I used to live in a place called Fountain Valley. I began plotting my escape from this place as soon as I became cognizant that such a thing was possible. Let’s say age seven, right around the time my great-grandmother got me a subscription to National Geographic, and I decided I was going to be an archaeologist, then an Egyptologist, then a nature photographer, and finally, a writer. Though the career ambitions morphed over the years, I always maintained a desire to pursue my goals elsewhere, a desire which was beyond the comprehension of nearly every Californian I encountered.
Funny thing about Californians–they’ll bitch to you all day about the traffic and the high cost of living, the illegal immigrants, the traffic, the crowds, oh the traffic, but so much as suggest that you’d like to live somewhere else, and they look at you as though you’ve gone insane. Why on earth would you want to leave this magnificent place? California is the land people escape to not from. The sunshine, the beaches, the sunshine, the mountains, the shopping, the palm trees, the sunshine, the sunshine, the sunshine! Then try telling them you want to move to Boston. Go ahead. See what happens.
So to say the least, I grew accustomed, at an early age, to having people react to my plans as though they were crazy and react to me as though I, too, was crazy for coming up with them. But I knew California wasn’t the place for me, and so, in order to get myself out, I also grew accustomed to ignoring these reactions. I became adept at plowing ahead, blinders on, earplugs in, never pausing for even a second to listen to shouts of, “Why?” “What’s the matter with you?” “Oh, but the snow!” I moved to Boston, and it snowed, and I survived. I moved back to California, and it did not snow, and I spent those two years beating my fists against my self-made cage, practically choking on my own screams to get out. Then, I moved to Portland.
Portland is Never Never Land. It is the island of misfit toys. If you don’t have a tribe (or have been cast out of your tribe), come to Portland, and chances are, you will find it. We are the most tattooed city in the country. We have naked bicycle races. If on October 31st, you see a man outside Fred Meyer wearing a horse head, don’t just assume he’s wearing it because it’s Halloween. That may just be his thing. When my brother first came to visit me here, he spent the entire ride from the airport to my apartment ping-ponging his gaze from window to window, saying, “What’s that? Why’s that there?” I told him, “First rule of Portland: don’t ask why. Your head will explode trying to figure out all the answers.
I love Portland. Portland is full of readers and writers, dreamers and schemers. In California, if you tell people you want to be a writer, they’ll ask you what you write. And when you tell them novels (and not screenplays), they’ll look at you like you’ve just announced your intentions to become a real-live fairy princess and begin calculating how to get away from you as quickly as possible, lest you become friends and thereby socially obligate them to read your no doubt boring books. In Portland, if you tell people you want to be a writer, they’ll probably tell you they’re writers, too. Or painters. Or photographers. Or seamstresses. You can even tell them you want to be a fairy princess, and they’ll say, “That’s fantastic. You can totally be a fairy princess. A friend of mine runs an Etsy shop where you can buy wings and glitter and everything you could possibly need!” If you’ve ever been to Portland, you know I’m not exaggerating.
Needless to say, I prefer the reactions of Portlanders. And over the two and a half years I’ve lived here, something has happened to me: I have grown accustomed to not being looked at like I’m insane. On the surface, this isn’t a bad thing. But then I go and do something like I did last week–quit my job without first finding another position, make plans to take a three-week solo road trip from Portland to SoCal, and announce my intention to pay my bills by writing–I do this, and one person looks at me kind of funny, then another, and before I know it, I can’t even decide what to have for breakfast because I’ve begun doubting even my most basic decision-making abilities.
How did this happen? I’ll tell you how: in living here, I became unconditioned to not caring if people think I’m nuts. But I believe the problem goes even deeper. The last time I made a big decision that no one understood was when I decided to move to Portland, so it’s been a while since I’ve done something like this. It’s also been a while since I’ve made a significant choice for my own life. For the past year and a half, it’s been, “You won’t have this job anymore, you will take this job, you won’t work on this novel, or this one, you won’t be in this relationship, and you won’t work on this novel either.” At some point last week, after writing a blog post about feeling like Gollum and wondering if anything I ever wanted was going to come my way or if I was doomed to dead-end-job-perpetually-single-writer’s-block-hell unhappiness forever and ever, I stopped and said, “I’m sorry, don’t I get a say in this?”
So, I quit my job. And maybe that was dumb. And maybe it’s not something that anyone else will understand. But the thing I keep telling myself is, I’ve done this before. I’ve done things before that no one else understands. I’ve done this before, and I can do it again. If people want to think I’m an idiot, let them. If they want to believe I’m idealistic and unrealistic, fine. Last time I checked, no one but me was living my life, and for the past year, even I haven’t been doing that. I look in the mirror, and I don’t know who this person is. I don’t recognize the life that’s being lived, the spirit that has been waning inside of me. I need to be reminded who I am, and I couldn’t do that at the job that I had.
The other piece of the puzzle is that I no longer trust my intuition. I recently dated someone I was certain I was going to marry, and I turned out to be very, very wrong. I’ve been wrong before, but never like this, and it’s shaken me. It’s made me question many things, including my ability to determine my own wants and needs. But this whole “quit the job, be a writer” thing–it’s not about intuition this time. I have no idea if this plan is going to work out. I may fall on my face. I may end up at a dozen more dead-end jobs before I make it as a writer. I may decide this isn’t the road I want to go down after all, but no matter where I land, it will be my doing. And that’s the point here. That’s what I’m after. Choices.
Because here’s the other thing–I was dying at that job. Does admitting that make me feel weak, melodramatic, and whiny? Yes, it does, but that doesn’t make it any less true. That also doesn’t mean I expect other people to follow in my footsteps. Did I ask anyone to follow me when I left Fountain Valley? I did not. Do I know people who love it there? I do. I wasn’t one of them, and so, I had to leave. The same goes for my decision now. I’m not asking anyone to follow it or even understand it. I mean, bloody hell, I don’t even understand it. All I know is that I had to do it.
I wish I had a better explanation than, “I just couldn’t do that job anymore,” but I don’t. I wish every decision was as simple as choosing between right and wrong, but it isn’t. I also wish it was always a matter of, “Walk through door number one or door number two,” but it’s not. Sometimes, there’s only one door, and if you don’t want to walk through it, you have to kick a hole in a wall and climb through that. And what will be on the other side? A giant pillow? A cliff? Probably a cliff. But if I’m going to become a real-live fairy princess, I guess that means I’ll have to buy some wings on Etsy and teach myself how to fly.