How To Move

“How do you do it?”

I have changed cities 10 times in the last 8 years, which means two things: I’ve gotten pretty good at moving my shit, and the Post Office hates me.

One frequently asked question is “How do you do it?” They don’t mean mentally, I presume, but practically. How do I move? What’s the process for relocating?

This is likely different for everyone, and my time frame for moves certainly tweaks the formula. Most people relocating from one city to another are doing it with the intention of making the new city, at the very least, a semi-permanent home. They are probably moving for a job or a relationship, and in either case they have some form of stability awaiting them.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the dedicated nomads, those who might stay in a city a few days, a week, or at most a month. Backpackers, couchsurfers and buskers roll into town with some clothes, maybe an instrument and (with greater frequency these days) a laptop/iPad/Tricorder and make due. Such rapid transitions come with their share of difficulties and risks, but they also unburden the traveler from things like rent or bills (except maybe for a phone).

I guess if there were to be a corollary to the way I move, it’d be someone in the military who gets shipped from base to base on a semi-regular basis. The main difference there, though, is that while they too must live in a state of perpetual transience, there is an infrastructure in which they move. It might be chaotic, their residence might be a crap hole, but the military provides an occupation, both in the sense of finances and time.

I have no structure, except for what I provide myself. I am often asked if I’m being supported by somebody, if my project is being funded. It is not. From day one, the money I’ve had is the money I’ve earned. That’s not to say that there haven’t been financial gifts and people helping me out, because there definitely has been. But they weren’t gifts I was counting on and as a rule the only money I can rely on is the money I make on the job (whatever that might be).

I don’t have the luxury of living like a rolling stone (not that that’s a luxurious life), nor do I have the security of a permanent relocation. Right about the time my savings have rebounded and I’m getting to be completely comfortable in my job and with my friends, boom, I’m gone.

The day after I arrived here in New Orleans, my new roommate looked at me and said, “Just 364 days left.” Exactly. Every day in a year is a short one when the 365th day is an ending.

So, after 7 years of this project (and two moves the year before I began it), what have my experiences taught me in the art of non-permanent relocation?

How To Move

Research: Both before and after I’ve selected a city, I research it. I’ve preached the absolute majesty of the Not For Tourists guides here plenty, but I truly must reiterate that those little black books are invaluable. Unfortunately, they don’t exist for every city, so I can’t always rely on them. Other travels guides are alright for getting a basic lay of the land, but they’re all pretty much designed for tourists with their focus on touristy spots and so-called “off the beaten path” locations that are really just as touristy. If an NFT guide doesn’t exist for a particular city (such as New Orleans), I’ll scan through another guide at the bookstore just to get some general ideas of where to look for housing. I also use Wikipedia to research neighborhoods, and any online resources that provide a voice for the people who actually live there.

I’m always looking for a neighborhood that has the right mix of livability, accessibility to work options and safety (though, this latter point is flexible).

Finding A Place: After I’ve decided on a few neighborhoods that interest me, I start looking for apartments. I’ve never made a move to a new city without already having a living space arranged. So far, I’ve ended up with only one apartment that was a true dud, which was a mix of nearly unlivable size and bad location. But, hey, it was only a year and I survived.

Craigslist is my resource. Yes, it’s full of scams, and yes, there are some wackjobs on the site, but you’re never going to find a better listing of apartment locations for free (free is an important word; remember it). If you insist on living by yourself (and there are definite pluses to that, but also negatives), you’re going to be at the mercy of the landlords. I’ve never had the money to afford a professional apartment finder, so the two times I’ve made solo moves on my own, I’ve had only the word and pictures of the property owner to go on.

In Philly, as I mentioned, this led to a tiny little hole of an apartment. In Nashville, on the other hand, I ended up with a rather spacious two bedroom apartment (all the more so because I had no furniture), though it was in a fairly deserted area. When I am scouting an apartment location from afar, Google Maps is my favorite tool. You can not only see that such an address exists, you can cross reference the pictures the owner sends with the streetview image. (Oh, did I mention that you need to have the owner send you pictures? Well, you do.)

If I’m going to have a roommate (and I definitely recommend this for first-time movers, though roommates in general can be a good resource for the recently transplanted), I post in ad on Craigslist saying what I’m looking for and I let them find me. So far, so good. Now, in San Francisco, I did end up living with a couple of psychopaths, but they weren’t my only roommates and as a rule, I’ve had great success with this process. I like to talk with the future roommates (by phone or video chat) and get at least a little idea of who they are (and let them know who I am).

Anyone who has ever had a roommate or moved in with a girl-/boyfriend knows that you don’t truly know a person until you live with them, but at least you can have a general sense of whether or not you’re compatible.

Once I have a roommate locked down, we search until we’ve found the perfect spot. And by ‘perfect spot’ I mean, place I can afford that hopefully isn’t next door to a drug lord. Perfection is a relative term.

Find A Job: Honestly, though I’ve sent out resumes before moving to my next city, I’ve never had any luck finding a job before I actually arrived in the city. In the line of work I’m in (retail and food), no one’s going to hire a person they haven’t met face to face. But once I’m in my new home, I email blast jobs (again, using Craigslist) and hit the streets looking for places with “Now Hiring” signs or going on the recommendations of locals who have heard of work opportunities. There’s no secret, I just have to keep at it.

Send My Stuff: 7 years of this project has helped me whittle down my belongings to a fairly small collection, but I still have my share of things to get from one city to the next. The United States Post Office does most of the heavy lifting in that matter (both figuratively and literally), and what I don’t ship in boxes, I take with me in a suitcase and a couple of over the shoulder bags.

Getting There: I’ve driven to a new city and taken a bus, but ultimately I’ve found that flying is the most economical. Yes, tickets are more expensive, but what I save in travel time and eating crap food on the road more than makes up for it. Of course, having said that, I am contemplating renting a car and driving up the coast when I move to Boston. I haven’t researched it enough yet to be sure, but there are some spots I want to check out (and I’d love to revisit D.C.), and if I did rent a car, I wouldn’t have to ship anything so I could save money that way. I’ll make that decision later.

Make A Home: This is the truly tricky part. A year is a long time to live some place if I can’t feel like my apartment is my ‘home.’ I need my own space, I need a private area to write, read, listen to music and, honestly, just veg. At the same time, I need human contact and to feel like I’m part of a community in some way. It’s a balancing act that is all the more difficult because I know that in a matter of months, I’ll be gone again.

But I do make a home. I make a living and make friends and make memories. It’s not enough to just make due, I want to make a life for a year.

And that’s how I move. If you’re about to relocate across country or just across state, maybe my methods will work for you. Or maybe not. But these are my means, and for the better part of a decade they’ve served me well.

Looking For Work in Obama’s America

It looks like I have a job here in NOLA. After less than a month of looking (the first two weeks were a wash as I was exploring the city and anticipating a visit to Kansas), I’ll be getting back into the food service industry that I prefer.

My situation obviously isn’t what one might call “normal” (nor am I what one might call normal). In an economy still struggling to recover, giving up a job, especially a good job, is sort of suicidal. Add to that my transplant status in each city and you have a guy who, on paper, looks like a terrible hire. I know I’ve been passed over on plenty of jobs because of a resume that screams, “Complete flake!”

Finding work has, some years, been a nightmare. Starting with my year in San Francisco, landing new jobs has become a stressful proposition. That isn’t to say that I didn’t stress it in Charlotte, Philadelphia or Costa Mesa, because I did. But it wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco that I had to face a stark reality: Sometimes there just aren’t jobs. Five months of fruitless job searching finally found me a position with an excellent bookstore, and not a second too soon (a few seconds too late, actually).

I moved to San Francisco September 1st, 2008. The Great Recession began December of 2007. I didn’t find work until January of 2009. Obama took office in January of 2009. These facts may be unrelated.

In Chicago, I soon found a tragic reality that I’ve had to resign myself to ever since: Bookstores aren’t hiring anymore. After 4 straight years of working in various bookstores, both corporate and privately owned, I had to look for some other form of work. The only job I could find, a little over two months into my job search, was in clothing retail, a position no one could have imagined me in (least of all, myself). I worked my ass off there and turned my Seasonal Only position into a permanent job (well, as permanent as I get).

I moved to Chicago September 1st, 2009. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was signed into law February of 2009. I didn’t find work until November of 2009. Obama had been in office 10 months. These facts may be unrelated.

In Nashville, I found work within three weeks. It was a lousy, horrendous job spent staring at a computer screen and reading a script to former customers of a particularly unlikeable phone service provider and generally getting yelled at by said customers who didn’t realize that I worked for a third-party company. I spent a month at this job, passing the time by creating these:

I eventually grew so fed up that I took a half day off and walked the streets of downtown where I noticed a restaurant hiring, filled out a note card-sized application and got hired on the spot.

I moved to Nashville September 1st, 2010. The Great Recession ended June 2009. I found work September of 2010, and then again in October of 2010. Obama had been in office 20 months. These facts may be unrelated.

In Seattle, thanks to a friend’s recommendation, I once again found myself in clothing retail, this time working with a company that wasn’t as female-leaning in its demographic. Landing this job took about three weeks, probably the shortest amount of time it has taken me to find work. However, around Christmas of that year, all of us employees were unceremoniously informed that the store was closing and we were all losing our jobs.

This meant that in the middle of winter, after the Christmas season and in the deadest time of year for consumerism, the lot of us were out looking for new work. Though I started sending out resumes as soon as I heard the news, my job search didn’t begin in earnest until I was out officially unemployed in January. It wasn’t until March that I found work, at what time I found two jobs. One was as a valet (hated it, quit immediately) and the other was as a server with a cruise line on the Pier. Between being laid off and landing what turned out to be a terrific job, a good friend brought me on to help him with a construction project (and I conducted a TV interview, but that’s not really relevant).

I moved to Seattle September 1st, 2011. Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S.’s credit rating August 5th, 2011. I found work September of 2011, and then again in March of 2012, after being without work since January. The 112th Congress had been convened 8 months. These facts may be unrelated.

Now I am here in New Orleans. I have found work.

President Obama is running for re-election against former governor Mitt Romney, whose major argument against the President is that the recovery efforts have been too slow, even completely ineffective. The unemployment rate when Obama took office in January of 2009 was 7.8%. The unemployment rate reached it’s highest level of 10.1% in October of 2009, 9 months after Obama took office, 8 months after the Recovery Act passed, and 4 months after the recession ended. In November of 2009, the unemployment rate dropped to 9.9% and has never returned to 10% since. The unemployment rate for September of 2012 is 7.8%, the lowest it has been under Obama’s effective presidency.

The weather in New Orleans is beautiful.

These facts may be unrelated.

New Band of the Month: October – AC/DC

Every month this year, I’m dedicating myself to getting into a new band.  By ‘new band’, what I really mean is an old band who I’ve known of for awhile but have for one reason or another never checked out.  Maybe they were a genre I wasn’t into, maybe they were the favorite band of someone I didn’t like, maybe I was just lazy.  Whatever reason, I’m going to spend the month trying to get into them.

If, at the end of the month, I find myself enjoying the music I’ll buy an album.  And if not, I’ll save my money for something else.

I missed September. I had had every intention of running this feature straight through the move, but then I went half a month without internet and the whole thing just became a kind of debacle. So, I skipped a month. Oh well.

My New Band for October is:

AC/DC

From the wiki page

AC/DC are an Australian rock band, formed in 1973 by brothers Malcolm and Angus Young, who have remained the sole constant members. Commonly classified as hard rock, they are considered pioneers of heavy metal and are sometimes classified as such, though they themselves have always classified their music as simply “rock and roll”. To date they are one of the highest grossing bands of all time.

My personal history with AC/DC:

This is one of those bands that is so massive and so popular, both nationally and internationally, that it’s kind of ridiculous that I’ve never listened to them. Unlike, say, Metallica or Van Halen, I don’t have an instinctive repulsion at the mention of AC/DC. I’ve just never given them the time of day. It’s purely a case of genre bias: I don’t listen to Heavy Metal.

There are a variety of reasons for this, though probably the most important was that by the time I was old enough to pay attention to such things, Heavy Metal had turned into Hair Metal (at least, on the radio), and I find that to be, perhaps, the worst category of rock music ever.

My first real dive into harder rock (in other words, not the 60s rock of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones) didn’t occur until the 90s, by which time Nirvana and their grunge brethren had usurped the big hair and ridiculous posturing of the 80s rock acts. Now, just like Heavy Metal, Grunge Rock led to its own share of generic, radio-ready hacks riding on the wave of better bands (Nickelback and Creed are the worst offenders). I feel it’s important not to blame a genre for the crap that it’s originators never could have predicted, so I’m going to give Heavy Metal a shot here.

Of course, I’ve heard my share of AC/DC songs. “Back in Black” is fairly inescapable, and that rift is undeniable. Pure badassery, there’s no denying it. I’m sure there are even more I’d recognize, though that’s the only one I can name off the top of my head. I’m not of the impression that by the end of this month I’ll suddenly be into Metal. But I think I could come to appreciate the gold standard of the genre, and I think most fans would list AC/DC as one of the best of the best.

So, I’ve got my devil horns cocked and my black t-shirts all laid out. If you’re like me and never gone full metal jacket, maybe give AC/DC a chance this month with me. And if you’ve long been on the bandwagon, comment and let me know what songs and albums are must-listens.

Fear Itself

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” ~ Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Some words are so profound and relevant in their uttering that they almost immediately lose meaning by their dissemination. Nothing is more detrimental to truth than putting it in the hands of the masses for the purposes of easy digestion.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s exhortation to not fear is, unfortunately, just such a truth. It’s almost banal to quote it these days, but it still rings with wisdom.

There were many influential speeches in the 20th century, words of such utter brilliance that they have resonated generations later and even brought about national (perhaps global) change. No question, Roosevelt’s first inaugural address is easily one of the greatest presidential speeches in American history, and by modern eyes it can’t help but appear eerily relevant to our own times and problems. Unemployment, taxation, debt, these are all topics that are touched upon in FDR’s address.

But the details are not as important as the gist of his message. The quote above is undeniably a gem of rhetorical power, but to take it out of context is to strip it of its practical punch:

“This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

We need our president to say this. Obama, Romney, whoever, this is the message that needs to be spoken by our leaders.

Fear is the message of the campaigns. Four more years of Obama will bankrupt this nation and send it down a hole we can not recover from, or so we are told. Elect Romney and the rich and powerful will grow so much more rich and powerful that the American Dream will die.

Whichever brand of political fearmongering you subscribe to, probably one of these two dystopian scenarios sounds at least faintly plausible.

This great nation built on years of hardwork, struggle, war, strife and pure resilience is, apparently, so weak that the single term of a president will decimate it. Prepare the banners:

R.I.P. The United States of America 1776-2012

I do not understand this fear.

I understand those who use fear as a tool of manipulation. Of all emotions, fear is probably the easiest to produce while also providing the strongest motivation. Using fear to control is nothing new, a tool as old as religion itself. There will always be someone ready to guide us by our fears.

What I don’t understand is those who allow themselves to be a servant to fear.

I can’t go a day without seeing someone post a video or an article detailing why we should be afraid. If it’s not a political video explaining why the Left or the Right will destroy us, it’s a religious warning about the threat of another faith or the totalitarianism that will soon abolish all acts of faith. Or else I’m being told to fear my food, fear my water, fear my doctor, fear the police, fear the teachers, fear the scientists, fear until fear is all I can feel and every person I meet is a potential enemy.

Who’s Afraid of Glenn Beck?

It seems to me everyone these days is afraid.  And they’re so afraid that they’re building bomb shelters, stocking up canned goods and converting their money into gold bars… or, they’re just posting horrific links on Facebook before going about their day as if nothing is different.

That is the rub of this crusade of fear. There are those out there in this world who are generally afraid, the kind of people who watch the Glenn Becks or [Fill-In-The-Blank Leftists Equivalent] and actually hunker down and prepare for the worst. I don’t envy or respect these people, but at least I can concede their consistency. They are genuinely afraid and they act on those fears while seeking out those who will feed their fears with a sort of sympathetic authority.

The other half of these fear crusaders are infinitely more loathsome in my book. They preach a gospel of fear, post page upon page, video upon video of dire warnings and inevitable consequences if we do not change our course. Then they turn off their computers and watch American Idol. Like the end time prophets who foresee an apocalypse around every corner, these doomsayers are time and time again proven wrong, but they just shrug, reload and say, “Next time…”

I’m perhaps most amused by the Christians who in one breath can tell me how deprived and sad my life is without faith, and then turn around and expound on how terrible America has become for Christians and how the world is spiraling downward. If that’s the kind of “joy and peace” that comes with faith, may I politely say, “No thanks.”

The part that makes this sort of fearmongering so frustrating is that it belittles the real horrors in this world. I’m not talking about First World Problems vs. Third World Problems. I mean that there are really Christians in this world being persecuted for their faith, and there are really warlords and dictators and horrific crimes against humanity. Things that people truly have to fear. And they aren’t happening here, they aren’t happening to you.

Spreading fear while painting yourself as a victim is dishonest and discourteous to those who face true oppression and conflict. What does it accomplish, anyway?

Optimism?

I’m not what you might normally consider an optimist. I like to think of myself as a realist. Bad things happen, good things happen, sometimes chance unfairly weights the scales one way or the other for some people, but the law of averages brings everything back to around the middle.* That said, I am generally optimistic about the world at large. Tragedies will occur, setbacks will pop up, 50 Shades of Gray will become a success, but the progressive march of time is moving us towards a better world, not a worse one.

My two favorite, living non-fiction authors/thinkers are Steven Johnson and Fareed Zakaria. These are two very different authors who deal with two very different areas of expertise, yet both authors use their insights to examine the future (technological, economic, political, what have you) and in doing so, they both write from a point of optimism. They acknowledge the hardships ahead, the possible detours that could cause devastation, but they both tend to take the view that solutions to our problems are available and we will find them.

(Coincidentally, the late Carl Sagan is another author whose genuine hope and wonder mixed with pragmatism always lifts my spirit.)

When I read these authors, I feel good. When I read the posts of my fearmongering friends and acquaintances, I feel lousy. Not because I am filled with fear, because I certainly am not. No, I feel worse because I know there are people out there living with useless fear, spreading terror through a susceptible populace and arguing that compromise and goodwill will only keep us on the path to destruction. There is no middle ground, no path of peace. It’s fight or flight, never ‘Stand and rationally discuss.’

Do not succumb to fear, or to the easy tactic of fearmongering. If you have a belief, if you have a cause, find a way to share it without stooping to the basest emotion.

A Pledge

Commit to a pledge of rational discourse and human decency.

Say it with me:

I refuse to be manipulated by fear. I refuse to let the cowards who let fear rule their lives have any say on my life or my choices.

I refuse to make decisions based on believing in the worst.

I will not fear the Right.

I will not fear the Left.

I will not fear an opposition.

I will not fear the future.

Nor will I spread fear, because fear leads to inaction and hatred. It traps us behind invisible walls.

I will not fear.

There is nothing to fear.

*I acknowledge that historically, the world favors bad over good, but with each passing generation, we are moving towards a world where the poor, diseased and/or starving masses can rise up out of that oppression.