September 8, 2016

Santa Cruz: Ten years later and thoughts of what's next

Ten years ago today, I reached Santa Cruz.

Though I want to recognize that milestone in my life, I don’t want to write about the past. I’m done writing about the past. Instead, I want to write about now — and maybe ponder the future.

Though I lived in California for just shy of four years (three years and almost 10 months is more accurate, but I always round up to make it sound longer), I have been back in Iowa City for nearly twice that long. I’m rounding up again, but the point remains the same: my time in California was long ago and has become an extended blip in my personal history.

That makes me sad. Making matters worse is the fact that 10 years to the day when I arrived on the West Coast, I am essentially back where I started. Granted, I’m 10 years older and am working, but not much is different. Needless to say, I can’t help asking the question: What the hell am I doing and why am I in Iowa City?

A couple weeks ago, before writing an email to my high school journalism advisor, I reread our last messages to each another. It had been a while since I wrote or heard from him so I wanted to see what we said in our last correspondence. I summed up my life this way:

I'm still living in Iowa City, working for the peer-reviewed journals, and writing beer-related articles on the side for the local alternative magazine. I'm getting quite burned out and feel the need to do something else. I need a new challenge, new path to take. I'm not sure what it is yet but I feel that change is on the way, that I am about to end this chapter of my life and begin a new one. I have thought a lot about becoming a freelance copy editor or editor, or doing more writing. The venom from the journalism bug still courses through my veins. I still have a love-hate relationship with it, but I still love the satisfaction of nailing a story, even if it is about the closing of a local bar. I have thought about leaving Iowa City again, perhaps for the Twin Cities, even, but I like it here. Plus, my dad and I have Iowa basketball season tickets and I don't want to give those up.

That was in April 2015. Since then, nothing has changed. I could have pasted that paragraph into my recent message and it would still accurately describe my life. That seriously depressed me.

So what am I doing? Going through the motions, basically — day after day, week after week, doing the same thing, in the same place. I’m coasting. I’ve settled. Despite the fact I “feel the need to do something else,” especially professionally, I haven’t.

However, change is no longer “on the way” — it’s here. I am slowly but surely being forced out at my morning journal; I lost duties last month and will lose more, along with pay, this month. But despite the fact that I not only want but now need “a new challenge, new path to take,” I am still “not sure what it is yet.”

I recently applied for a job at Iowa and put all other “next chapter” planning on hold until I heard back. After being passed over for an interview, I told Zee German that it was probably a blessing in disguise. “This lets me move on so I can figure out how to do what I want to do,” I told him.

“What do you want to do?” he asked. “Because if you know that, you’re one step ahead of me.”

Unfortunately, I don’t know what I want to do. I haven’t for a long time.

When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a mad scientist. Then, when I fell in love with drawing, I wanted to be an animator. When I fell in love with basketball, I wanted to play for the Boston Celtics (despite the fact I was an Atlanta Hawks fan; I guess I wanted to be part of the Celtics’ rich tradition). Then I somehow became interested in radio and wanted to be a radio disc jockey. (I remember borrowing a book titled How to be a DJ from the library at South East. I was disappointed, however, to discover that it focused on playing music at clubs and parties.) In high school, all I wanted to do was work on the school newspaper, which I eventually did.

Ever since then I have had no clue what I want to do. I have mostly drifted with the current. I went to college because that’s what I thought I needed to do. I tried studying journalism and writing for the paper in college because that’s what I thought I should do — and was chained by a scholarship. Then I studied writing because it’s something I have always loved and thought it was best to stay in college and get a degree.

I’m a writer, but what the hell do I want to do? That’s been the unanswered question since I was in college. It loomed large when I arrived in Santa Cruz because I needed a job, but ever since finding work — not necessarily work I was passionate about but could do and tolerate — it hasn’t bothered me. I was able to work, do a little writing, and get by — and I was perfectly fine with that. But after a certain point I started feeling dissatisfied, unfulfilled, unproductive. I felt like I could and should be doing something else. But what? I had no clue, but something more than what I was doing.

Since I want and now need to do something else, the “what the hell do I want to do?” question is looming large again.

I have been mulling my options for a while, plumbing the depths of my mind and heart, trying to figure out what I want to do. But so far an epiphany providing a reinvigorated sense of self-purpose has eluded me. Am I getting there? Maybe, but it’s hard to tell. There are things I don’t want to do, and there are things I can do and am talented at, but I’m unsure if I want do those things for a living. I am not 100 percent sure I want to work in an office for an organization or business, doing work for them. Freelancing and having my own business appeals to me much more.

Another question, one that is especially poignant on this anniversary, also looms over me: Should I stay in Iowa City? Despite that blip in my personal history, and the fact I was born elsewhere, I have lived in Iowa City for so long I qualify as a homebody. That makes me sad — or last least self-conscious. There’s a massive world out there, yet I have decided to stay here. Iowa City is a great place and it’s home, but…I don’t know. One reason why I feel the urge to freelance and do my own thing (whatever it is) is because there does not seem to be many professional opportunities locally. I also feel a dumb desire to leave just to leave, so I can say I no longer live in Iowa City. As I told my advisor last year (and again this year), I have always liked the Twin Cities and have thought about moving there. But I like Iowa City. Plus, my parents are getting older and I feel the need to hang around, and I don’t want to give up my Iowa men’s basketball tickets.

Oh, what a conundrum — what to do and where to do it? As I said, 10 years after I reached Santa Cruz to start a new life, I am essentially right back where I started. Only older.