Two years ago my mother came back from a trip she'd won to St. Croix and told me she was moving there. Period. That is what Frances does. She's a doer.
When I was a child, I'd follow her anywhere. I attended as many elementary schools as there are grades in elementary school, because changing scenery was the only constant backdrop in our lives. In my version of my childhood, constantly being the new kid made me stronger and definitely not socially awkward.
Today my closest friends refer to me as "the nomad" with a combination of awe and sympathy. In the last decade, I've called a three-bedroom in Harlem, a studio in Chicago, a row house in D.C., my mom's extra bedroom in Atlanta and then two luxury condos in "transitioning neighborhoods" in Washington home.
No wonder that, whenever I call my aunt's house in Compton for Christmas, more than one cousin will ask, "How's the weather in New York?" I haven't lived there in six years, but the East Coast is the East Coast is the East Coast to them. Plus, it's easier to picture someone with a steady background, and New York is as good a place to fantasize about as any.
For a while I've assumed that Washington would just be my life. By the start of 2011, I will have officially been a D.C. resident for six years, which for me is a long time. I think it's an unwritten rule that wherever you turn 30 is where you have to turn in for life. Seriously. One of my best friend's parents convinced her to move back to Southern California before she hit the big three-oh because she wasn't doing anything of note in New York (apparently, being a corporate attorney didn't count).
A girl I grew up with has had Chicago on her mind since college, but for now being close to her family trumps 10-degree winters. Not too long ago, a woman told me she'd feel like a failure if she ever moved "home." Not in her parents' house, mind you, but just in the same ZIP code. Last week at lunch, another friend asked, "Why are you still here?" And I had no answer for him then besides, "I work here." But do I really?
I also have a dog that loves the secret park on V Street in LeDroit. To quote Steve from Sex and the City: "There's good stuff here." And yet I've still got a bit of the traveler's itch. Mostly because I'm afraid of getting stuck, even in a good rut.
I should just take a moment — a lady's intermission — to figure out exactly why I'm "still here." But who has time for moments? This reminds me of the fake-out series finale of The Game, which is getting a second life on BET on Jan. 11. In it, the show's stereotypical strong black woman, Tasha Mack, finally realizes that at nearly 40, she hasn't stopped to catch a breath.
"It's like all my life, that's what I do, you know,” she says. "I just keep on moving — never stopping, never pausing, never taking the time to just think and to just ask myself, you know, 'What do I want to do?' Not, 'What can I do?' Because I can do a lot, but, 'What do I want?' "
That was a moment for me back when it first aired in May 2009. I'd met the show's creator, Mara Brock Akil, in Los Angeles just a month before. We had lunch and chatted about the "keeping it moving" conundrum among the successful and black, as well as the book I was writing about, among other things, that very topic.
Now it's two years later, and I find myself thinking of catching my breath versus keeping it moving. My mother, who postponed her move to St. Croix to travel with me last summer, has always managed to do both. She's figured out the quiet space between constantly moving and carefully planning your next move. So when I head down to Atlanta (yes, that's where she lives now, but it's not the place we call home) for her birthday next week, I'm going to ask her the secret.