Earlier this week, thanks to its prevalence on Facebook, I read this post on Slate about how awesome Massachusetts is, which teaches us how MA is the best of the states in three categories: education, general well-being, and economy. I found the article interesting for a few reasons, and none of them really have to do with the success of RomneyCare and how funny and sad it is to see Mitt’s campaign try to pretend he had nothing to do with it, or with the many statistics presented. Compelling as these stats are, of course they can be twisted and turned to support different viewpoints.
However, I think the perception of what a state is often ends up being more important than numbers when you’re considering living there; this is a thing only touched upon in the beginning of the Slate piece. When I was looking into moving to MA after college, I actually applied to grad schools in two different corners of the state. In the end, I chose the school in Boston as much because I knew a couple of people living here as because of the grad program I attended. And while personally I didn’t ponder things like demographics or economic outlook of the state as a whole, I did know and appreciate its reputation for being a liberal, well-educated place. Criteria like these, which I think appeal to our more emotional sides, tend to swing people’s interest in moving to a location or not. (For example, I will never live in Arizona and am inclined never to give them my tourist dollars either at this point. So nice job, Governor Jan Brewer! Whatever great things your state has to offer, I am currently ignoring them due to your many horrible and ridiculous laws.)
Although the point of the Slate article may be to get us MA residents gloating about why our state is so much better than yours – insert Nelson Munz-like “Ha ha!” here – I found myself returning more often to the question of how and why people end up living where they do. This subject has long fascinated me because so many of the people I know are so mobile. They move for jobs, relationships, school, or just to try something or someplace new. For a lot of them, if they decide they want a life change, they don’t think much of switching states, or sometimes even countries, as a part of the equation.
You may think that you have to have a certain amount of privilege to be able to do this, that something – economically if not personally speaking – has to be awaiting you on the other side. But I know people who’ve gone without a solid plan on any front and figured it out later. It’s just not that hard these days to pick up and go. The question, always, is where? That answer is the part that can be surprisingly hard to determine. You can make job prospects your top priority (and undoubtedly it should be near the top, unless you’ve got a trust fund you’d like to share with me), or climate, or proximity to family. Or you can get so stymied by options that you never go anywhere. This, too, fascinates me. I know a handful of people who intended to move after high school or college and then…nothing happened. Is it sheer inertia or fear that keeps them where they are, or have they truly decided what’s best for them is to stay put? I don’t know what they’d say, of course, but I do think you miss out by not experiencing other places and possibilities. The closest you can get to living a life outside your own, really, is forcing yourself to move, to exit your typical comfort zone and see what you’re like in this new place, this new situation. I just can’t understand why anyone would want to miss out on that, given the opportunity.
And so, for me, leaving my college town and the entire state was a very simple decision. I knew I wanted to live in a bigger city, in a more progressive atmosphere, somewhere with active music and writing scenes. As a bonus, I get to be cold most of the year (I have poor circulation, my hands aren’t warm unless it’s August) and have trouble finding affordable childcare (as I’ve already complained about here). So, yeah, I feel I’ve chosen well in coming to Boston, and I’ll gladly take a moment to cheer about some of the great things about being a Masshole, about how low our rate of unemployment is compared to other states, about how good the schools are, about our commitment to marriage equality and our pro-choice laws. It has its downsides, sure, but I love where I live. I just won’t promise to stay here forever.