What Are You Reading (Offline, that is)?

what are you reading elisabeth

This space is usually reserved for books, sometimes magazines, but always the printed word. At risk of romanticizing the tactile pleasure of physically marking where you’ve left off (are you a corner-folder or a book marker?), feeling the right side lighten with every page flip, or getting the perfect crease in the newspaper allowing you to hold it with one hand while balancing a coffee in the other, I will say that print will always be cozier—in my mind, friendlier—than digital words. But some print publications are fleeting and I feel incredibly lucky to live in a time when an article I’ve read, dog-eared, carried with me even, can be shared via the internet.

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I love books. I’ve loved them unrelentingly since my first wobbly attempts at reading—maybe closer to memorization—when I was still small enough to be afraid of the dark and was, thus, the proud owner of a flashlight, perfect for illuminating pages under my covers. In elementary school, I once got into mild trouble for reading a too-good-to-put-down-for-an-entire-school-day novel on my lap during an unnecessarily long lesson on soil erosion. So you can imagine my surprise when during a particularly tumultuous time in my life, I’ve found myself unable to give a book my full attention or to still my thoughts long enough to form my own sentences.

It was only during this past year that I truly released the notion that we would move west. We renovated our apartment to include an office big enough for daily work sessions with my business partner/best friend and co-worker/sister, settled our daughter in an adorable preschool, found a nanny for our son who puts Mary Poppins to shame, and helped my sister move from an apartment upstairs to one literally right next door. Life being what it is, we had only just settled into this routine that felt worthy of forever when my husband got a job offer in San Francisco—at a company he’d admired for years, doing exactly what he wants to do, with people who could aptly be described as awesome.

In some ways this move is a no-brainer. Even putting aside my husband’s opportunity, there is a lifetime of reasons why our family should settle in San Francisco. One of the first things that people learn upon meeting me is that I’m a Northern Californian. My husband and I got married in Napa. Our dog is named Tahoe. I refer to the Bay Area as “home” (I also happen to refer to New York as home, but that’s fodder for another time). My huge extended family spans the west coast from San Jose to Seattle, with three quarters of them living in the Bay Area; our holiday gatherings have been described as epic. But it was sudden and I’m sad (which is a huge step up from the first few weeks after this news when I would have said heartbroken).

While books, even some of my forever-favorites, haven’t soothed my anxiety or even temporarily diverted my attention from this looming change, essays and articles that seem to have been written with me in mind have found their way into my purse. I pull them out—all crumpled and soft from the friction of my wallet, phone, and stray chapsticks—and read snippets when I’m feeling particularly heartsick. They’re worry stones for my mind.

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I’ve always been a loyalist—none of that flitting around from thing to thing for me. I excel at commitment. My upcoming move wasn’t even a topic of conversation when I came upon this article, “The Joys of Staying Put,” over a year ago. Apparently, there are people who live in their New York apartments for a lifetime, generations even (see also “100 Years of Staying Put”). These are my people, my tribe. This article may have been the catalyst for my decision to live not just in the same city or same neighborhood, but the same apartment . . . forever.

The funny thing is, our apartment isn’t even that great. I mean it’s reasonably sized by Manhattan standards, it’s a duplex, and it has a backyard. Oh, and our rent is below market in a neighborhood we love. It’s also what a good realtor would call “charming” or “full of character,” meaning it’s old, creaky, and will always have a thin veil of dirt, no matter how hard you scrub. None of that really matters though because we hear the birds chirp every morning and one of the neighbors with an adjacent yard plays classical music on his outdoor speakers most afternoons (though everyone on the backside of our block, at one point or another, thought we lived in listening distance of a great pianist). Only one other person seems to understand: the late and great Nora Ephron. Her brilliant essay, “Moving On,” about falling in love and leaving an apartment, is everything I feel. Like one of her movies, I read this piece and find myself laughing through my tears.

Now I’m in what Thomas Beller calls the “In-Between Days.” We technically still live in New York, but we’ve been traveling to and from San Francisco. Our count of the New York days we have left is close to single digits. Every experience has the potential of being characterized as “the last”—last impromptu backyard grill party, last day of pounding lattes and never watching videos of animals doing funny things in the office, last run up the Great Hill. Then there are the saddest ones of all—last stroll through an empty wing of the Museum of Natural History while our daughter makes up elaborate stories about the exhibits and our son interjects with animal noises, last family walk during off-leash hours where our little ones scramble up the rock they’ve termed “the mountain,” and the kids’ last ride on the double-swing my husband hung in our backyard (the one baby Jack is only just big enough to hold on to himself). There’s a real danger of letting every moment become too precious to be real.

Despite my temptation to squeeze the life out of our last days in the only home I’ve known for my adult life and to document everything we do prior to our move for posterity, I’m trying to remember that I don’t have to. I should be marveling at my luck. Unlike Joyce Maynard, I’ve fallen in love with a place that in all likelihood will remain right where it is for the entirety of my life and my kids’ lives too. In Maynard’s essay, “Paradise Lost,” she describes her grief and finally acceptance when rising waters slowly submerged her home and haven on Lake Atitlán. Her surrender to the reality of life came when she realized "The idea that any of what we have will last forever is a dream." If we hadn't changed our life by deciding to move across the country some other circumstances would have. We'll cry, we'll move, and then we'll visit an ever-changing New York through our ever-changing eyes.