I had a lot of jobs in my 20s. Since I left for college at 18 I have worked as: farmhand, law-firm runner, university groundskeeper, shoe salesman, forklift operator, bus boy, food runner, waiter, bartender, telephone researcher, publishing assistant, English teacher, copy editor, reporter, photographer, and now as deputy editor. I’ve been employed in Nebraska, California, Oregon, New York and Korea.
The longest I stayed at any of those jobs was 15 months.
Every time I quit it wasn’t because I was bored or couldn’t do the work, but because I felt like I had been there long enough and I needed to experience more life, more places, and learn more about people. My ambitions were always to see as much as I could while I was young enough to enjoy it.
And I did exactly that. Now I want to settle in one place and build a life where I am. I’m lucky — I found a job I like in an interesting place — so maybe it’s easier for me. I don’t want to leave. For the first time in my adult life I have decided to keep the same job indefinitely. To stay in this city, this country, and continue working for the same company.
Of course, this goes against the advice of all the Bohemian and Beatnik writers and countless other artists who proselytize life in motion. There comes a time when you’re either traveling to gain experience or you’re running away when things get hard. I want to stay and fight. I want to fight my restlessness. I want to fight the impulse to drain my bank account as soon as it gets full enough. I want to build something here.
The idea of this isn’t romantic, I know that. It’s not riding the rails or living down and out or scraping by for your art. There’s no great adventure in signing on for another year. But my heroes have changed. Now I’m shooting for Carver and Bellow, maybe even Faulkner or McCarthy. As much as I loved Kerouac and Bukowski as a young man, I’m moving on. I’ve written those books. It’s time to aim at different targets.
One thing I’ve realized is that every time you move somewhere new you start over in a way that sets you back. You waste time on unfamiliar places you don’t know yet you don’t like. You waste time working out your new routine. Over the years, I’ve realized I do my best prose work when I’m stable. When my environment ceases to distract me I’m able to write from a place of pure imagination.
As a writer it is important to know the names of things in the world. The longer you live in a place the more you know about it, and the deeper your insights run. If you move far away from home to a place extremely foreign from you, as I have, it might take years before you can confidently write about the landscape, and longer yet until you can write about the people. You’ll never know the place if you’re always new to it.
I can’t say this is my proper place, where I should be for the rest of my life. I have no intention of calling that shot. I’ll fight to make it work for as long as I can and if that doesn’t work I’ll make a change. But at least this time I’m not looking for another place to save me. Places never do.