Styling Your Life

I’m living in North Conway, NH this winter. It freaks my mother out. She thinks I am going to move here, permanently. She looks at the numbers: 47th in funding schools. I point out it is the #1 most “livable” state, according to CQ press. No matter that neither of us know where either of these ratings comes from. Or even cares. It is the thought, after all, that counts.

I’ve spent the past ten years calling Colorado home. When I tell most people that I moved to NH for the winter, from CO, their first response is always “Why?”

My answers fluctuate: love, money, lifestyle. But it’s the last one that has me hooked.

I got off the plane last week in Boston and took a bus to my van to drive to North Conway. I was flying in from Ouray, CO. It took 19 hours, door to door. I had a lot of time to think about why anyone would make that journey. Why I would. Waiting for the bus on the concrete airport curb, I watched the bustle of Boston. I watched bus drivers call out names to cities like Concord and Wood’s Hole and Newbury. People got on these buses with sleek carry-ons and high heels, wool coats, loafers. I got on with a backpack, two duffels, and a shoulder bag. I had ice climbing gear stuffed into every compartment available.

As I watched the city disappear in the bus driver’s long rectangular rearview mirror, I thought about what would happen if I lived in those lights, how it would feel to be bringing all of my gear up an elevator in a 12-story high-rise condo building instead of to my rented home at the base of a ski hill in the north country.

We constantly engage in a debate about lifestyle. But what does lifestyle really mean? Do ten hours in front of the computer in front of a sunny window feel different than in front of a paneled cubicle wall? Most would say yes. How does the difference pan out when you factor in how much you make for each of those hours? If the ones in front of the cubicle allow for a one-week vacation heli-skiing, and the ones in front of the window, a break at the end of a the day for a quick ski up the mountain outside? Which is better?

When I was in my early twenties I would disdain any one who chose the office in the city. I used all of the common disparaging remarks about selling out, opting in, losing vision and gaining pounds. I thought that my way was the only way to authentically experience the outdoors. I was young. I wanted to be right.

Now I’m less sure. I had clients this past weekend that work as doctors and spend four days on, then get a week off. They go skiing, go to Florida, come ice climbing, then go back to work. I watch all of my friends juggle choices between time off and time on, the value of any time, the value of any experience. I see friends of mine who have lived out of their cars for ten years realize they have no other strategy then to just keep driving.

We placate ourselves with lifestyle. We do things in its name, use it as a justification, and see it as the reward. If we make 150K a year, it rationalizes what we have. If we make 15K a year, it rationalizes what we do.

Yesterday I took my poodle cross-country skiing at dusk on groomed trails one mile from my house. That was after I went ice climbing for three hours—one quick route—in the morning. In between, before, and after, I worked. My day ended at nine. I talked to a friend of mine in Chicago when I finally closed my computer. She was just coming home from her day as a banker. We were both tired. Next week, she’s going to Mexico. Today, I’ll go ski again. We’re styling our lives, all the time. I’m out here the White Mountains trying to figure it all out.