Friday, April 5, 2013

The Only Constant In Life Is Change

My wife and I have news to dust off this blog and announce, although it probably isn't the news that is expected:

We have decided to quit our jobs, sell our condo, throw everything we own into cardboard boxes, pack up our two cats, and head west.

No, this isn't a joke: we are moving to Portland, Oregon.

To rephrase it in a way that actually is a joke: we have decided to take our life and put a bird on it.


Imagine standing at the edge of a cliff.  There's an incredible land down there somewhere, which you know because you've read a lot about it and even visited it once.  There's also a safety net to catch your fall so that you can reach this land instead of plummeting to your death.

But the cliff is so high that nothing is visible below as you look down from the edge--no land, no safety net, nothing.  All you can see through the vertigo is cliff face plunging to bottomless depths, as high altitude winds buffet your body and threaten to send you over.

Are you ready to jump?


Things not mentioned above in the opening list of items to do before we "head west": paint our living room ceiling, get our carpets cleaned, sell my car, process nine years of personal paperwork, deep clean our bathrooms, fix our windows, hire an electrician, assemble various condo association docs, recauk our showers, post various sellable items on craigslist or eBay, purchase new eyeglasses, research movers, book cat-friendly hotels, find a place to live.

Time we have to do all this: about five weeks.


I put in my notice this past Tuesday at my job.  At my most frustrated moments I perhaps imagined quitting to be a satisfying experience in which I finally held up my hand and said "thanks but no thanks."

The problem with this, of course, is the most frustrating moments don't represent a job as a whole, and the company I work for has actually been quite good to me.  I've been able to help make some great products with some great people, and the company hasn't been shy about rewarding employees for hard work.  I've learned a lot of good things and made a lot of good friends.

There is also just something inherently sad about closing a door, no matter how ready you are to close that door.  Doing so may get you closer to where you need to be, but remember what it felt like to have that door open?

You'd damn well better because that memory is all that's left of what was left behind.


Tracy and I visited Portland a year and a half ago to scout it out as a potential relocation option.  Upon arrival we went to a downtown art fair and were immediately overwhelmed.

"I don't know how I feel about Portland," Tracy said.

"I don't know either," I replied.

"I don't think I have enough tattoos and piercings to live in Portland," Tracy.


But the next day we walked to the "Trendy-Third" district and immediately fell in love with its photogenic assortment of shops and bars.

"I think we've found our Portland," we both agreed.

As such, now that an actual move was looming it only made sense to start looking at the price of rental units in the Trendy-Third vicinity.

As it turns out, we had not found our Portland.


A frequent question that is asked when I say we are relocating to Portland is "do you have a job lined up," and the answer to this question is "yes."

I will be working for a small development company that makes custom applications for clients.  I'll be operating as the sole QA Engineer on a smaller team practicing Agile development, and I'm looking forward to getting my hands dirty and playing a more active role in software development.

Important: the people who work there are an incredibly cool bunch of guys.  By all appearances the company has a relaxed and friendly atmosphere of people nonetheless working hard to make quality software.

Also important: the company is actually located in Portland as opposed to one of the satellite tech towns, so it should be within biking distance of where we want to live.

Of even more importance than any of the above: they were willing to interview a potential hire remotely and then give him a reasonable window to move.


Why Portland?

Because Portland is a city that knows what it wants to be and isn't afraid to invest resources to make this happen.

Because what Portland wants to be is what I want my city to be.

Because Portland has an emphasis on good coffee, good beer, good wine, good music, and local food.

Because Portland has fantastic public transportation.

Because Portland has an impressive network of bike paths.

Because Portland's weather allows year-round access to these bike paths.

Because Portland is one direct flight away from either of our families.

Because Portland has a thriving tech industry which makes me employable.

Because Portland has reciprocity with the school my wife will be attending online.

Because Portland houses some lovely people we already know so we won't be starting from scratch with a social network.

Because Portland has some outdoor farms you can drive to and yank enormous heads of lettuce out of the ground like it isn't totally a thing.

Because Portland has a super cool airport (these details count, people).

Because Portland is surrounded by the gorgeous Pacific northwest.

Because Portland has a clear view of Mt. Hood.

Because Portland has an arboretum that feels like it's on the side of a mountain.

Because Portland has less sun, higher unemployment, and more expensive housing.

Just checking that you're still paying attention with that last one.


So what does Tracy get out of this relocation?

She gets to move to a city that offers many of the things that are important to her (see the above list).

She gets to return to school, which will help her develop her career in the long run.

She gets to live in a city that offers employment that builds off current experience, which will help her have a career in the short run.

She gets a closer proximity to family that makes long weekend trips to and from Arizona possible.

Also of significant note: she gets to never, ever, ever drive in serious snow again.


Of course, all of this glowing Portland talk ignores one thing, and that is the fact that it is not easy to leave Madison, Wisconsin.

Madison has been good to me.  It's small enough to be safe and easily travelled, but it's large enough to contain some big city amenities.  It's within a long but reasonable drive from my family, which is important because I am close to my family and love them dearly.

And, of course, Madison has our friends.

There is a certain tightness of friendship that can come with the luxurious aimlessness of youth.  As age advances you collect responsibilities that shape your life but also anchor you down, whereas when young it sometimes felt like there was little else to do but be with your friends.  My twenties were a messy and tumultuous time that claimed its fair share of friendships, but those friendships that survived did so with some serious battled-hardened structural integrity.  There is a lot to say for the people who have seen me at both my best and my worst and still call me a friend.

And, of course, I've been making new incredible friends through my wife, people who have somehow managed to pull in close despite the fact that I haven't known them very long.  If these people went from strangers to valued friends in a mere year or two, just imagine where things could go if given more time.

And then all these friends are having kids, or thinking about having kids, and Tracy and I want to have kids at some point and raise them around these friends and their kids.

But we're moving to Portland.


I was going to write about moving further away from my family, but I'm not sure I can.


Here's the thing, though: as much as I love Madison, it has never felt like I place I was going to be forever.  Even as my social support network deepened and strengthened and formed the foundation to everything I held dear, I never saw myself as calling it a done deal and settling into Madison permanently.

I've long felt a sense of location dissonance, as if I wasn't where I truly belonged in life.  I had a really nice car and a really nice condo with a really nice backyard area, but I'd visit friends in Chicago or New York and suddenly feel a sense of kinship with my surroundings there.  We'd walk down to local restaurants for breakfast and hop on public transportation to whatever it was we were doing.  We'd travel through areas that were actual neighborhoods, with people and things and shops and bars and history, neighborhoods that were more than just a collection of hermetically sealed mini-mansions with really nice yards.

And then I'd return to Madison, hop on the beltline, and feel my spirit collapse through the bottom of my really nice car.  I know that everyone returns from a fun-filled vacation with meaningless relocation plans, but I felt a very real disconnect between the living environments that rang that little bell inside my brain and the living environment I was constantly returning to and calling "home."  There's nothing wrong with suburban or rural living, of course, but I was coming to realize that it wasn't personally for me.

Before I met Tracy I was giving serious thought to selling my condo and moving, either to a neighborhood in Madison that satisfied my centrally-located living desires or to a larger urban environment.  But then I met the love of my life, and she moved in, and we were more or less set.

Except for this: "You know, I've had enough of Wisconsin winters," Tracy said.  "And I'd like to be at least somewhat closer to my family in Arizona."

And so everything came together.


One night recently my wife and I were approaching downtown Madison from John Nolan Drive, and I gazed out at the city skyline: Monona Terrace and its surrounding hotels butted up against the lake, and the capital's illuminated dome was visible through the parting of urban buildings that managed to be tall enough but not too tall.  Street lights and windows glittered in the dark, their flickering counterparts reflected in the water.

I suddenly saw this sight so familiar I had long since stopped seeing it, this city I had moved to and grew to love and then inhabited for well over half my life.

I wondered if leaving this city was a huge mistake.

I'd ultimately say "no," for the record, but if it is we are about to make the hell out of that huge mistake.

Portland, ho!