It’s hard to believe, but for the first 14 months I ran Ivy Style from the state of California. I founded the site while living in a hilltop college on a street called Princeton in the LA suburb of Glendale, and then for six months — wiped out by the recession and trying to summon the courage to move to New York — I ran the site from my hometown of Santa Rosa. In November 2009, two weeks shy of my fortieth birthday, I put up a blog post entitled “Ivy Style 2.0: Live From New York.”
I arrived in New York a broken man, but with enough of a spark of determination to embark on a new life. I was writing in a journal a lot at the time, and wrote several entries about Joseph Campbell and the concept of the hero’s journey. I’d stepped into the great unknown and would meet many people along the way, some who turned out to be helpers while others turned out to be devious shadow figures. I would be forced to face a terrifying dragon — which in my mind was the borough of Manhattan — rescue a “princess,” and depart with the “gold,” the symbol of knowledge.
Kierkegaard wrote that life is lived forwards but only understood backwards. Over the past 10 years I did in fact undergo a hero’s journey, but what I failed to understand the entire time was that the whole thing was happening within me. The dragon was not New York but something in my own mind, what we call one’s inner demons, which lie in wait in the unconscious ready to jump up and paralyze you with worry and fear at the first opportunity. The “princess” turned out to be my own long-lost soul, which I had been been walling into an icy dungeon since I was 27 and the first traumas of life — failures, frustrations, deaths of family and friends— began coming one after another. And the golden knowledge I gleaned was not about of the city of New York and its inhabitants, but about myself.
Last night, as I was falling asleep in my new apartment in a charmingly eccentric 1820 building in Newport, Rhode Island (I have a secret passage, through a wardrobe!), I suddenly remembered a summer afternoon in 2018. I’d gone swimming at Orchard Beach in New York City and hiked through deserted parts of Pelham Bay Park. I picked up a tall branch to use as a walking stick, and imagined myself as the first man on earth, while the greatest lightening storm I’d ever witnessed brought up feelings of mankind’s primordial existence. On that afternoon I thought about how important the feeling of being in nature is for me. They say that for Nordic-Germanic people, the forest is our temple, and gothic architecture is meant to evoke the feeling of a forest canopy. I was suddenly struck with a vision of life in a small New England town, the kind I had dreamed of since college, even though I’d never committed to trying to make the dream a reality.
That vision was forgotten until last night, but it turned out to be prophetic. At some point over the past winter, I realized that it was time to draw my chapter in New York to a close. I later realized that I’d moved at age 29 (from hometown to San Francisco), at 39 (from LA to NY), and now in order to stay on schedule I needed to get out while I was still 49. I first opted for Charleston, SC, since I’d dreamed of moving there when I was in my twenties, informed of its historic charm and old-fashioned feel. But in the end I overrided that sentimental longing to go forward by going backward, and followed my inner compass northward. I landed in Newport, where I’d been twice before: once for a family rendez-vous, and once to attend the jazz festival with Charlie Davidson.
The nostalgic longing for the south (Greece, Rome) is said to be physical and sentimental, while longing for the frozen north is spiritual and metaphysical. I can’t quite see the Aurora Borealis from Newport, but I can see stars and church steeples pointing towards them, and floating in the air is the most deeply moving scent for people high in Neanderthal DNA (and I’m in the top three percent): the smell of a fireplace on a cold night. I believe that here my soul can feel at home for the first time, and I now understand the esoteric meaning of the saying that home is where you hang your hat. Far more than where you happen to find yourself, home is an inner orientation you carry inside yourself. When you become lost, you become lost to yourself.
It’s never too late to find yourself, however, and late is better than never. Today I turned 50, and find myself ready and willing for whatever lies ahead. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD