Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Why I'm leaving LA

I'm writing this ahead of my farewell to LA party because I don't want to spend the whole evening explaining my reasons for moving.

There isn't any one reason that is either pushing me from LA or pulling me towards Chicago. It's more like a collection of reasons that all seem to point in that direction.

If this gets long and boring, stop reading or take it in chunks if you have to; just don't ask me for the summary at the party!

In no particular order:

My mom is near Chicago and she does not want to move to LA; her ties to our family there are just too strong to pull her away. One of our cousins now has two adorable babies and they live 1.3 miles from my mom's house. My mom cooks dinner for them every Wednesday night, babysits on the weekends, and is generally involved in their lives. I want to be a part of that.

Life in sunny SoCal is seductive; it's easy to settle into the flow of things and watch the months fly by. When every day is bright and sunny it's hard to feel a sense of urgency. The lack of real seasons makes it easy to forget about the concept of change; one day is the same as the next... until suddenly years have gone by.

And when every day is the same as the next, the future is an ever-moving target that is always held off at arm's length. People here don't like to think about where their personal lives will be five years from now. Sure, they've got their careers mapped out, "In five years I'll have an agent and my SAG card..." but they brush you off if you talk about marriage, kids, settling down. All that "stuff" is off in the distance. Some day, not today. Feeling like there's always time to put things off until later is another trap of stagnation.

I'm generally content (though the "Relationship" section below is lengthy for a reason), but even still this cannot be my life five years from now. I'm having fun and enjoying myself but I need more. The trajectory of my life right now is a straight horizontal line. I'm too content to really mix things up but I'm not fulfilled enough to accept things as they are for the rest of my life.

Yes, I can make changes and reinvigorate my SoCal life. But right now I'm much more inclined to remove the sunny stagnation temptation.

It's not all roses in Chicago though; I am worried that my life will contract and become stalled out once I move there. I'm not expecting immediate bliss, just immediate change.

I've been in LA for five and a half years and I've got just about nothing to show for it as far as my love life is concerned. I'm not talking about right now, I'm talking about that entire ~66 month span. For a lot of that time I was a dumbass and probably somewhat undateable, but even the biggest jackass should be able to stumble across something in five and a half years. I blame myself more than I blame LA, but it's close - something like a 55/45 split.

It's hard to meet people anywhere but it's really hard here. People come from all over the place but they rarely actually grow up here. That means they don't have the deep social networks that you'd have back in your home town. You meet someone here, they've got five close friends they can introduce you to. Meet someone back home, they've got fifty friends, extended family, people they went to high school with, etc etc. At some level it's just a numbers game and the numbers don't work to your advantage here.

The attitude is largely different as well. People come to LA for a reason: career, stardom, etc. That's their first priority. Those perpetually distant future life prospects--getting married, having kids, settling down--are all things that may happen some day (if at all), but only after the higher priority career/etc goals are achieved. I know a single 38-year-old aspiring writer who talks vaguely about "when she's married and has kids..." but hasn't realized that distant horizon is already behind her.

People in Chicago are generally from there and plan to stay there. Settling down isn't a distant prospect that will happen after their career is on track, it's a real possibility in the foreseeable future. That difference in priorities makes a huge difference in the approach people take to dating. Sure, sometimes dating should be casual and fun, but it should also lend itself to the possibility of more. And I just feel like that's too often not the case in LA.

There's also more skepticism here, probably as a result of everything above (e.g. you know fewer people so you have to be more careful about whom you trust). I'm at a point where I have no interest in proving that I'm a nice guy and that I'm someone you can trust. I am a nice guy and you can trust me. But LA often takes it even further than that. The attitude here is often, "why do I care to meet you? Why are you important?" Honestly, I'm too cool to waste my time on people who can't see or don't understand what I've got to offer. Call it sour grapes if you want, but you won't convince me of it.

On the flipside, when I meet people in Chicago I generally do get the benefit of the doubt. People are more welcoming, more willing to let you into their lives. There are various reasons for this (many of which are unfair to LA, but such is life), but I've witnessed the difference enough times to know it's there.

Are these broad generalizations? Yes. Is everyone LA exactly as I've described? Of course not.

Look, it's not that I absolutely cannot find anyone here nor is it that I definitely will find someone there. I just feel like the odds are a lot better.

A few trips home to my old high school and my old gymnastics team convinced me that I wanted a more meaningful career. Programming pays the bills but doesn't accomplish much of anything else. I'm not making the world any worse, but I'm certainly not making it any better. I've been blessed with an incredible education and have access to resources and advantages that most people will never have. And I feel like I'm selfishly hoarding it to myself.

It takes a community to raise a child, but is it enough for that child to grow up, move to Manhattan, and make six figures as an investment banker? Is that why all those people put in all that time, dedication, and effort? Shouldn't that effort yield more bountiful fruit for society?

I want to become a high school English teacher. I want that investment my community made in me to finally pay off. And if I'm really lucky, I'll land a spot at my old high school where I have numerous former teachers and counselors whom I now count as friends and hopefully colleagues. They are all my biggest fans, encouraging me and guiding me through this decision process and career change.

I want to coach for my old high school gymnastics team. I'm brilliant at it. I'm serious. I've done three extended trips back to Chicago in the last year and a half just to spend time with the team as an assistant coach. I'm really fucking good at a lot of things (chuckle all you want, you know it's true), but coaching high school gymnastics might be the thing I'm best at. And I loved loved loved every minute of it. And it doesn't get any better than coaching with my old coach at my side, working with him as a peer, as an equal. His other assistant coaches are all guys that used to be on the team with me. Eleven years later and somehow the group that I was around is still making their presence felt. That gym is a second home to me. Those guys are a second family.

Can I teach in LA? Yes. Could it possibly compare to teaching at my old high school? Not a chance.

Can I coach gymnastics in LA? Yes, but not at the high school level. Could it ever compare to rejoining my old team, my former coach, my former teammates? Never.

Before I can teach I have to get certified. I could get certified in about 1-2 semesters, but I've opted for a two-year Master's of Education program at University of Illinois at Chicago. The M.Ed. bumps the teacher payscale up to a just-acceptable level and I'll get certified along the way. The first year is part-time, meaning I can keep my day job and continue programming from home.

Can I get an M.Ed. and get certified in LA? Yes, but UCLA and LMU's programs are two full-time years and the cost of living while in school in LA (while not working) is just too high.

Real Estate
Simple fact: renting an apartment is bleeding money. Your return on investment is exactly 0%. Paying into a mortgage on a house or condo is essentially a savings account that also, conveniently, provides you with a place to live. Even if you consider all the taxes, interest, closing costs, etc., your return on investment of any property you actually own will generally be much better than 0%. It would take a natural disaster and no insurance to do worse than the ROI you get from renting.

Simple fact: no one can afford to buy property in SoCal. I don't have the downpayment for a $500,000 mortgage for a small one-bedroom condo in a so-so location. And even if I did, I couldn't afford the monthly mortgage payments. I can't even afford a $350,000 place in Glendale or Pasadena, and I wouldn't relish the thought of living there anyway.

Simple fact: if you don't buy real estate, you will never grow your finances. Over the course of a lifetime you simply cannot accrue wealth while bleeding $800-$1000 every month. If you rented a place for forty years at $1000/month (and you know rent will be higher forty years from now), you will have lost $480,000. Do you now or will you ever make enough money to cover a $480,000 loss?

Final Thoughts
If you're still reading this, you're either a speed reader, really bored, or a genuinely good friend.

I've learned how to survive and even occasionally thrive in LA but that doesn't mean it's a good fit for me. I've always wanted a family, to settle down in the suburbs and that's just not very compatible with LA.

I love the good things I have in LA - friends, my beach community, my SoCal-inspired physical fitness, the weather - I love them. But as much as I love the things I've got, I can't live without the things I'm missing.

I'm nervous because I'm not guaranteed to find any of that in Chicago. I know it's a gamble but I've got to give it a try.


Blogger filch said...

bravo! miss you when you go. good chap.

Wed Nov 29, 04:54:00 PM CST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Keith - Wow - You've got some great reasons and intentions and put some serious thought into this. Thank you for sharing it all. I'm sad that we will miss your creativity and enthusiasm at the beach but so glad to see you doing what's clearly right for you! Many Blessings for your personal, love and career lives wherever you roam. Rebecca

Wed Nov 29, 05:14:00 PM CST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keith - This is all wonderful news! Congratulations on making this decision - for all of the right reasons! Good luck, Jaynie

Wed Nov 29, 06:12:00 PM CST  
Anonymous Otis said...

If I had a dollar for every time I heard all that... :)

Go Keith go!

Wed Nov 29, 06:20:00 PM CST  
Anonymous Brad said...

Read all the way through and I have very little free time right now, as I have three pepers due in the next week and a half, so that makes me a good friend. I am hpyy for you Keith and I will definately visit when in Chicago. I can't say my decision would have been any different, because I am from Santa Monica. All we really need are rings in Chicago, Coach.

Wed Nov 29, 07:21:00 PM CST  
Blogger Eddie said...

So why are you leaving Keith, He he, I'm kidding, you gave several compelling reason, but I still thing you shouldn't go, Yeas I know we're all elfish here, no matter what you reasons are you should still stay.


Wed Nov 29, 07:34:00 PM CST  
Anonymous Paul Scott said...

Hey Keith, I did the same thing - twice. I moved from San Antonio to Eugen in 75 and never looked back. I then moved from Eugene to LA in 98 and never looked back. Life is short, go with your dreams, you'll do fine. Sounds to me like you have thought this through pretty thoroughly.

I've got two parties that night, but I think I can do both. Since yours is likely to last much longer, and be more "fun", I'll come there last.

See you Sunday.

Thu Nov 30, 05:00:00 PM CST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good luck Keith! It sounds like a good decision for the reasons you discussed. I think it will work out really well for you :-)-vm

Tue Jan 02, 06:10:00 PM CST  
Blogger Matt said...

we'll be happy to have you back.

Wed Jan 03, 04:42:00 PM CST  

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