Friday, March 20, 2009

"May you live in interesting times."

I was just thinking back to my initial peevish reaction to hearing that Chinese quote/curse, years and years ago (probably back during the long stretch of Clinton years, when things were relatively calm and prosperous): "I'm bored! I'm bored! I wish things WERE interesting!" (In my defense, though, I also remember a quote from Clinton himself after he left office, saying he wished he had had more challenges to face, since that is the only way of truly testing a president!)

I was too little during the social upheavals of the late 60s and, more importantly to my mind now, the economic crises of the 70s to fully comprehend what such turmoil actually entailed. (My dad was an enlisted Air Force man; his salary remained stable, so our family was unaffected financially.) Then, when there was another economic downturn in the early 90s, I had a safe state job at a university library, plus was gearing up to go to graduate school, so, again, I was completely unaffected. Then, around 2002/2003, when my publishing company in Austin started having a wave of layoffs: the first time, I was a project employee with months to go on my contract, so I was (cheap and) spared. The second round, I was let go, but was only unemployed for about a month before another company snatched me up.

After another 6 months or so of working for this second company, the original company hired me again, with full benefits. Where I remained until I so cavalierly quit to come to NYC...SANS JOB!

What was I thinking? Oh, something like... "It's the publishing capital of the world! How hard can it be to find a publishing job?!" (Famous last words!)

I remember people (mature adults) being somewhat surprised that I was going to a new city, and New York of all places, without a ready source of income. But here's the thing: While my family always had decent houses in decent neighborhoods when I was growing up, as an adult, goofing around in college for years and years and living off of a library-wage, I was used to living in small, rented quarters. I had no house/mortgage, no kids to support. My living expenses were always pretty small. Picking up and moving to NYC wasn't as bizarre-seeming to me as it might have been to , say, an editor in her 50s with a regular large income and a nice house and yard and yearly month-long vacations to Europe.

I, on the other hand, was still a scruffy "Romantic" in my head--I had no financial or emotional ties holding me in Austin, just wanted to dive in to the beauty and history and excitement of New York, just because I'd fallen in love with it during a job interview there circa 2005... And get this, in the "kicking myself in the ass" department: That interview was for a copy-editing supervisor position with the company I was then working for in Austin. They had been unable to fill the NY position after 6 months or so of interviewing New Yorkers, so I, not having any idea of NY, nonchalantly said I'd interview for it. They flew me in; the interview went well. I then told them I'd take the job IF they paid my moving expenses! What, was I living in the affluent early 60s in my head, where companies paid your moving expenses?! And that f'ing job paid over $50,000 a year!! Good lord I was stupid! And childishly "into" letting the Fates decide! Had I that moment in time to do over, I'd beg, borrow, and possibly steal the f'ing "moving expenses"! :)

As it stands now, I'm on the cusp of my third major job search since I arrived here 2 years ago. (I expected to have ONE.) It's extremely draining mentally. I have been pretty lucky, though: In 24 months, I have had 14 months of full-time, well-paying project publishing jobs. (The other 10 months have been either living off of savings or doing tedious part-time scattered things like legal proofing.)

With the recent stress, I've also been questioning my move here. Especially since my current project job is in Jersey and involves a looooong bus ride to and from work. Hardly the "me-bopping-around-the-city" that I'd imagined. While I like Jersey just fine and it's been interesting getting to see the pretty countryside and towns during my trek every day, I don't LOVE Jersey. I do, however, LOVE New York City. I love it. I get to see it every morning when I catch my bus to my job in Jersey, I get to see it on weekends... If it were just Jersey in the equation, I'd move back to Austin in a second, where there is also pleasant scenery and lots of shopping, plus rents at half the price (though not the kind of Northeast weather that I like a lot more)...

But it ain't about Jersey. It's about New York. I get a thrill just walking around looking at the buildings and riding the subway and jostling on the sidewalks or hanging around my favorite areas of Union Square or Chelsea listening to and watching people. I love walking and not driving. I love being able to buy a hat or sunglasses or a hot-dog off the sidewalk vendors. I love the true mixture of people. (Not the fake "diversity" that towns like San Fran claim, where every "minority" group is completely enmeshed in its own neighborhood and political ghetto.) I love not feeling self-conscious or weird here because there's so much going on that there's no time for judging what's "weird" or not. (The judgment seems to be based on your work: Is it good or not?) I can just relax and breathe and be myself.

When I moved here in early 2007, it wasn't quite clear that the recession had yet started. I was still thinking I'd be riding the wave of prosperity and easy jobs.

And I'd had no real concept of "NYC" in 2001, when 9/11 happened (except for notions garnered from literature and pop culture). I felt for the city, but only abstractly.

But a couple of years later, after the black-out, which occurred after my first introduction to the city via my job interview, I cut out pictures from the New York Times of people walking home across the Brooklyn Bridge and stuck them above my desk at work, with the note-to-self: "I should have been there."

Now I AM here. And I'm going to stick it out, job or no. Years from now, I want to be able to say that I was loyal to the city through the hard times. THAT is how you prove that you really love.

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