Balancing my current work with my future work goals

A few days ago, I told my child’s teacher after I completely spaced the parent-teacher conference we had scheduled, “I used to have my shit together, and then I became a parent. But I guess 6 years in to this parenting run, I suppose I can no longer claim my new normal is temporary.” She didn’t know me in my pre-parenting days, when I really was on time to things, and even occasionally organized. A time when I could string thoughts coherently, er, string coherent thoughts togetherly.

While I don’t think I can get back to being on time or organized, I intend to regain my identity as a blogger. No, not some bullshit microblogger or #sponsored content provider or mouthpiece for a giant brand. After all, how is blogging for someone else any different from what I do now: writing web content for my employer?  My blogging goal was always to gain just enough independence that I could at the very least downsize from my full-time gig, carving out a bit more space for my creative work, whether that brought me income or not. (The answer is most definitively not, if you were wondering). When that didn’t happen – and life happened simultaneously – it became necessary for me to reallocate how I used my time.

I’ve had an autoimmune disease for 11 years. Or maybe I’ve had it for a lot longer, but I got diagnosed when I was 30. For awhile – like, say, in my adult years prior to having children, I could manage my depleting energy levels by taking a nap on the weekend or even catching a nap before dinner on weeknights. But over time, I guess as I get older, between working 40* hours a week and parenting, there’s very little time for me to ever feel “caught up” on my energy. And being tired all. of. the. goddamned. time. means that I have so little ability to clear the brain fog, nevermind the energy once the brain fog may have cleared to do anything.

* Now let’s talk about that 40 hours a week thing. I used to work 40 hours a week. Then I kept getting much more interesting work, and I was actually legitimately one of those gross people who claim to like their jobs (because I did). So losing sight of my personal goals didn’t blip much on my radar at that time a couple of years ago because I was engaged and fulfilled at work with intellectual and writery challenges. But during the past two years, my good work means that I’ve been promoted a time or two…and tasked with larger projects…that take up more mental energy…with less actual *time* during the workweek to tackle those projects. So full-time work became more, like, well, let’s just say more than 40 hours a week (and in academia, so without the pay to reflect that).

So working more left even less time to devote to my stuff. Yes, some of the bleed-over of work hours into *my* time is my own fault. But I’ll also point the majority of the blame right back on the higher ed industry, an industry that relies on churn-and-burn, hardly-paid adjuncts like My Better Half. It seems like a dicey endeavor to disengage when you are the sole source of income in your household for a family of 4. And/or have a complicated auto-immune disease that insurers know better as a pre-existing condition in this era in which it is unclear whether insurers will cover your care. To sum it up: I found myself with almost no energy, nor much mental clarity, but tethered to a job that had begun to eat up any of my free time.

I’m working on that last one, though. For the past few weeks, I’ve put strict boundaries on my work hours and will truly only commit to 8 hours a day, walking out the door at 8 hours and 1 minute. Which has begun to give me a little breathing room for places like my new work blog and here. (And, to be honest, the capacity to start looking for other, higher-paying work, as putting job applications together takes energy, mental clarity, and time. With more money could come more freedom…)

unfiltered thoughts: an ethical dilemma

The new French bistro down the street from my work is soooooooooo good. But, as it has just opened and my building is a bit off the beaten path, I find myself faced with an ethical dilemma. Do I:

    1. Tell everyone that it is a delightful little hidden gem and you should absolutely go there at every opportunity, running the risk that it will become as popular as it deserves to be, at the expense of me never having their cozy warm atmosphere all to myself again?

– OR –

  1. Tell no one to help to keep it hidden as long as possible so that should they fold I will not have to go on as extreme a diet as I would have had they stayed open long-term?

As much as I enjoy having it to myself, enjoying the peace and quiet as I sip my smooth, perfectly roasted coffee and sample their flaky, buttery croissants and delicate macarons, I am going to choose #1. If you are in my neck of the woods, you really must go to Delice.

delice-coffee-macaron

Good friends are hard to find

Yesterday I was lamenting about the difficulty of making new friends at work (among other things). Here’s a perfect example. I have a coworker who I’ve often thought should be friends with me. So I followed what I think to be normal make-a-friend protocol: I introduced myself first, I have since chatted with her from time to time, sometimes at great length, I’ve IM’d her, and discovered tons that we have in common. We’re both from the South, she used to work in the same field as My Better Half and so we know some of the same companies and people, she loves all things food, and she has a kid just a hair younger than my oldest. So over time I’ve tried to transition our workquaitance into more of a friendship and…it’s gone absolutely nowhere. I’ve stopped by and asked her out to coffee: no, thanks. I’ve invited her to things that I get invited to with other moms: no, thanks. I’ve asked if she wants to check out the farmer’s market or go to this photography exhibit sometime or: no, no, no. Always no. So I basically gave up.

Today I stumbled on her blog. And I can’t decide if I feel even MORE rejected because I’m seeing how much we really do have in common (likes: coffee breaks, walks, babies, photography, baking, and cocktails) that’s making me seethe with rage at her successful blog, or if it’s just her smug-ass tone. The whole thing reeks of “look at me and my cute little family effortlessly identifying and then seamlessly achieving all our life goals one by one!” tone. It’s really hard for me to relate to, either because of the current uncertainties that underpin our lives at this moment or because I live over here. IN THE REAL WORLD where life can be HARD and can’t be photoshopped to perfection. And/or because I’m bitter as all hell that someone else seems to have achieved my perfect blend of working as a writer and still having the time + energy + spousal support to devote to one’s own personal creative outlets.

So I needed a gut check and sent the blog to my BFF without commentary.

Her: huh. So why *aren’t* you friends with her?

Me: I dunno, ask her. I’ve made an effort for a year now, and gotten shut down every time.

Her, five minutes later: I dunno, she seems a little…smug?

Me: YES! THANK YOU! I wasn’t sure if it was just that I’m having a hard time relating to her perfect little life or seething with jealousy and/or bitter?

Her: Well, then file me under: bitter as sh*t too.

And that’s why we’re BFFs.

duct taping it all together

Here it is just after Labor Day and I have no idea where summer went. Oh, wait, I live in PHX so for all intents & purposes, it’s still here, sticking its ugly thumb in my eye until at least Halloween. But the “fall” semester descended upon us a couple of weeks ago, and it is the. last. fall. semester. ever.

Or it was supposed to be.

My Better Half™ was supposed to graduate in December. Now that’s up in the air. His committee needs time to read the thousand pages he’s written or some sh*t like that. Can’t they just nod and go to their happy place like I do and sign something that says “yeah, whatever, sounds good, nice work!”? The point is that the patience that I had allocated to get me through one last semester of nonstop thinking anxiety about what the job market will hold for him and him stressing 24/7 about final edits and graphics and keeping up with all the department and graduation paperwork, and Oh yeah that whole what the F*CK to do after graduation needs to be spread out even more. Our idea that we would be able to reclaim more work-life balance and spend more time together as a family doing fun stuff has been pushed out to an even more distant horizon.

I’ve been doing my best to deal with that. Deep down I’m pissed. But deep, DEEP down, I’m still pissed but also part of me is the tiniest bit relieved that he won’t graduate until May because 1) it will look less bad to not have a job a year from now when you’ve only been unemployed since May (on paper anyway) and 2) the job market BLOWS so who cares? What’s the rush? The past couple of years, the academic job market has been great solidly not sucky in his field. If you’re a bioarchaeologist. (He’s not). This year it seems to be decent marginally not sucky if you’re a cultural anthropologist. (He’s not). But it doesn’t stop my brain from leaping ahead and connecting the dots unnecessarily. When the job alerts that we’re subscribed to come in, I find myself going “would I even entertain living THERE? what about our house, what about our kids, what about my job?” before I even get to “Desired Qualifications: Active research agenda in race and ethnicity, sociolinguistics, and award winning publications in the economic exchange systems of Sons of Anarchy.” I mean, come ON! Now if it were just Game of Thrones Beheadings he’d stand a chance… But at least the piecing together consulting + adjuncting work here is the devil we know, the job market is a complete unknown.

What’s made all that harder even still to deal with has been just a lot of adjustments in my personal life. This time around, I’m really feeling the isolating effects of having a baby. Part of it is I have very little energy left over after a long workday & two kiddos 3 and under, so I can’t summon the energy to think about what there is to go do, nevermind go do it. I’m just tired. All. The. Time. Also, just the timing of where our kids are at socially. Baby is at the peak of separation anxiety and requires being held at all of the times. So it’s just not all that fun to go out with them – I have to hold him. And when we do go out, Dawdler Toddler Preschooler stands frozen in place, clinging to my legs because she’s around “strangers” (i.e., anyone she doesn’t live with), so I can maybe get in 90 seconds of adult conversation at a time. And we almost never, EVER get to go out without them – it’s just too much money for a sitter when you’re only one full-time income and have 2 kids in daycare and no family nearby to dump the kids off with. I think we’ve been out once without the kids since Baby was born. Which will be a year ago in 3 weeks. (Or should I also count the time we used a sitter for us to have a date night the night I was IN THE HOSPITAL GIVING BIRTH? So twice then?)

Part of it is just the rhythm of life with a baby (not just particular to our current financial & geographical circumstances). You find yourself housebound when the baby’s asleep. In other words during the very same block of time you could be getting something done, you’re stranded inside your home seeing as Child Protective Services doesn’t look too kindly on leaving the little ones at home alone while you run errands. Thank God for the interwebz…but there’s only so much shopping and reading and movie watching you can get done online. Amazon’s not all that convenient when it’s milk you need FOR YOUR COFFEE or library books to return. And when you can venture forth, you’re got a little person (or in my case, two) attached at the hip, so heading to that new movie you’re dying to see or out with friends for a beer is not in the cards. And even if you can get out every once in awhile, social things can just be such a pain in the ass when you have to lug around a diaper bag stuffed with diapers, changes of clothes, hats, sunscreen…I’m cranky just typing a list never mind hauling it all around. As a result, all my “free” time becomes the spare moments I have for errands + gym + fun. In other words: no time left for fun 99% of the time.

And do I even need to mention life in Arizona during the summer? It might be fall where you are, but here it’s still 109 out there. Or so I hear, since I am too scared to peek out through the blackout curtains. People hole up indoors and/or take a bunch of time off to get the hell away from the Death Star. It should go without saying that I’ve been avoiding Face-stagram all summer because I’m seething with jealousy at all my friends’ trips to California, Hawaii, the beach, hikes in Flagstaff, and everywhere else that isn’t 109. So between the isolation of being at home with Baby and being indoors while it seems like the ENTIRE rest of the world is out having a blast has taken its toll. I guess while much of the rest of you get seasonal affective disorder from gray wintry days, I get it here from all the sun. I like a nice sunny day here & there. But it’s hard to appreciate when you’re living on the surface of the sun. It is relentless – brandishing a hole in my retinas and a deep resentment in my skin expressed by eleventeen million new freckles every month. I need weather. I need seasons. I could more easily accommodate living here if I ever got to escape and experience weather that would make me more appreciative of what I’d be coming back to. But since we’re still living the grad school life, there are no funds to get us out of here from time to time. Since I’m long winded today, I’ll also save you the details of our car troubles, too. As in: much of the summer spent WITHOUT AIR CONDITIONING in our one and only functioning vehicle. Bottom line: it’s hard to get out of the house, which feels really isolating.

You know what else feels isolating? Not being in sync with your friends. Our closest friends have all moved in the last 2 years. Every. Last. One. And now I’m struggling with knowing where to find our kind of peeps. We find ourselves gravitating more and more towards hanging out with the parents of our Dawdler Toddler Preschooler’s friends because if nothing else, they get the whole kids thing. The whole there is a naptime and a bedtime, and it’s tough to get out during those times and no, we can’t wait til 11-ish on a Sunday at a hip restaurant for an hour to have breakfast because we’d all be dying from our kids’ whining us to death from low blood sugar. I’ve been trying to make new friends at work. And, uh. Yeah, see? That’s about the only place I go besides the gym. But, it’s slow and hard, and y’know, just takes time even when you do make a work friend. Which I haven’t really yet.

So I’ve been holding it all together. Trying to just make my way from work to the gym to daycare. Repeat. It’s been going o-kaaayyyyy, I guess, but not great. I think that all of these things will get better soon. But I just don’t know when “soon” is.

A fieldwork widow

The spring semester has wound down, and My Better Half™ decided after much deliberation to accept an offer of summer archaeological fieldwork. Normally this wouldn’t even be an option, as the typical fieldwork schedule is 10 days away, 4 days at home, repeat. If you’re lucky. But this year there happens to  be a project within driving distance of where we live, so every morning he reports to the office at 5 a.m., commutes from there to the site, and then returns home at the end of each day.

I’ll do my best to contain my enthusiasm. Because despite the extra income which is helpful necessary, this still presents many challenges. Here’s just one of them: his 5 a.m. start time, for instance. If the Dawdler Toddler would actually go to sleep when we put her to bed at 8:00 p.m., My Better Half™ would stand a chance at up to 8 hours sleep as long as two additional conditions are also met:

  • Baby also cooperates and sleeps through the night (which has yet to happen, ever).
  • Fairy Godmother pulls her weight and relieves us of the nightly household work of packing lunches and doing dishes and putting away laundry and shuttling Dawdler Toddler back to bed after each and every attempt to delay bedtime.

All in all, this means on any given night, My Better Half™ can expect to get somewhere between 0 and 6 hours sleep before reporting for highly physical labor. And once I’ve slept in til Baby’s natural alarm at 5:00 a.m., I get to get the kids up, clothed, fed, and loaded in the truck for daycare drop off before I report to work, only to repeat all that in reverse at the end of each day, exhausted.

Maybe I’m just cranky because I’m dreading the rest of fieldwork season unnecessarily. Maybe it’s just because I haven’t yet had any coffee. Or maybe it’s more that last night presented what I know to be a typical case study. We were up 4 times between 9:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. with Baby, who was uncharacteristically fussy and inconsolable. By the time Baby finally got up at 5:20 a.m., desperately needing a diaper change, I discovered that we had no diapers. None. Not in the house, not stashed in the back of his sister’s closet, not in the diaper bag, not in the truck. So poor Dawdler Toddler also got to wake at an unnaturally early hour to start her day, because last I checked Child Protective Services doesn’t look too kindly on me leaving my kids at home to dash to the store to grab diapers. This may be just the kick in the ass that I needed to change my outlook on adjuncting to note how accommodating it is in allowing for co-parenting and equitable division of household duties. Or maybe it will just make me hate fieldwork more than I already did.

Unfiltered Thoughts: Procrastination

This morning, sitting at my cube reading blogs as the coffee brewed, I read the improvised life’s post “the work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.”

I’m not sure where I come down on this one. Obviously sitting on-call in a cubicle 40 hours a week is not what I think I should be doing for the rest of my life, though I’ve got some clear ideas on what that is and while I’ve been taking small steps to get me from the cube-sitting to the working-for-myself part, I still have to be a cube jockey until Plan B starts to pay off. But while I am manning this cubicle, I do procrastinate by writing. So in my case the work I do while procrastinating is the work I should be doing, and I already knew that. But I’m just not sure that “procrastinating” is the right word for what I’m doing, and not just since I don’t have other work that needs to be done. (Disclaimer: At work, that is. At home, I’ve got a mountain of work that needs to be done, but I can’t do any of it from my cube).

I think that’s where the problem with the quote lies (for me, anyway) – the troublesome distinction within the quote that work equals, well, work, and procrastination is, in contrast, not productive, or more specifically contributive to work. That’s particularly problematic when you’re in a creative pursuit, like writing, because you can’t separate one from the other. Sometimes when I write I find that the words that give shape and form to my ideas flow quickly and easily, and I’m simply channeling them onto the page. That’s incredibly rare. Most of the time, I find that I stumble on kernels of ideas and those ideas take time to plant, water, and tend before they sprout, nevermind grow.

I carry around a notebook that is full of one-liners and scribbles of half-thoughts that, once fully formed, could become something, but until they are fully formed, those follow me around like my shadow. I find myself constantly thinking about how to reshape an idea, how to phrase and contextualize it, and how to convey its complexity without being overly stuffy. Perhaps a better example is the list of funny anecdotes or observations that were noteworthy enough for me to write them down for reference, if only I could fumble my way past the anecdote itself to what it is that that moment embodies. But if I sit around and stew about “What does this mean? How can I use this as a vehicle to tell some larger tale?” I’d be sitting here staring at a blank screen for the rest of my life. So I just continue on. I go for walks, go get coffee, play with Baby, make dinners, sit in my cubicle, and maybe, just maybe, somewhere along the way, I’ll figure it out and then I’ll get to use that in my writing. But, more likely, I’ll get ‘distracted’ along the way, overhear something interesting in line at Starbucks that I’ll write down in my notebook and chase that scrap instead – either because that has a faster path to my discovery of meaning or because it’s more timely or simply more interesting. The most likely reason, though, is because I’m still struggling to achieve a way to impart meaning to the previous moment. In short: it’s not helpful to sit around thinking “INSPIRATION STRIKE NOW, goddamnit!” But just because I cast that moment aside until later doesn’t make everything that happens in between the recording of the moment and the hours, days, weeks, months, or even years before it becomes something “procrastination.”

The Improvised Life did a follow-up post linking to Brain Pickings’ post on procrastination but I think that this post from Brain Pickings makes more connections for me: “We need to have wrestled with the problem and lost. Because it’s only after we stop searching that an answer may arrive.”

Where Have I Been?

I don’t know. I haven’t actually *been* anywhere. Didn’t go away since May for the summer. Or anywhere, really. I’ve just been working sitting at a desk in my cubicle. And getting sick. Repeat.

I’ve been on 6 antibiotics since the spring, but I’m still fighting a chronic awful sinus infection (and periodic bouts of strep throat) that make me feel lousy. Just not lousy enough to stay home, but lousy enough to not be able to keep up with all my normal routines. Between working full-time sitting in a cubicle 40 hours a week and being sick full-time and taking care of Baby, who is now a toddler by the way, I haven’t had time to do anything else, like post here or watch an entire season of Breaking Bad. (Which, thanks to the immediacy of our web culture, has already been ruined thanks to the presumption that if you own a DVR, you must not use it because it’s fair game to discuss it freely and openly within 24 hours of its original airing). So while you can talk to me about Breaking Bad, what you cannot do is stop by unannounced and ask to come in to my house. I will cockblock you at the door and get rid of you as quickly (and politely) as possible so you cannot peer past me to even so much as glimpse the absolute wreck within.*

*This is not to say that My Better Half™ has not been keeping up way more than his fair share of things at home. He has been, as always, a tremendous support in all the cooking, cleaning, diapering, feeding, and everything else that goes into being an all-around awesome partner. But still. He’s only one person.

While I haven’t been anywhere, my mind has been wandering. I’ve been thinking more and more about finding another job until I can figure out a way to work for myself. But the thought, which used to be a polite little occasional rap on the door, has become a deafening roar. It’s like there’s a mob armed with pitchforks ready to break down the door and storm the castle. I can accept that I have to work full-time to provide for Baby (and support My Better Half™ while he finishes grad school). But if I have to be in a cubicle 40 hours a week, I’d much rather be doing something that keeps me busy, at a minimum (though it would be nice if it also kept me interested). I got offered this job when I was laid off and knocked up. I accepted the job because it seemed like a good fit – it made use of my existing skills, it was at a university where I figured I’d be around bright people, and it seemed like a place where I could learn a few things. It’s hard to learn anything when, after a year and a half, I’ve had 2 short-term projects. And I am around bright people – my boss remains the best boss I’ve ever had…but she’s no longer my boss, and she’s leaving soon. And I’ve realized that what I love about being in a university setting is the students, and I don’t work with them at all. As far as I can tell, my job seems largely to consist of showing up 40 hours a week to be available in the event that someone needs something that only takes me a couple minutes to do. So I read blogs. And this morning, I read this post by (Not) Maud, in which she writes that she used to keep herself busy at work by reading blogs because she had nothing else to do. This part really sums up what I think is at the heart of my dissatisfaction with work:

“I’m not the only overeducated underused employee that ever existed, so I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who ever did this. I’m not the only person with a degree in English to find herself sitting behind the receptionist’s desk or waiting for someone else to schedule a meeting so that she could update a handbook that nobody would read anyway. On a global-economy scale, that’s a lot of unharnessed energy.”

Damn straight. I have a ton of unharnessed energy, and I am more than ready to harness it and put it to work for myself. Not only will that be much more satisfying to me, but I also would be able to spend more time on the things that matter to me – Baby, My Better Half™, and napping, for starters. Bonus: If I worked for myself, I think I would be better equipped to carve out the time I need to get a few weeks rest because this nickel & diming my time off to rest isn’t helping me get over months of being sick. I’ve made a plan and I’m going to keep myself accountable to it.

What’s This All About, Then?

Long after I’d had my baby and returned to work, I got asked if I could share my reflections on why I chose to be a working mom over a stay at home mom. Let me be clear: that ain’t what Laid Off & Knocked Up was about.

I have curated a select few of my posts about being pregnant and unemployed and moved them here because my hope for 2012 was to resurrect and keep up more with my original blog, Funky-Ass Monkey, and I didn’t want to maintain two separate blogs. (Maintain is really the wrong word, though, because Laid Off & Knocked Up was designed to be short-lived – it was simply a way for me document my own very personal journey through looking for work during pregnancy). Because I’ve saved only a sampling here, I tried to select posts that showed the range of emotions I was experiencing – the highs in looking forward to welcoming my first child and in finding a job at 7 months pregnant – and some lows in worrying that I would never find that job. It’s simply meant to entertain, and not offer any findings on the working mom vs. the stay at home mom debate.

For me, this wasn’t a question of whether I should or wanted to be a stay at home mom or a working mom. I wouldn’t even get the luxury of entertaining that debate. It boiled down to the reality of my circumstances. There was no question that my bank account, which was already on the fritz (thanks to dedicating 10 years to low paying museum work) couldn’t survive without a steady full-time paycheck, even without motherhood lurking around the bend.

How soon to return to work, whether to return to work full-time or cut back to part-time, or whether to be a stay-at-home mom are questions that untold numbers of moms have grappled with, and their various decisions are fraught with all manner of guilt, obligations, expectations, and a wide spectrum of experiences, all of which you can read about in advice columns and bookstores. But I’ve yet to stumble on an advice book of how best to handle being a stay-at-home mom when the baby’s not even through the first trimester. When it’s too soon to join mommy support groups, and too late to start drinking. That’s what these posts are about.

The question of whether a mom should work or stay home often gets framed in terms of independence, family preference, and personal fulfillment – and I believe that you have the right to choose what you feel is best for you and your family and that you shouldn’t have to defend your decision to anyone. These blog posts aren’t commentary on that debate. I have a lot of (deeply personal) opinions about the SAHM vs. working mom debate and how heavily that debate weighs on any new mom (or at least how hard it was for me), but I don’t share my thoughts on that in any of these posts. If you’re looking for that whole debate, you better keep googling.

Unfiltered Thoughts: Missed Opportunity

I work at a large state university, and parking on campus is steep. If you don’t have a campus permit, there are some private metered spaces around, too, where you can pay by the hour or a couple lots where you can pay by the day. Then there’s the church that pays someone to sit out in their lot and collect $10 a day to park in their lot.

I forgot my permit today, but lucky for me, there’s a free lot nearby. It’s so weird that there’s this big parking lot just beyond campus that’s…well, free. It’s got to have at least 300 spots. There’s no slot for you to walk to and shove your $5 in to. There’s no dude in a booth collecting your money. It’s the closest lot to my building, and it’s probably at least as close to campus as the giant student lot, which is not free, so, as you can imagine, folks like me who work on campus and students all take advantage of this free lot. Every single day.

Let’s assume that there are 300 spots, and they’re filled M-F. Even if you charged $5 a spot (as opposed to the standard $10 that places like the church charge), that’s $1500 a day. And that’s just M-F. And that’s also assuming only one car per spot per day, not that one person, oh, I dunno, leaves at noon and someone else pulls into the same spot and pays another $5 for 1:00-5:00. So that’s $30,000. A MONTH. Conservatively. That some idiot is strangely not collecting. It’s so weird. And lest you think that whoever owns the lot is just AWOL – in prison, dead, whatever – nope. Because some weekends, there *is* someone in the lot collecting $10 to park there for special events.

But back to this $30,000 a month that someone is missing out on. If whoever owns that lot doesn’t want that money, how about I send some kid to sit down there in a polo, with a clipboard, a table and a large, professionally printed laminated sign to start collecting people’s money? I don’t know about you, but I could sure use $30k a month.

Unsettled

Ever since we’ve moved here, I’ve been missing my former city of Flagstaff (and Nashville before that). It’s not just the heat, although that is pretty unbearable. And it’s not just that this desert landscape still registers not as what it is but as what it is not – namely not the lush, verdant Tennessee that I grew up with. It’s difficult to articulate, especially to folks who haven’t had the displeasure of living here, but it’s a lot of little things that add up to making it a tough place to like. It’s so big and spread out that the scale of the place can make it feel like you need to pack a lunch to get anywhere. There is an absence of the rhythm of distinct seasons. And there’s no real sense of place or identity for Phoenix. I guess some cities, like Tempe, have made strides to carve out some sense of place, but it seems very inorganic and artificial. Tempe seems to think of itself as a college town. To some degree I suppose that’s true…but the words ‘college town’ evoke something very different to me than a major public university with more than 70,000 students.

All of that makes it hard to find people you have stuff in common with (which was especially difficult for me when I worked for tiny nonprofit museums).  And it’s disharmonious for me to live in a place characterized by sprawl, exurbs, and materialism when those aren’t my values. I could give you all sorts of anecdotes that strive to illustrate why I don’t really feel like this is home, but I fear that those might just sound like I’m grumpy. Besides, what I think is perhaps more telling is the bullseye observation from the New York Times 36 Hours in Phoenix piece that states, “Even long-timers have a tough time explaining the city’s appeal.”

So. True.

The root of the problem is that there are no anchors. You’re not anchored by your city. Even the (smaller) cities like Tempe that comprise the greater Phoenix metropolitan area are still so large that it’s hard to carve out a sense of community or find your like-minded peeps. Tempe has a population of about 160,000 – a big difference from Flagstaff’s 50,000. And that’s not even taking into consideration the other 4 million people here in the greater metropolitan area. You’re not anchored by any larger sense of shared values.

You’re not anchored by work. In the 6 years I’ve lived here, I’ve worked for 3 places that had fewer than 4 employees each, and, not surprisingly, found I had little to nothing in common with most of those coworkers. I now work at ASU, which has more than 10,000 employees, but in a department of 6 that barely intersects with any of the remaining 9,994 folks, making it hard to meet people. And I worked for one museum that, by virtue of having greater than 1 but fewer than 10,000 coworkers gave me a fighting chance of having something in common with my coworkers.

You’re not anchored by your neighborhood. All the homes, by law in Tempe, have 6′ cinder block walls around each yard, making every home a fortress of solitude that outwardly symbolizes the insularity of folks here. In fact, the only people I can think of who do like it here are anchored by family who live here too.

I don’t mean to sound all negative – there are things that I do love here: some awesome restaurants, the wildflowers during the rainy winters, the ability to take walks all winter long, the friends I’ve made here, the people I share a home with, and the, um…well…hmmm.