The Austin Experiment

Ten years ago this week, with $600 in my pocket, no sleep in 24 hours, a carload of stuff, and a headful of hope, I waved goodbye to my hometown and moved to Austin. The urge was long in the making, but the plan came suddenly. I was to move to Austin to chase the dotcom dream and push my life into new directions. I’ve recounted this story time and again, but now a decade has passed. It is at this ten year point that I officially declare myself an honorary townie, an Austinite. Sure, unlike the students who breeze through this town, I’m here to stay, so technically I’ve been a townie since I moved. But I need to say it, make it official. For good or ill, I am an Austinite.

So. A decade, all in one place. That breaks all of my prior records. Most of my life has been spent in Texarkana, yes, but it’s all split up between 2 years after birth, 8 years growing up, a year after college, 2 years after Greensboro, etc. It definitely beats my 5.5 years in Arkadelphia and 5 years in Lubbock. So yeah.

But has it been a good ten years? Has the whole Austin experience been all I’d hoped? It is with equal parts shame and reality that I have no choice but to say “No, no it hasn’t.”

After moving here, those first six months were heavily influenced by Serendipity. She had her hand in everything I did, every new relationship I started, every accidental decision I made. Those were heady times, and everything was new and sudden. Horizons stretched out beyond my vision. Every wrong turn showed me something new. Every wander around town gave me a new vista to take in the wonder and spectacle of this ever-growing land of a million souls. So much possibility was at the end of my hands.

And then Serendipity left me stranded like an unprepared fool. The dotcom boom went to bust and pulled the rug out from under us all; party over. The thrill turned into survival, but there was an immediacy in it; it was either sink or swim. I had to wonder where my next meal was coming from. For an unsteady while, it really was ramen daily. It was donated coffee. It was two smokes a day. It was burning through meager savings. It was sweating the rent. It was five dollars in gas. It was day labor. It was 7-Eleven. It was data entry. It was pizza delivery. It was shitty joe-jobs where I could find them.

But as beat dead as I felt, I was still alive. When finally the stable work appeared again, when finally I nursed my economic wounds and regained stability, even though I felt dead inside, I held onto the stability like my life depended on it. I learned that I demand stability; I can’t hustle and work it job to job, game to game. I’m not that kind of person; that’s not my personality. It’s not in my skillset to move from gamble to gamble and roll with the punches. I’m a factory floor kind of guy.

So in that respect, in seeking stability, I grew up quite a bit. It’s what adults do over time, I guess: turn in their chaos for a piece of stasis. There’s no risk in the weekly fourty, and it provides me with the opportunity to do stuff that I wouldn’t have done if I, for instance, were working three part-times and relying on selling art to make rent and a car payment. Stuff like, I dunno, buy a house, plan a vacation, raise kids, support a wife, save for retirement. Stuff the stable people do.

But I’m not doing any of that stuff. I feel like I should be, but I’m not. My state in life allows me, but I’m still longing for the random, the accidental, the non-static. Or at least I’m waiting for it. I’ve grown up enough to afford my toys, but I still haven’t matured into something dependable. I have no dependents, nor do I want them. At 38, I think it’s rather late in my life to push for kids; that clock unwound years ago. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have a partner, a Significant Other, right?

Funny, that, because when I first moved here, my gregarity was in overdrive. I met people, exchanged contacts, introduced myself even if the encounter never went beyond the first conversation. But when everything fell down around me, I closed up and became the man I used to be. Solitary, a loner, alone. And moreso now than ever, I’m still alone. Sometimes blissfully, but usually painfully. So in that respect, this has been a decade of decline. I’m still surrounded by over a million souls, and all I have to do is reach out again. It should be that easy, right?

There has to be a way to balance the stability I demand with the immediacy I miss. I’m dreaming while snoozing at the controls, and it’s as if I need a pinch to wake me up to take a breath. I really, really don’t want to jinx myself and end up living on the dole and the lam, but I need something to shake me up again. I look back and all I see is the sad dream of squandered potential.

So this is my life, the big experiment that is moving to Austin. It’s funny that the grand design, among my group of friends back home, was that we would all pick a date and use that as the “Great Mass Exodus to Austin.” One by one, though, they dropped out as life threw them curveballs, and I alone made the run to first base. Fitting that this play would echo my time here, that the walk around the diamond would be mine to walk on my own. You’d think that I’d be at the home base by now, but if the Pitcher isn’t paying attention, if the shortstop doesn’t care, if the outfield isn’t watching, why should I even bother stealing bases?

Serendipity has left the ballpark.

Austin Less Than Three

Been too long to try and hide it
I no longer want to fight it
Why do I feel so slighted?
My love for Austin’s unrequited.

She lead me on in hopeful lust
Move my heart to future trust
Laughing now, boom went to bust
Hope broken crumbled to dust

Forgotten that she knew me
Forgotten that I bleed
Foregone her love divided
For all my inner need

Got lost along the greenbelt
Lost hope for my own place
Lost chance for lifting myself
To stick it in her face

Gave me
Less than three.

Ten the count of withered years
Hope is turned to angry tears
No clarity in private fears
Or charity in public jeers

Why do I feel so exposed?
Million eyes to me are closed
Respect isn’t how I am posed
Friendless now I am disposed

Can’t sit alone and feel numb
Can’t wallow and frustrate
Can’t worry if I sound dumb
Can’t stifle the create

Won’t live this life alone now
Won’t crush under this weight
Won’t stop until I know how
To carry my own fate

More than that.

Still Just a Rat in a Cage

Been a few weeks; figure I should say something. Neglecting my journal in lieu of posting quick status updates on Facebook. I hate that site, because I keep going back to it, clicking “Refresh”, hoping something good pops up. Psychologists have learned all about the strength of randomized rewards, and how it can best be used to illicit specific behaviors.

Essentially, you put a rat in a Skinner box — a training environment with a paddle, food dispenser (for rewards), and electrified floor (for punishment) — and set the food system to eject a pellet after a certain number of paddle presses. If you configure the system to eject a pellet every time the rat pushes the paddle, it’ll learn to push the paddle once, get its food, and move along. If you configure it to eject after a high number of pushes, the rat will lose interest because there’s probably easier food sources elsewhere. But, if you make it eject randomly, sometimes the rat will get the food quickly, sometimes it will have to work for it, and for that reason it keeps going at it, hoping that at some point soon it will get its food.

And so it is with Facebook. And so it is with email. And so it is with slot machines, lottery, chat rooms, coffeeshops, bars, blogs, anything where chance is a component of a quick reward. The chance that someone in my many groups will say something funny, drop an important piece of info, post a hilarious picture, or provide commentary on something I posted, that keeps me going back. Keeps me hitting “Refresh” to the detriment of the rest of my life. I don’t want to say I’m sick, but there it is; I get addicted more easily than I can resist. And that pisses me off.