It’s a rainy Sunday afternoon, the last day of September, bringing to a conclusion the first month of my year in New Orleans. 1/12th of a year over and where am I?
Time goes slow in these first few months. On one hand, as each day passes in which I haven’t landed a permanent job (well, 1 year permanent), financial concerns bring the first of the month ever-more rapidly forward.
But, otherwise, as each day remains formless and without schedule, the hours pass slowly as I look for work, write (or attempt to write), wander the neighborhood, wander the internet, read, watch shows online, drink and occasionally have interactions with strangers in the city. Beyond the money and the sense of purpose that a job or career can bring, sometimes we overlook how important a daily occupation can be simply for providing a scaffolding upon which to build life.
On The Job
Ninety percent of the friends, lovers and acquaintances I’ve met over the 7+ years of this project have been at a job. I have a roommate here, and she’s introduced me to her wide circle, and a few of them I’ve gotten to know at least a little better than “Oh hey, remind me your name again.” But for most of them, I’m still ‘roomie.’ Until I find a job, I won’t really feel like I have a ‘circle’ of my own.
That is probably the aspect of these yearly moves that I’ve always found it hardest to express. I’ve discussed my financial fears (after years of doing this, there is a general dread that sets in now, but it isn’t exactly stress anymore), and I’ve admitted to feelings of loneliness and disconnection.
More acute than any of those concerns, though, is the dramatic contrast between the sense of belonging I felt in Seattle and the isolation I feel here. That same contrast existed between Nashville and Seattle, at first. And between Chicago and Nashville (quite severely, actually). My last months in Seattle I had good friends, colleagues, and there was almost no night I couldn’t have found somebody to hang out with if I felt like it (there were plenty of nights I was glad to just take a break and stay at home).
I had people to confide in, and people who trusted me enough to confide in (in fact, the latter is more important to me). There were friends who shared a mutual history, with memories and inside jokes and common points of reference that created a shorthand between us, a familiarity that is intrinsic to feeling comfortable in each other’s presence.
There’s no doubt that if I wanted to see familiar faces here every night, I could. It’s not a question of feeling welcomed. New Orleans has that same southern hospitality that Nashville or Charlotte boasted, albeit with a flare all its own. Bar friends are a special breed and I’m glad to have them.
Coworkers, however, come to know you deeper. They see you multiple days in a week, and they see you sober as well as, hopefully, drunk. Dealing with overbearing management, annoying customers and whatever other real or imagined struggles of the job brings people together, it unites them with a common language of complaint, acerbic humor and conspiratorial mutterings. You may never hate someone as much as you’ll hate a coworker, but just the same, when you find someone special at work (platonic or romantic… or just sexual), it’ll make the job spark with excitement and fun.
So, I haven’t found that here, yet.
I have a nation of friends, though, spread out like toys across a child’s playroom. I will return to each one of them, at some point, but here I am in New Orleans, a new toy I haven’t quite figured out yet. But I will, and I’ll surely grow to love it.
And gradually, time will accelerate and soon it’ll be August and I’ll be wondering how to fit in everything I want to do before I move to Boston.
The End Game
For a life that is so hell-bent on change, a fairly uniform pattern has started to emerge in each year. Which is why doing 20 Cities / 20 Years (as some have suggested) has no appeal. I want to continue to explore, to see the world, and someday I will, hopefully with someone special at my side. But I don’t want to move in this capacity. I want a home base, a place to call my own with friends and a lover that know and trust me.
Perhaps that sounds pedestrian. So be it. If there is one thing I’ve discovered about myself over these years, it’s that I’m no bohemian. Or even a beatnik. I’m a writer, and all I care about is what makes my work better, what makes me stronger as a communicator. All the artificial trappings of the ‘artist’ have no more appeal to me than those of the shallow consumer capitalist.
I started this project with the goal of gaining experiences that would inform my writing. I have achieved that goal, and then some. Now I’m set on completing the project as a test of commitment and stamina, as a proof of my will to succeed, and maybe even as a means to a book deal.
I think about the future. Not just Boston and New York City, but what I’ll do after that, the cities and countries I’ll visit with no set schedule or end game.
That is the future. This is now. And though my mind drifts forward often, I’m present, here in New Orleans, ready to find work, make friends and settle a home.
September is over. October begins…