Writers Who Relocate: On Loving the New and Missing the Old

Last winter, when my son was seven-months-old, I made a decision—the same decision I had made six years prior—to move halfway across the country.


Six years ago it was much easier. I was 24, lived in a studio apartment, and had only enough belongings to fit in the trunk of my black Chevy Cavalier. I was untethered. I had just finished grad school, had completed a rough draft of my novel, and had a great reason to move from Illinois to Massachusetts: love. Jamie lived in MA, and two years of dating long-distance was two years too long. We needed to be together, in the same state, in the same town, in the same home.

When I moved, I gained so much: new friends, new adventures, and a new title to call Jamie—fiancé. We rented a home together, adopted a dog, picked a wedding venue. It was hard to miss the things I left behind because so many new joyous moments were insulating my soul.

But, on mornings when I would have gone jogging with my sister, on afternoons when I would have been taking the L train home to my studio apartment, on nights when I would have been sipping wine with my Chicago girlfriends, the missing was undeniable. And on Saturdays and Sundays when I would have been writing, I used my pent up energy to wedding plan, and go for walks, and explore the wonders of New England. I barely wrote during this time. My life went from entirely writing-centered: being in a rigorous MFA program, teaching writing workshops to kids, writing all weekend long, to simply not.

Then, one day, I walked into Grub Street, asked to teach in the YAWP program, and my whole writing-life changed.

The years went by. Jamie and I got married. We bought a house. We had a baby. And, all throughout that time, my writing life flourished. I took classes, and taught classes, and went to conferences, and networked with other authors, and published my stories.

And just when I thought that my writing life was at the peak of its fulfillment, I decided to move my family back, half-way across the country, to Chicago.  From the safe, slow burbs of Massachusetts to the loud, busy streets of the city. From a lovely three-bedroom home with a yard and pool to a two-bedroom apartment with almost half the square footage. From a thriving writing life, to one that had completely changed during the six years I was away. 

I decided to do this for the same reason I had six years prior: for love. For the love of my family. For the love of my city. So that my son can experience what it’s like to grow up near Auntie and Grandma. So that he will know what it’s like to live in a place so brimming with experiences and opportunities that he will never have to desire adventure; it will be right outside his door.

We’re here now. In Chicago. I love this city. I love jogging by the lake with my sister. I love walking and taking the L everywhere. I love sipping wine with my friends. And as far as my writing life goes, I’m building it little by little. I won’t make the mistake I made last time: to take a break from it. To deny the yearning. 

Four months before we moved here, I sent an email to the other grub instructors asking for Chicago contacts. The generous Chris Castellani referred me to the folks at Story Studio Chicago. I’m teaching and taking classes here now. And I ask everyone I meet if they can refer me to other writers, editors, writing instructors, live lit performers. Here’s the thing: they do refer me, and they’re happy to, because they know how precious a writing community is. All I have to do is ask.

But just as it was six years ago when I was new to MA and newly engaged—it's still hard. It’s the oddest feeling to be happy with the new and to miss the old at the same time. To love Illinois and miss Massachusetts. To love my Chicago friends and miss my Boston girls, to love my new Story Studio writing network, and to miss my Grub community.

I have no answer, no cure, other than to stay connected to the old—to keep teaching Grub classes online, to keep emailing my MA writer friends, and to keep blogging to you: my readers, my fellow writers, my friends.

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About the Author

Nadine Kenney Johnstone is the author of the memoir, Of This Much I'm Sure, which was named Book of the Year by the Chicago Writers Association. Her infertility story has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Today’s Parent, MindBodyGreen, Metro, and Chicago Health Magazine, among others. She teaches at Loyola University and received her MFA from Columbia College in Chicago. Her other work has been featured in various magazines and anthologies, including Chicago Magazine, PANK, and The Magic of Memoir. Nadine is a writing coach who presents at conferences internationally. She lives near Chicago with her family.

See other articles by Nadine Johnstone

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