Category Archives: Adulthood

The Neighborhood and The Department

A lot of academics in my discipline speak of their respective departments as a community. The one we have in Communication Studies at the University of Texas is considered pretty strong.

But I don’t think of our department as a community.

For me it feels more like a neighborhood.

I grew up in a pretty tight-knit neighborhood that had a lot of families that partied pretty hard together. We had two kinds of parties: 4th of July, and whenever we felt like it. The first involved shutting down our street, being loud and obnoxious, and having the cops show up–to the free BBQ we gave them. The second kind usually started with the phrase “well, Ray and Tina are out in their driveway with the stereo up. What can we bring over?” Plan or no plan, both ended up with the adults in the neighborhood going long into the night.

I feel like I have somehow stumbled upon that same thing here in my graduate department.

This past weekend a bunch of my fellow graduate students, and some professors, celebrated a birthday in the form of a house party, complete with DJ and dance floor. The party was deemed “sold out” by the host, as both the smoke machine and guests repeatedly came billowing out onto the back porch, where the designated champagne sabering area was. It wasn’t anyone’s first time being at a house party where the cops made an appearance. But I’d be willing to bet it was that officer’s first time responding to a noise complaint at a party full of people with Masters’ Degrees.

Then the Superbowl, a day where no plans were needed, we all just “knew” to show up at our own designated “driveway.” Combining our “refined” tastes as graduate students (kegs and champagne) the night involved a lot of yelling, obnoxiously critiquing the power dynamics at play in various Superbowl ads, and a Rockband marathon going long into the (school)night. An actual neighbor, upon seeing the keg the birthday boy and I were unloading from my trunk, asked if we had any for her. Of course she was invited, this is how it works.

Most of the original families from the street I grew up on no longer live there. Some do, but for the most part they’ve moved on to different places. Yet from time to time they still meet up and throw the same parties. The Neighborhood is more a dynamic than a place. I feel the same thing about The Department.

For my family back home who want to know what graduate school has largely been like here in Austin, you already know.

For my new friends here, a bit of a glimpse into how we all ended up in this place.

Except here we are ALSO getting our PhDs.


“Home” for the Holidays

Just do it right, make it perfect and real.

I’ve been getting a lot of giftcards as Christmas presents. Not that I mind, beats the awkwardness of telling family members they really have no idea anymore. iTunes has become a recent favorite as I am more prone to buying full albums this way. Channelling my inner ( or outer) Austin hipster/music snob I bought the latest LCD Soundsystem album This is Happening. That’s when I came across this video.

In case you can’t tell, that robot is me. Holiday Traditions are weird and hard to come by in my family. Usually they involve a lot of me driving around LA to visit the few good friends who still live there.

In the past few years I’ve grown accustomed to having a Christmas experience that is almost completely different from the previous years, save for the driving. I’ve come to realize that perhaps my best Christmas tradition is the interesting and random places I find myself.

Because it’s everything, though everything was never the deal.

One constant the last few years is my friend Max’s Christmas night party in West Hollywood. He has been throwing it the last few years precisely for this kind of thing. Feeling displaced and visiting old friends from junior college at a party designed for the diaspora of friend families that is major cities is a nice tradition to have. And I hope to continue it.

This is the trick, forget a terrible year.

I remember having this conversation two years ago at a similar Christmas gathering in Morristown Tennessee. After much young people party partaking (use your imagination) I remarked that I always seemed to find myself in these situations. At the time I was sincere in saying that I kind of liked how it worked out that way, that Christmas need not be this “traditional” thing. As my Twitter feed indicated over the last few days, the “traditional” thing is bullshit anyway. People who not only have, but thoroughly enjoy, annoyance free family time at Christmas I generally avoid. Or have something even more wrong with them. Either way.

Forget your past, this is your last chance now
And we can break the rules like nothing will last

For me Christmas time is usually an occasion for self-reflection not only of the year, but of life choices I’ve made. Usually those life choices are placed in stark contrast with the families I have come “home” to visit. So while I may not be able to talk to them about anything that I “do” at all with any sense of them getting it, I am reminded of exactly why I like doing what I do and how I have probably made a lot more right choices than not since leaving home.

Because night has such a local ring, and love and rock are bigger things
And you know it

As I returned home to Austin, and to prepare for an epic New Year’s Eve party at my house a new family member had given me the unexpected gift of LCD Soundsystem and this song. And while corks were sabered off of numerous champagne bottles that night with some of the greatest people I’ve ever met, I thought of a band that I was introduced to, here, at Austin City Limits.

And remembered that
A few make sure that you get home, and you stay home.

Happy New Year everyone. I think 2011 is going to be good to a lot of us.

Memories of the Third New York

I was in New York this past weekend delivering a paper at conference at Fordham University in midtown Manhattan. Over the last five years I’d been to the city more times than I can count but never for work. I was there to see friends too, but the fact that I had justified a trip along these lines for the first time was pause for reflection. Taking the train from the airport to a friend’s Harlem apartment, and then from there to the university, without getting lost once, served as a stark reminder to a passed, all encompassing ambition. To be one of them. Because to me I already was. Once.

E. B. White once claimed there are three New York’s. The first is filled with people who were born and raised there. They define a significant portion of the allure of the city, but are ultimately limited in fully understanding the scope of their hometown origin mentality.

The second type are the throngs of people commuting daily into the city to work. Each morning millions of hardworking men and women rush into the city on trains and through bridges and tunnels, the population swelling beyond what already seemed like capacity. They too are what make New York what it is, but again only partially. For their purpose in the city is one primarily of economics. It provides ample opportunity to make a living to take back home to their families.

Then there is the third type of New York, the one that draws people from all over the country and world, and for no other reason than to simply be there. They fall in love with the city, and if they are lucky, with some of it’s inhabitants, with the hopes of making it their new home. For them, just making it to New York is making it enough.

I read these words well after my time as a pseudo New Yorker had come to an end. I had spent three years of my life with someone who lived in the city and decided to remain. In the aftermath of the realization that despite all the time and effort spent preparing to become one the third type of New Yorkers, I would not be making it after all, I have come to miss the city, and those who live there, terribly.

One thing has remained constant. Everytime I have returned “home” from New York it was always accompanied by a feeling of loneliness, usually due to the people I was leaving behind. Suffice it to say I am struck by a similar feeling this time. Only now it feels like something more. It is probably time to leave that part of me there. He doesn’t really exist in the same way anymore. I’m just hoping that part of him finally wants to come home with me.

Before I left I had brunch with the close friend who introduced me to New York over five years ago. She’s right, it does feel like my adopted city. There have been many highs and lows since then, and not much in between. And as we stood together in Union Square Park, sharing what would seem like a mutual final goodbye in a place that has determined so much of who I am and who we are, I couldn’t help but just stand there in silence a bit longer. In my favorite part of one of my favorite places.

Dazed and Confused: Housesitting with a College Professor’s Wife

Everyone I know is moving this summer, myself included. I’m finally settled in at my new place, which is great, but it has killed my productivity the past week, which is not so great.

I’ve been housesitting in Hyde Park all summer for a professor in my department, where all the houses look like this. Living rent free in one of the best neighborhoods in Austin has definitely been a lifesaver and somewhat of a Summer routine for myself. For the most part it’s been good, if a little solitary at times. Like having your own ranch. People have been asking me what it was like living by myself on nearly an acre of land in Hyde Park. I’ve decided to give you all my Top 5 “Highlights” of my summer Housesitting with the College Professor’s Wife (more on that soon).

1. Battling Raccoons

The most important part of housesitting usually involves making sure any pets stay alive. This was no different. The two cats placed in my care, Bella and Jasper, were pretty easy going if a little needy at times. Like a typical male cat Jasper loved hanging out with me, while Bella had the look of “who the hell are you” etched into her face for nearly two months.

What was different was the third “houseguest” to come through the cat door at night. On the list of things I didn’t think I’d ever cross off a list, coming face to face with a raccoon in a kitchen, on multiple occasions, is definitely near the top. It was like camping in the backwoods, only it was inside a house, in a major U.S. city.

2. Healing Sessions

Usually, when you housesit for people they tend to not be there. Such is not the case in Hyde Park Hollow, where I essentially had a roommate on the other end of the house for the first two weeks. Vickie is really sweet, really nice, and really interesting. Also she is Dr. Browning’s wife. Here is an email I got from my roommate regarding her spiritual prowess.

Hi Joe,

I will be doing an energy healing at the house today from 4:40 – 6:40PM, and Friday from 4-6PM. I have decided not to use the regular healing room, which is on my side of the house – the sun porch room, because it is too hot, and the air conditioning doesn’t reach it.

I will be using the living room. I will leave the back door unlocked, so you could enter through the kitchen. There might be the sounds of drumming and gongs and rattles during the session. Thank you so much in advance for being flexible!!!!

I think this can stand alone.

3. Becoming one with ALL of Austin’s Bugs

Welcome to the Jungle

The benefit of having such a rainy summer was that watering the thick forrest the house was essentially carved out of was a breeze. The drawback is that such an eco-friendly set up was especially beneficial to the eco-friendly bugs that were everywhere. After a few weeks I didn’t get out of bed for anything less than 3 cockroaches on the counter. And I’ve got so many mosquito bites it looks like my ankles have track marks. So much for the starving raccoon.

4. Playing landlord

Needless to say the Professor and his wife are very smart financially, owning and renting out several properties all over Austin. But someone’s gotta deposit those rent checks on the first of the month and that person was me. It was quite the experience to take a half-dozen checks from strangers each month and deposit them into another stranger’s checking account. No Questions Asked. And they say we are in a financial crisis!

5. Not having a single party (in case anyone of note is reading this).

Let me just say again, I did not have any parties at the house. I also did not tell anyone I was going to have a party, nor did I brag about how epic a party would have been. There was NO secret Evite or Facebook event that went out and that tree falling through the roof of the side room was definitely not caused by anything no one at the house was not doing during this party I did not have. Not really.

Note to everyone: Always take the opportunity to house sit for a professor. Their houses are usually baller, and this was no exception. They really hooked me up this summer.

Looking Up at the Night Sky(line): Austin, One Year Later

I’m a huge fan of skylines. Every place I have lived has an epic one. Places like LA, NY, and Phoenix.

The skyline is one of the first greetings one is given to a new town, and one of the first indications that someone has returned home. Austin is no different. A year ago today, pulling a trailer through Arizona, New Mexico and all of West Texas I arrived in a place that I never thought I’d be. It wasn’t my initial plan to move to Austin. I had already turned it down once before for a “sure thing.” But as I have become well aware, “sure things” are never such and sometimes the best option available is to just pack up. And go.

And so on a ridiculously hot and muggy night in late June, my friend Scott and I finally completed the last leg of our journey. As we drove up I-35 after a quick stop in San Antonio we were greeted to this:

My new home.

A year later some things have changed, others haven’t. I just bought my first house. I’ve finally done some good things in stand up comedy. My new academic program has been wonderful. I’ve become a better person in a lot of ways. And I still continue to make sense of how the heck I ended up here at all. But Austin, and its inhabitants have been amazingly supportive. I only wish I can do my new adopted town justice and one day return the favor. I haven’t fallen in love with the city as quickly and easily as everyone said I would. In many ways I’m still not ready. The skyline of New York City still gives me chills and LA will always be my first home. But the feeling I got on that night in June, rounding a curve on the I-35 in the Capital of Texas let me know that everything would be alright. No one cares how you got here. They’re just glad you came.

And I’m getting closer.

On Being Able to Buy Beer But Not Figure Out One’s Life

I am pretty sure I am in a quarterlife crisis. And I am even surer that the term even sounds ridiculous. A quarter life crisis? Seriously? What could one possibly be in a crisis about? Ugh, my internship ran out and my job is only entry level.

And how does one get out of a quarterlife crisis? Dating women half your age? I’m 26. That’s gonna make for, at the very least, an awkward conversation behind my back.

Is Joe a pedophile?

No, he just finished graduate school and his student loans are due.

Admittedly, when not crying myself to sleep with my life choice I have been seeking out every available piece of print on this quarterlife crisis. The blogosphere is all up in the quarterlife’s business but I’ll let you search that on your own. Except for this one which gives a pretty good run down of the general symptoms many in this situation feel (cut to the list and read the rest only if you’ve got boatloads of time). Here is another good one.

This New York Times piece sums it up pretty well. People are taking longer to get going on “real life”. Some of the biggest points made

People between 20 and 34 are taking longer to finish their educations, establish themselves in careers, marry, have children and become financially independent, said Frank F. Furstenberg, who leads the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood, a team of scholars who have been studying this transformation.

Admittedly there are a few issues with some of these milestones. A close friend of mine in the American Studies department here at the University of Texas took issue with equating adulthood with decisions of marriage and childbearing. That’s fair. The article does spend considerable time focusing on the delayed choices made by women to marry and have children, with nary a mention of men who do the same. That is definitely a problem. And with that I still think the point is well taken that while we are given more educational and career opportunities than ever before those choices have consequences that our generation is struggling to deal with:

The stretched-out walk to independence is rooted in social and economic shifts that started in the 1970s, including a change from a manufacturing to a service-based economy that sent many more people to college, and the women’s movement, which opened up educational and professional opportunities.

Economic freedom doesn’t necessarily mean independence. I know that’s right. I’ve got two college degrees. That is two more than my parents, combined. As I work on my third I realize I may be receiving more support from my parents than ever. And while I am extremely fortunate to have that (let’s be real this is entire post is borderline elitist. Ok extremely elitist) it doesn’t make the the psychological implications any less real. Not everyone takes this route in our age group, which can make for some interesting comparisons. My brother, who is 3 years younger than me at 23, has been working in real estate since he was 19 and is far more financially established than I am. Not bad for someone who didn’t really do the college thing but it seems as if that is becoming the exception rather than the norm, at least among most people I know. Plus now we have another competition to fight over at Thanksgiving.

“I have a house!”

“Well I’m gonna be a Dr… of Philosophy”

He wins.

Where neither of us is winning right now is in the relationship department, perhaps one of the most significant features of this new adulthood. Frustrations of my friend aside the “M” word seems to create one of the largest anxieties. Generally by the time one hits their mid to late twenties they will probably have had at least one significant long term relationship under their belt. Among my friends, almost every person who is currently single was linked to a significant other who is now “the first person they were going to marry.” The Times article alludes to this as well,

Laura Tisdel, 28, who grew up in Detroit, said, “I figured I’d either get married in college or right after and basically be a smart mother.”

Instead Ms. Tisdel ended up getting a job offer in publishing in New York City. She said she came close to marrying when she was 23, but then realized, “I wasn’t only not ready to get married to this guy, but I wasn’t ready to get married at all.”

As someone who has gone through the former and not quite yet the latter I think these experiences are major parts of the “new adulthood,” even if they are painful. The average age of people getting married has gone up significantly, an obvious function of this newfound freedom. It’s now something like 27 for dudes and 26 for ladies on average. While that is still pretty young it also redefines these relationships from the very start.  This isn’t a bad thing really, but it is something that brings with it significant ambiguity and uncertainty. In the struggle to gain more freedom from traditional norms we are now working through to figure out exactly what those freedoms entail and at what cost.

I guess what I am trying to say is: Ladies I’m single, still in college, and on my parents’ health insurance. Just like everyone else my age.