Monday, March 26, 2012

Burning Question: Am I a Fool for Leaving New York?

The blizzard of '96: the view from my 7th-floor window on 34th Street
In my nearly six years spent living abroad, I've been asked pretty much every question under the sun, some of which are more mundane and predictable than others. By now, though, I've perfected a response for pretty much every single one of them.

Q: "Te gusta Argentina?"
A: "Well, if I didn't like it, why would I still be here after four and a half years."

Q: "Where are you from?"
A: I pick a place, depending on my mood and what follow-up questions I can tolerate: "St. Thomas, Virgin Islands" (where I was born, but nobody ever seems to know where it is, and I'm rarely ever interested in giving geography lessons), or "Florida" (where I grew up, but yawn), or "New York City" (where I spent my formative professional years and still consider to be home, even if I haven't been there in two years), or "Buenos Aires" (where I actually own a home), or "Australia" (where I now live when I'm not living in Bangkok). Sometimes, to throw them way off, I say Sweden, or Finland. To date, nobody has ever believed either, which means they're probably more clever than the question!

Q: "Top or bottom?"
A: "When I go to bed with a guy, I prefer to sleep side by side." (Okay, I've never actually used that. I just thought of it. Next time... Come to think of it, though, if you're doing that in bed, why limit yourself to being on top or bottom, regardless of your preferred "role"? I can't believe I'm about to say this, but the Argentines, with their "Activo o pasivo?", might be sharper than I've been giving them credit for being.)

Q: "What are you looking for?" (The question most commonly asked on Manhunt and Grindr, after the previous one.)
A: "I'm not sure, but when I find him I'll let you know."

Q: "Do you want to have 'high fun'?"
A: "What does that even mean?"

Q: "Is it true what they say about black men?"
A: "If you're rude enough to ask, you'll never find out."

Q: "Why did you leave New York City?"
A: "I lived there for 15 years. Newsflash: Sometimes people relocate."

On Saturday night, Donovan, a stunningly handsome guy from South Africa whom I'd met the previous evening (I'm a total sucker for tall men with big jet-black hair and first names that are actually last names), asked me a question that stumped even me. I didn't know how to answer him. Not the first one, which I've been asked before, and has become a bit complicated since it's no longer just one thing.

Q: "Will you tell me again what you do for a living?"
A: "I'm a journalist. In New York, I was a writer and editor for People magazine, Teen People, Us Weekly and Entertainment Weekly. Now I freelance, I blog, and I'm writing a book about my last six years living on three different continents." I expected my book to be the part that piqued his interest, but apparently, South Africans are as career-minded as Americans.
Q: "Why would you leave People magazine to move to Buenos Aires?"

I was kind of surprised that he'd remembered that I lived in Buenos Aires, but not that I'm a writer, which is pretty much what I consider myself these days as opposed to being a journalist. For the most part, though, I still use "journalist" because "writer" conjures up a mental image of a starving artist, which I'm sort of not.

Mostly, though, I was stumped. What kind of question was that? And why did he assume that I'd left People to move to Buenos Aires when it was the first magazine I listed? People was actually my first magazine job in New York City, and not the one I had when I left. I'd spent eight years working there, which seems like a long enough time to work anywhere.

I didn't realize that People was such a well-known entity worldwide, so highly regarded that one would expect an employee to never want to leave (though many of them never do), especially to go to someplace as exotic as exciting as BA. It's not like I'd left New York City to move Anchorage, Alaska (which, actually, doesn't sound that bad either, but I wouldn't expect a South African to know that). Buenos Aires is one of the most popular tourist/expatriate destinations in the world.

I'm not sure if I ever answered the question. I was too busy looking into Donovan's specs-free eyes, thinking that he looked even better than he had the night before, when he'd been wearing glasses. But why did he have to ask me that? I told him it was better than asking me about the size of my, er, manhood, which he found amusing. But did my life over the last six years seem so drab that he couldn't understand why I would give up a job at People magazine for it (even though I hadn't)?

Did he not realize that people sometimes change jobs, change cities, change continents? If I were still working at People magazine today, 21 years after I started, wouldn't that be stranger than the fact that I'm now living in Bangkok? I had no idea how to answer the question, so I didn't. I told him that I'm quite happy with the life I've been leading, one that's contained enough adventure to inspire me to write an entire book about it.

One can only write so many cover stories on Shania Twain and Celine Dion before it's time to move on. New York City isn't going anywhere, and neither is People magazine. If I someday decide it's time to go back, all I have to do is get on an airplane and knock on the office door of my former editor, with whom I've kept in touch and who would probably be thrilled to have me back in the fold. At least I'd hope so!

That's exactly what I told Donovan. It wasn't really an answer to his question, but it was the best that I could do. The beauty of life is that, if you're lucky, there are always many options. Just because you choose one, doesn't mean you're stuck with it. And just because you move on to another, doesn't mean you can't return to the first one. People do it all the time on Days of Our Lives!

I'm not sure if any of this was sinking in. Donovan was just standing there staring at me with those dreamy brown eyes, which, frankly, was good enough for me. Oh, and to answer that earlier question -- What am I looking for? -- he was standing in front of me asking unanswerable questions. Over the last several months, I've convinced myself that Mr. Perfect is somewhere in South Africa, one of the few places I've never been but I'm dying to go. He might not be Donovan, but maybe I'm finally getting warmer.

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