Precarious Life

Life is supposed to be some kind of gamble, isn’t it? You take some risks and, in return, you get rewarded with something, whether it’s the job recognition you wanted, the publishing deal you’ve longed for, or some manner of relative security. But what happens when the risks you take are totalizing, meaning that you put every bit of security on the line, when you eschew comfort by maxing out your financial resources in search of the places and things you’re passionate about? What happens when you take this kind of risk and everything starts falling apart?

Last July, I decided, rather unexpectedly, to move back to New York City after a summer of travel throughout the United States, Canada and Brazil. I decided to move back because San Francisco was too small and too expensive, and despite the very difficult relationship I have to New York, there didn’t seem to be anywhere else in the United States I could be. So it was, at the time, a sort of best of the worst-case options. I ended up finding a cheap apartment with good roommates in one of the most central Brooklyn neighborhoods. I didn’t yet have the employment I was looking for, but I thought that some good fortune was on my side, so I stuck it out.

I relied on credit cards, in part to help me move stuff from San Francisco and in part in order to pay for Metrocards, food, and other daily expenses. It would take nearly three months to find my Social Media Fellowship role at Alternet. I didn’t relish the fact I was an independent contractor, but I was doing remote creative work with a media company I thought shared my values, and for the first time I had relative stability in my life. But stability, by New York City standards, did not mean saving money. I wasn’t about to squander a long period of struggling to get by to sit inside after working 7-8 hour days, with occasional weekend hours. I decided to spend my money on the one thing I realized I really love—travel.

Since the start of 2014, I’ve gotten a chance to visit Norway, Mexico, Sweden, Belize, Germany, Spain, the UK and tomorrow Iceland. I’ve written so much and gotten a chance to experience things I could not have experienced in the United States. But just two weeks ago I was unexpectedly fired from Alternet, without any cause. The same thing has happened to me repeatedly, and so all of this positive energy and passionate study has devolved into intense depression and anxiety, pretty much on a daily basis. I’m so grateful for all that has happened this year but I return to New York City next week with the possibility that I’ll have to move out by the end of September. 

I understand I take unconventional leaps of faith. I understand my resume isn’t polished with Ivy League education or internships at reputable firms. But it seems, after all of this, my skills and passions are so undervalued that I wonder what purpose there really is to keep trying in New York City. I don’t have the credit cards this time (they’re maxed out). My student loans have finally gone into repayment (70K though thankfully a large portion are on income based repayment). I’m paying back taxes from years of working as an independent contractor. And after recent health scares, I’m terrified I’ll get ill again and rack up thousands in medical bills.

If this is the life you’re supposed to lead in New York City, is it really worth it? Is protracted crisis and insecurity the pulse that contemporary life has taken? I don’t want to work in some temp position or retail job without any benefits to wait for the “next opportunity” to come because it seems like the next opportunity always ends in disaster. 

Which leaves me with the question: what can I do? Every day I’ve been applying to at least 2-3 full-time jobs. No bites yet and this brings me back to my job search last summer/early fall in New York City: lots of applications, very few responses, and a bunch of interviews where I was told how talented I was but that I wouldn’t be hired because…(there was never a reason given). So it’s not for lack of trying that I’m stuck in one place, but I don’t have a lot of time left to make an opportunity materialize. I don’t have three months like I did before. The only option, the worst-case alternative, would be to move back to Wisconsin, but I left because that environment was stifling and depressing. So it doesn’t seem viable. But what is viable then?

If you’ve got any suggestions or ideas, I’m all ears.