma Straub, Roxane Gay, Cheryl Strayed, and more is the utter admission that a city like New York — the idea of New York — is never anyone’s to own entirely; many may think it’s “their city” but when the lights come on, you see a million other neon nomads staring wide-eyed from their windows, all nodding along to the same exact narrative in their head.

I’m not the first to pen some sorta’ farewell to New York and even after 2020, there will never be a last to do just that. In many ways, I don’t even feel qualified to say “goodbye” when I never even got to introduce myself in the first place. However, I offer no hate or resentment to the city that is loved by so many within its limits and worldwide; because, in truth, New York City has no limits. But people do, and I met mine early on as I tried endlessly to convince myself that it was still ‘for me’ and that moving to one of the biggest places on the planet at the start of a global pandemic somehow happened for a reason.

I’m still trying to unpack what I learned over the last year. I know for certain that I will never sign a lease with strangers again. I know that $7 tawny port tastes almost as good as $30 tawny port; a cast iron pan belongs in everyone’s kitchen; and I realized that on some level, sooner than later, we can all feel the future and, if I’m being honest, I never felt that New York was going to be my home forever, even back in November of 2019. This isn’t me breaking up with New York because I never gave her my heart in the first place. This isn’t me saying that I’m done with New York for the rest of my life, either. After all, as everyone and their mother have pointed out to me, I never got the real New York experience, and part of me hopes it’s still out there, somewhere.

Maybe I’ve just been thinking too much about Nomadland but in truth, sometimes the bravest thing you can do is to walk away from a dream. I’m just stuck wondering if moving to the Big Apple was ever a dream of mine at all, or if I was just desperate for any dream & any chance to connect with the normal, ‘how-about-you-take-a-break-from-always-just-passing-through-and-settle-in-for-a-bit ‘ multitude that lives inside of me alongside the others. New York very well could have been my ‘normal’ for the last two decades had my family moved to my grandmother’s duplex in Sheepshead Bay instead of to Ohio back in 2001. But you can play what if all day and it takes courage to admit you’ve outgrown an old version of yourself, even if you never got to meet them. I’ve always said that comparison will kill you but in this case, I’m hoping it saves me, instead.

Days before I left my Brooklyn apartment for good, I had the chance to go to the top of the Empire State Building thanks to a soulful partner of mine, Molly. Despite it being one of the most touristy things someone can do in the city, it was on my bucket list since the day I moved in. And I’m proud to say that after surviving the city for an entire year during the pandemic and despite all of the set-backs and dark days that found me over the last 12 months, I was able to end this chapter of my story on top — literally. I said my piece while looking back across the East River. I waved to all those windows and to an old version of myself that, in this case, I was fortunate enough to get to know for a bit.

To be honest, I don’t know why I’m writing this. I just know that I had to, for one reason or another. To humor my own hubris? Definitely. To say something that hasn’t already been said a million times? Definitely not. I’m still playing around with the narrative of my father moving me into my first apartment in what will always be his first home, and I’m already thinking about what’s might find me next spring — before I’ve even spent one night in my new apartment in Seattle. (Who knows — maybe 4th moves-a charm?) But for better or worse, I offer no resolve; I can only offer the story that found me while living in New York City during a pandemic. And, as we all know, stories find you exactly when & how they’re supposed to, even if that why isn’t so clear.

I still wish to have 1,000 homes one day. New York happened to be one of them, even if not forever, and Seattle will soon be counted among them, too, for how long I have yet to determine. As I continue to unpack what I learned last year and to pack-up my life into a handful of boxes & bags, once again, another lesson I’m taking with me to the West Coast and everywhere I wander is that the act of searching for my True North is actually what gives me the truest sense of “home” I’ve ever known. And that the arrow hanging around my neck isn’t pointing to any singular location but simply, forward, always forward.


Published by Dan Rosen

Documentary Photographer | Lover or Moleskine notebooks and Pilot G2 pens | Avid (and honest) Google Maps food critic

One thought on “(Un)Packing Up, Again

  1. Hi Daniel… it’s JoAnn … beautifully said…. wishing you a great life in your new venture… always be happy💕

    Sent from my iPhone


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