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.

Published by Shawn

He's just this guy, you know?

One reply on “The Austin Experiment”

  1. How many times you echo my thoughts and feelings in one post. Uncanny, really. Except I was never brave (or pseudo brave) enough to do anything like move to another town, let alone a huge one. You def get points for that one, and other things, I’m sure.

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