“What brought you here?” is usually the first thing people ask me when I mention I’m new to the area. I’ve tried out a few different responses. “It’s a long story” (true). “To be closer to family” (false). I’ve yet to really settle on something, because the truth isn’t something easily reducible to small talk. After the first few times, you’d think I’d just stop mentioning it. But what else are you supposed to say when you’re new in town and don’t have anything else to talk about?
I picked the theme “home” for the Carnival of Aces last month, and it got a lot of submissions, but between Rowan’s post and my own current situation, I’m not done thinking about it. This is mostly just a reflection post. At the same time, it’s also a post about “overhead” — which here applies in the literal sense (a roof overhead) and another, more economic sense: referring to the concept of “overhead costs,” i.e. the expenses required keep the lights on and a roof overhead. Normally, the term’s applied to business expenses. But you can also think about it in terms of homes and people, too.
[This post has been crossposted to Pillowfort.]
The way I understand it, there are about three main, boilerplate reasons that adults move to new places: to follow a partner, to be closer to family, and to pursue a career. Neither of those exactly applies, for me. Or rather, they apply in reverse. I had moved to pursue a graduate degree… and then upon completing the program, there was nothing left for me in that town. And so I moved out of it. That town, that university, the last address known to my birth parents. Moving here wasn’t really about moving to anything — just away from what I knew to be a dead end.
In some ways, I’m worried that this place will be a dead end, too.
And who am I going to turn to if it is?
I’ve talked some before about being “single” in the sense of an all-encompassing social status. In that post, I mostly talked about breaking off from blood family, but the resulting social precarity is something intensified by other factors. Namely, material and financial precarity.
Like I’ve said, I’ve mostly been able to ignore the matter of what’s next for me as long as I had my head down and kept busy with school. Assistantships as a grad student don’t pay much, but mine was enough to keep me afloat, for the time that it lasted. Now, in a new city, with no program to enroll in and no assistantship and no job lined up, I have to ask myself what happens if I don’t find a new job before my savings run out and I’m no longer able to pay rent.
It seems like survival in my country is supported by those same three main legs I mentioned before: a partner, family, or money. What you lack in one, you can make up for with another, at least temporarily. So for some people, it’s okay if they’re between jobs for a while — they’ve got a support system they can fall back on, people they can turn to. And vice versa — sometimes the legwork performed within families and close relationships can be compensated for, if you’ve got the money to pay someone else to do it.
Can’t say the same here. I’ve severed one of those legs for myself, another’s never been a presence in the first place, and the last one may be in jeopardy. So I hope you can understand, then, the renewed sense of inner urgency, surpassing anything I felt in middle school or high school or college, to try and make myself more dateable. I ask myself, how many of my preferences and dealbreakers can I renegotiate? How many personality traits can I saw off? I look in the mirror sometimes and I think — I’m only getting older. This might be the most attractive I ever get to be. What if I let these years go to waste and I miss my chance?
It’s stupid, sure, but it’s not the kind of stupid you can talk down with the reassurance that everything’s going to be alright.
In some ways, I feel like I never should have left Texas. I don’t regret it, not really — not when I remember what made it feel so important to quit living like I was — but I also have to partly recognize that I’m in an exile of my own making. I could go back. I might have better luck getting a job there. And yet. Considering I still tense up in the grocery store when I see old women with hair like my ex-mother’s and I still have nightmares about getting chased down… I think I’m going to still be listening to songs about never going home again for a good long while.
What I want to know is, what’s supposed to be the longterm solution here? Aside from continuing to apply for jobs and hoping to nab one, how do I arrange for my own survival?
I don’t expect anybody in particular to have the answers. What I do ask is that people care about the question, in a more general sense. “You don’t need to have sex” and “you don’t need to date” are nice sentiments, but we need more than sentiments to address how interpersonal relationships, partnership, and sex are bound up in the material realities of keeping each other alive.