What Are You Doing Out There?

backstory: Po Bronson is collecting stories. This is mine.

I recently switched my life around to place a large emphasis on what makes me happy -- being in motion. I also decided to just discard that which I was not interested in -- making money.

I bought a falling down house in Vermont about three years back because it was my dream house and the friend that was selling it needed to unload it quickly. I borrowed a bit of family money and had the rest in my bank account due to good investments in the early nineties. I own it. I have no mortgage. Taxes are $1500 a year, give or take. It cost 75K, I am not landed gentry or anything. There are 40 acres out back that are all mine.

At the time, I was living in Seattle, getting out of a long relationship and thinking I might like a change. Told myself "I'll be out of here in the next six months" and then I watched myself not leave. I had an okay job as a librarian but it was a one year position and I needed to think about the Next Big Thing. I needed to reevaluate my priorities.

I thought about what I enjoyed spending my time doing, and where I wanted to be. I grew up in the country and moved to Seattle after college. Most of my friends were in Seattle and all the good tech work was still there. The libraries were cool. Still, I couldn't ever deal with having to lock my door and my car, and not knowing my neighbors, or people getting excited about old buildings going down and new ones going up. It was about the time that I watched the second sports stadium go up that I realized I needed a new view. The happiest I'd been in recent years was when I was en route from one thing to another, with a backpack and a book. At the same time, I liked having a place to call home where I could leave my books and the trappings of my life.

I took four months off, lived off of savings, and moved into my house in rural Vermont, in a town of 150 people. Tried it out. Met my neighbors. Reacquainted myself with my friends from college who were still in the area. Sat on the back porch looking at the lightning bugs and thought "this is the most beautiful place on earth". Then I went back to Seattle, early in 2000, and thought exactly the same thing.

When I got back to Seattle, I got a job at an ISP and set about to do nothing other than get a job I could do remotely. I eventually became the email support lead and took my job to Vermont with me in May 2000. I worked from there til November and then went back to Seattle for the winter. I rented a room for $200 with the understanding that I'd be there half the year. The ISP job soon became unbearable for many reasons, but I had tasted being able to swing the bi-coastal lifestyle and I decided to make that my number one priority. Vermont, on its own, was too slow and too absent of friends and colleagues, though I have some. Seattle, on its own, made me feel all jangley and suspicious.

The big hurdles were:

  1. money -- it costs more to live in two places and maintain two phones, PO boxes, automobiles, than my low-rent lifestyle was used to. Moving all the time means no steady "normal" job and semi-voluntary poverty, all other things remaining constant.
  2. time -- travel between coasts is either expensive or time consuming or both. moving back and forth was built into this plan as an advantage, but would require logistical wrangling and a job that could accomodate it
  3. avocation -- I decided that where I lived was more important that how I lived [job] so I needed to learn to get work that would accomodate my lifestyle. I have been doing a lot of freelance writing, getting tiny jobs here and there, and continuing to live, as I always have, on very little money. My average income for the past five years has been under five figures. This lifestyle is NOT just for the wealthy. On the other hand, I drive old cars, never shop for anything except food, hardware supplies, the occasional computer accessory and travel stuff.
  4. friends -- the first thing many of my friends say when they see me is "Oh, I didn't know you were in town" The internet makes keeping in touch simple but it doesn't give you a date for saturday night. I spend a lot of money on postage. I make huge efforts to remind people that I exist even if I am out of sight. I've gotten used to guys' attention wandering once I tell them that I'm not really from around there, wherever "there" is. Long distance relationships are the only kinds I can really have unless I can find someone to hitch their wagon to my star. The most difficult thing for me was dealing with the realization that if I chose both coasts I was also most likely choosing to be single, at least part of the year

The weirdest thing for me is how cool people seem to think this is -- in their dreams perhaps. I spend a fair amount of my available money keeping this place [in Vermont] weathertight and occupied when I'm not here. In Seattle I deal with roomates and friends who forget to invite me to parties. People send me job announcements, seeming to say that if I could only find the "right job" [or the right person, or the right situation] I'd stay put. It's cool and yet it's a pathology. I am everyone's "nutty friend."

I get visitors. In Vermont it's more of the "country visit" type where people stay for a weekend. In Seattle it's more incidental -- people know me from online and email when they're in town. I get to spend days with people in Vermont that I might normally only have coffee with in Seattle. Making breakfast with near-strangers is fun. Spending 48 straight hours with people I adore makes five days of talking to no one all worthwhile.

The fear is that I'll wake up and think "what the hell have I been doing?" and suddenly see the wisdom that everyone else seems to think is implicit in the settle-down-and-have-kids lifestyle. If this ever happens, I will have wasted some serious time. I fear some sort of financial collapse that will cause me to have to make tough choices. I worry that something may happen to me that makes living rurally impractical [I had a run-in with a neighbor recently that was chilling, not only for the fear involved but the "damn him, he's ruining my DREAM" aspect]. I am almost afraid of falling in love with someone who might make me want to settle down. Not falling in love is the related fear.

I am lucky in that my daydream has become my reality. I am also experiencing the "you made this bed, now lie in it" reality of my set of choices.