They say you can never go home again. That’s true, after the fashion attributed to the paradoxical Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who quoted by Plato as saying that you could not step into the same river twice. But even acknowledging that Tonya and I are no longer the same people we were ten years ago and that Ithaca is no longer exactly the same place we left in 1991, like Homer’s Odysseus, we are nonetheless headed back to Ithaca, located at the base of Cayuga Lake in upstate New York. Hopefully, our trip and arrival will be a bit easier than Odysseus’s was.
Tonya and I moved to Seattle in 1991, just two years after graduating from college and just a year after starting TidBITS. In many ways, we grew up in Seattle, both personally and professionally, and Seattle itself has aged over those ten years as well, though in not entirely pleasant ways. The attractive aspects of living here – our good friends and the great natural beauty of the area foremost among them – have started to pale against the disadvantages, most notably abysmal traffic and the overall effort of living in a large metropolitan area. But dealing with the downsides was a decision we could make for ourselves – until Tristan came along. Suddenly we found ourselves literally strapping a small person into the car against his will for 20 to 60 minutes of driving at a time. As we looked into the future, we saw that this was neither how we wanted to live our lives, nor how we wanted Tristan to live his.
We could live almost anywhere we could get an Internet connection, a dizzying level of freedom that has always succumbed to the generally enjoyable inertia of living near Seattle. As Tonya and I discussed the possibility of moving while walking along the shores of Lake Washington on a brilliantly sunny New Year’s Day, we realized that the practicalities of life pointed toward an answer. As much as we enjoy exploring a new area, learning its geography and history, meeting new people, and trying to understand what makes the place unique, at this point in our lives, we’re uninterested in figuring out the details. We don’t want to spend time learning the fastest route to the airport, where to renew our driver’s licenses, or whether there’s a geographically and temperamentally suitable running club. Even more important, we’ve learned the importance of a community support structure when children are involved, and we couldn’t see how some random town or city could compete even with Seattle, where we already have lots of friends, though no family.
The answer suddenly became clear, because there’s only one place in the world – Ithaca – where we not only already know how to live, but where we also have a built-in family support structure. We both grew up in Ithaca, attended Cornell University, and lived in the area afterwards. There was little we didn’t like about living in Ithaca – it’s a gorgeous physical setting, the populace is educated and thoughtful, and the interpersonal networks run deep. In fact, the main reason we left in 1991 was because Tonya had a great job offer in Seattle. Plus, on a less practical level, the heroes of fairy tales always leave home to seek their fortunes, a meme that has wormed its way into the American pioneer psyche.
Well, we found our fortune in Seattle – it turns out to have been the growth of TidBITS, a best-selling series of books, a small role in the rise of the Internet, our many close friends, the chance to live high up on a mountain looking out on the Olympic Mountains, and most recently, Tristan. But having found our fortune, it’s now time to return home. TidBITS and Tristan will accompany us to Ithaca, of course (though our primary servers will remain in the Seattle area at digital.forest). We’ll miss our friends, but the Internet will ensure they don’t seem so far away in between visits.
We continue to integrate the Internet into our lives where appropriate, and I hope to write more soon about the different ways we utilized the Internet and our Macs in the process of moving. Plus, it’s safe to say that some of the negatives of living in a small town – the lack of a great bookstore, for instance – will fall away in large part with a liberal dose of Internet connectivity, which should in turn help us focus on those aspects of life we feel are the most important.
On a practical note, life has been astonishingly hectic for the last few weeks, and if anything, the logistics involved with selling a house, buying another, and moving not just our possessions but our entire lives across the country will make the next two months overwhelming as well. Geoff Duncan, Jeff Carlson, Matt Neuburg, and Mark Anbinder will make sure TidBITS continues uninterrupted, but they’ll all be under additional stress too. In short, we may have trouble maintaining our desired level of responsiveness, so if you can limit email to essentials for a while, we’d all appreciate it. Thanks so much, and see you – as always – on the net.