Monday, October 6, 2008

The Big Decision

I do miss living in Dunster Gardens. Pleasant Victorian architecture, a genuine neighborhood feel, good transport links and several great pubs within a few minutes’ walk all conspired to make Kilburn one of London’s most vibrant up-and-coming neighborhoods. From the window of my study I could look out over London, the city I’d dreamed of ever since watching Sherlock Holmes as a kid, and feel pretty smug about it.

I had bailed out of the stress and long hours of life as a corporate lawyer, a life I’d never wanted and for which I’d never really been suited, to become a stay-at-home dad. I spent over two years pushing a buggy, chatting with the mothers in Queens Park, shopping at our local organic greengrocer, and in my spare time writing a novel. I had it pretty good.

But that life had a dark side. My seemingly idyllic existence was only possible because my wife Sophia had kept her own high-pressure job in the City. She would come home every evening tired, grey, and battered from a long day at the office and a seemingly longer hour in the subterranean nightmare of the London Underground. Our son was growing up among pretty gardens full of hypodermic needles, lovely streets fouled by crime and pollution, and facing a choice of substandard state schooling or the expensive class-conscious bubble of private education. We were living the middle class dream, and it was killing us. A lot of our friends and colleagues felt the same, but we all kept going, stumped by the question: What else could we do that wouldn’t just be another cell in the same prison?

That was reality, but I’ve never been a big fan of reality. So we tried to think of alternatives. Returning to my native California would simply give us the same issues with more sunshine and less curry. The Netherlands, Sophia’s home country, offered the same life packed into half the square meters. And then we took our first vacation to the Quercy region of France. We stayed in a little farmhouse, ate goat cheese, toured around from vineyard to village through quiet oak forests, and we were hooked.

We returned to the Quercy again and again, every time experiencing that same sense of happiness that had so marked our first visit. But the holidays just weren’t enough. It was a new lifestyle we needed, not a periodic escape from the big bad world. So after a couple of years went by, and we grew increasingly restless in London, our enthusiasm overtook us, and the idea of packing up and moving there started to seem not so crazy. City life is a trap, I said. It’s time for a change, I said. You only live once. Think outside the box, Carpe diem, Just do it, Have a Coke and a smile… Maybe my great escape from the urban globalized corporate media circus was a product of that very circus. Maybe you can never really escape.

In retrospect, it was a little reckless. But urban lawyer life had pushed us to the edge, and it was clear to us that we needed to do something drastic. So after a lot of debating and nail-biting and familial threats to have us committed, we did it, we held our breath and jumped.

Three years later, and we’re still flying.

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