“Why do you want to work so hard?” my dad asked. He was against it from the start. So was my mother.
After getting laid off from a reporting job, I moved back home to think about what I wanted to do with myself. Teach English abroad, go back to school, consider nonprofits, move somewhere, anywhere. The list went on and on, and I was so sure I’d left journalism for good.
I saved my unemployment checks and the money I earned from a summerlong stint as a document reviewer at a law firm. The pay there was decent, the job easy but incredibly tedious. Day in and day out I sat in front of a computer scanning thousands of documents, barely getting up except for a 30-minute lunch break. I knew I didn’t want to spend 40 hours of my week on something I wasn’t passionate about. I still wanted to be a writer.
So there I was, standing in the kitchen probably with a glass of water or whatever I innocently went there for, and there was my dad or mom, taking turns it seemed, asking the same questions.
“Why do you want to work so hard?”
“Why don’t you just stay here and live here for free?”
And the just as irritating non-question: “I think you’re making a mistake.”
I’d always planned to move to New York; it was just a matter of when. When it became clear I wouldn’t be able to afford to go to college in the city, I decided to postpone the move until graduation. Then, when it became clear I’d probably position myself better with meaningful work experience at a small newspaper, I postponed it until after my first post-college job. Five years, I told myself. In five years, I’ll move on from here and see what happens.
But after about two years, my job was gone. I hadn’t counted on the economy collapsing or for the newspaper industry to be in shambles so quickly. Not interested in churning out stories in another small city in another small newspaper that probably would have its own round of layoffs, I knew I was done. This, despite sacrificing my grades and sleep to produce the college newspaper. This, despite spending my summers in remote towns in southwest Virginia to work 40 hours or more, often including weekends, at small newspapers. I cried about it once. Once, a few nights after I learned the news, I had a few glasses of wine with my roommate and cried, alone, before bed.
But I’m pretty ambitious, naively so, that after two weeks back home sleeping and doing nothing, I decided to make new goals. I began waking up earlier than I did when I had a job, running for fun, and planning my move, jobless, to New York. I didn’t tell many people about it, partly because I was afraid of failing. And in a world where friends broadcast the most inane things on Facebook, no one else really needed to know.
I knew regardless of what I ended up doing in New York, I was going to write about it. It all came down to what drew me to journalism in the first place. But at 24, I didn’t quite have the life experience that made for compelling writing. I needed to jolt my system, to venture outside my comfort zone, and to be around others who were looking for the same thing.
Eight months after I moved back home, I was gone.
Image: A summer night in downtown Richmond, 2009