Earlier this week, Morgan Daimler asked what seemed like a simple question:
If you could live anywhere, where would you want to live?
I started typing my answer. It got longer and longer, and I soon realized I had more to say than could easily be contained in a Facebook comment.
On one hand, the idea that we actually have a choice in where we live is a very modern thing. Most people throughout most of the world throughout most of history have been born, lived, and died within a few miles of the same place. They simply did not have the capability to pick up and move to a new land, a new country, a new continent.
Except, some always have.
The history of humanity is the history of migration. It’s the story of immigrants and refugees. It’s the story of invaders and colonists. It’s the story of people forced off the land, and people brought forcibly to the land.
Some people have always moved because they had to. Others have moved because they had wanderlust… or greed. But the idea of moving just because you prefer one climate, one geography, one culture over another is a very new thing.
We have opportunities our ancestors never had.
Millions move under dire circumstances
There are currently 80 million forcibly displaced people in the world. They left their homes because of war, political and religious oppression, poverty, or other life-or-death reasons. They went where ever they could, because desperate people do desperate things.
Turkey hosts the most refugees. The United States ranks 16th – ahead of China but behind Cameroon.
This is not a post on the politics of immigration. That’s a very complex issue and I don’t have a simple answer, beyond an ethical requirement to treat refugees and asylum-seekers with dignity and respect, and with basic hospitality. I am frustrated with the United States government’s refusal to deal with this issue in a comprehensive manner – they refuse to do so because if they did they couldn’t scare racists and xenophobes into voting for them anymore.
So while I want to explore the question of ideal places to live, I feel obligated to point out that for millions, this is not a pleasant thought experiment – it’s a harsh reality.
Emigration is not simple and easy
In 2018 I visited EPIC – the Irish Emigration Museum in Dublin. It made quite an impression on me – when I got back I wrote Immigration and Emigration – Where Could You Go If You Had To Leave?
I was extremely disappointed with the responses. Most talked about moving to Canada or Mexico or Ireland as though all they had to do was pack up and go. If you show up at the Canadian border with a U-Haul, you’ll be turned around.
Every country in the world has restrictions on who can move there – and in some cases, who can visit there. They favor those who are young, healthy, educated, and wealthy. Especially wealthy. Several countries allow you to buy either a special visa or outright citizenship.
That said, it can be done. I have American friends living permanently and legally in Britain, France, Portugal, Italy, the Czech Republic, Mexico, Canada, and probably a bunch of other places I’ve forgotten. None of them are rich.
I’m too old for anybody to take me as a regular immigrant, but in a few more years many places would take me as a retiree… at least as long as Social Security and my 401-K hold up.
But I don’t plan on moving anywhere – and that’s the main point of this post.
Moving for economic reasons
I grew up in Tennessee – more specifically, in Chattanooga. I went to college at Tennessee Tech, 100 miles away. My first job out of college was in Nashville. After two years I moved back to Chattanooga, got married, built a house, and planned to stay there the rest of my life.
To borrow a phrase from our Jewish friends, humans plan and the Gods laugh.
A factory closing sent me to South Bend, Indiana, where I encountered my job from hell and learned what real winter is like. After two years I moved to Atlanta, where I had always wanted to live. I liked it there, but that job went away after four years and I moved to Texas in Fall 2001. I’ve been here ever since.
All of my moves were economically driven: I went to Tennessee Tech because I got a partial-but-significant scholarship – and of course, because it’s a good engineering school. I moved to Nashville because that was the best (i.e. – only) job offer I got after I graduated. I wanted to move back to Chattanooga, but I couldn’t until I found a job there. Same thing with my moves to Indiana, Georgia, and Texas.
I’ve always thought about where I’d like to live: Atlanta, Colorado, England… a cabin high in the mountains of East Tennessee. But when it came to actually moving, it’s always been for economic reasons.
But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if I could live some place just because that’s where I wanted to live?
My first thought: Wales or Ireland
I didn’t travel much when I was younger – that’s one of my few serious regrets. But I’ve been able to travel a fair amount over the past 25 years. I’ve been in 41 U.S. states and territories and 21 countries.
Visiting a place as a tourist – or as a pilgrim – is very different from living there as a resident. Still, there are some places where you say “this place is fun to visit but I couldn’t live here” and other places where you say “yeah, I could see me staying here for good.”
I can easily see me retiring to Anglesey, on the northwest coast of Wales. It’s beautiful country, it’s covered with stone circles and other sacred sites, and there are my friends in the Anglesey Druid Order. The weather is cool and mild. I’d have to learn to drive on the left side of the road, but it’s small enough I could learn safely before I tried driving in some place like London again (I did that once – I will not do it again!).
Or, if I wanted to be in the EU, I could move to Ireland. Dublin is too crowded, but I could see me living in Limerick, or possibly in Galway.
But as comfortable as I’ve felt in these places, I know that at some point I’d start missing American football and Tex-Mex food. If the political situation in the U.S. was going well I’d want to be a part of it – if it was going badly I’d feel like I needed to be a part of the solution, or at least the resistance. I would miss friends and relatives. I would miss the land.
And while there are countries where you can live cheaply, Wales and Ireland are not on that list.
At the end of the day, I am an American. I was born here and I’ve lived my whole life here – I belong here. I may very well take a long writing holiday sometime after I retire, but I can’t see me leaving the United States for good under any foreseeable circumstances.
My second thought: the Pacific Northwest
The United States is a big place. We have many climates. While much of the country is standard corporate sameness, there are some unique cities: New York, Boston, Miami, New Orleans. And while American politics are nasty and getting nastier, some states and many cities are quite progressive.
My birthplace in Tennessee is beautiful, but if I was moving for preference I’d like to get away from the hot and humid summers. Colorado is even more beautiful, but three winters in Indiana were enough to convince me I prefer to watch snow on TV, not out my front door. I used to think I’d like to live in New Orleans, but Hurricane Katrina took that off my list.
If I was going to move anywhere it would be the Pacific Northwest – probably somewhere just outside of Seattle. The summers are cool and the winters are mild. The politics are progressive (until you get on the other side of the mountains, anyway). It’s expensive – the whole West Coast is – but I could make it work.
For now, there’s the job issue. I could probably find a job in Seattle, but I’ve been with my current employer for 24 years and while it’s not great, it’s good. I’m not inclined to take the risk that something else would turn out as well.
But when I retire in a few years, that concern goes away. I could move anywhere in the United States just by doing it.
So if I’d rather live in Seattle, why am I not making plans to move there?
My choice: Texas
All of my moves have been economically-driven, and my non-move here has an economic element as well. Texas cities aren’t cheap, but they’re a lot cheaper than the West Coast or the Northeast. And the suburbs are quite reasonable. I’m able to live more comfortably here than I could in most of the rest of the country.
I hate the Texas summers, especially in the years when July and August are over 100°F (38°C) virtually every day. But we have air conditioning, and the winters are quite mild (except when they aren’t).
The politics aren’t good. No Democrat has won a state-wide election in 30 years. I can tolerate the pro-business Republicans, but the nationalists and the theocrats are a serious concern. We keep waiting for Texas to turn purple and it keeps not doing it. But most of the cities are progressive. And as someone with more privilege than most I feel an obligation to stay here and fight for progress, not to abandon the state to Ted Cruz, Dan Patrick, and the rest of the Trump sycophants.
More than that, my UU church is here. My CUUPS group is here. The people who’ve done deep ritual with me in my back yard (and in some of their back yards) are here.
This is home.
I still miss the hills and trees of Tennessee, and I have family of blood there I wish I could see more often. I’d like to get away from the heat, and from the regressive politics.
But I’ve built a home in Texas. And so Texas is where I plan to live for the rest of my life.