Sep 8, 2010

(Don't) Look Homeward Angel.

Dear AAP,
I'm 20 years old a girl and I moved to New York about a year ago from Georgia. I moved away to get away from my dysfunctional family (drugs/bad issues). My problem is that I have now found myself stuck over here, cannot get a job, cannot afford my rent, had to stop going to school(money stuff) and have lost about everything I own. I really don't want to go back to them but I feel like I have no other choice. I'm just sort of lost. I've made great friends and I really love it here. What do you think I should I do? - Lost

Dear Lost -
The good, really good, news is that you managed to achieve escape velocity from your dysfunctional family situation at a much younger age than most people. Congrats on that. The bad news is that, when you escape so young, you don't have quite as many resources (money, education, experience or even credit) to fall back on when things get dicey, which can tend to suck... but there is still more good news, and it is this: You're young, and that counts for a lot: 1) You've still got a subtle spine that can handle some extended time sleeping on assorted couches and floors if necessary. 2) Assuming you can avoid getting hit by a bus, you probably don't require heavy-duty health insurance or the sort of perpetual prescription medications that you'll probably be needing in about 20 years.

What I'm saying is - you've got the luxury of time. Oceans of time. There is a certain nobility in struggle when you're so young. People will cut you tons of slack and admire your "moxie" for striking out on your own without much of a safety net... and believe me when I tell ya, it is a lot tougher to pull off that nobility-of-struggle angle when you're, oh, say, MY age. I know saying "you're lucky" is useless, but ask any, and I mean ANY rich 50+ year old if he/she would trade places with a temporarily down-at-the-heels-but-potential-filled 20 year old, and he/she would say YES in a heartbeat.

I'll get back to the first thing I said. If nothing else remember what you've escaped from. I'm sure any day eating ramen in a dicey neighborhood beats the heck out of whatever hellish bullshit you would be going through if you were still back home and under the thumb 'those people' right now, right? Damn right. Think of all the people who don't escape at all. ...and I understand that this is part of your fear too - the thought of maybe having to go back... I get shivers on your behalf just thinking about it. I don't think it'll come to that (moving back, I mean) I doubt your options will dwindle down to that absolute zero, but even if they do, you'll have the strength of knowing that you CAN escape... since you've already done it once, you could certainly do it again with a little time, patience (and savings) ... but as I said, I doubt it'll come to that.

I'm probably repeating what you've heard already but it is true: These are tough times for (nearly) everybody. What start as tough economic times turn into tough psychological times in an alarmingly rapid way. Plans and hopes for a bright future become dim to the point of darkness when every trip to the mailbox brings new bills you can't pay... including the rent for the mailbox itself. ...believe me when I say that a lot of people, myself included, have drastically adjusted their lifestyles (downward) more than once in the past 2-ish years, with more adjustments to come. It is tough to remain vaguely hopeful, never mind actually optimistic.

...but you've gotta.

I didn't mean for this to be such a rambling, vague and platitude-filled "rah-rah" answer... who knows? Maybe I'm trying to convince myself as much as I'm trying to convince you. So let's refocus.... ok...

You've already had to drop school and have lost (I'm guessing: sold) "nearly everything you own," so I'm going to spare you the "cut expenses and start clipping coupons" speech... I'm sure you're cutting your budget pretty much close to the bone already. You have to focus what little cash you have ONLY on things that'll increase your chances of getting work (granted, school would help, but it can be prohibitively expensive.) You need a cellphone, but you probably don't need to pay the extra $40 a month for 'full web' etc... like I said, I'm sure you already know this.

The key thing you're trying to hold onto isn't your premium cable package or your daily Starbucks fix, what you're really trying to hold on to is geography... namely: all those beautiful miles between you and your nightmarish former (home) existence. So let's just concentrate on that. We have already decided that moving home is the option of VERY last resort, so let's look at what we've got. You're living in New York... I don't know if that means NYC or some other place in that big, sprawling state, but either way, winter is coming and you're going to need shelter. The one resource it sounds like you DO have is perhaps the most important one: Friends.

Chances are these friends of yours, at least some of them, are in the same cash-strapped boat you are. They're also probably young and flexible (physically and emotionally) and would be willing/able to group together to afford cheap group housing. So have any of them floated any 'roommate' offers your way? If not, start floating some their way.

Another possible plan to consider: If one of your friends has to "move back to the folks' place" themselves... you might be able to ride things out with one of them. Surely they probably live close to NY and probably come from a waaaay less dysfunctional family than yours. Is asking (perhaps even begging for) that favor tough, awkward and humbling? bet it is, but it beats the alternative, right? I'm also willing to bet you know how to be a good, quiet-to-the-point-they-forget-you're-even-there house guest. Those of us who grow up in houses that were often difficult to return to become quite adept at making ourselves unobtrusive in other people's homes... We learn how to extend a 'dinner with friends' into an 'evening with friends' into a 'weekend at the friend's house' ... I know this, and I'm sure you do too. Just think of extending that skill into the realm of weeks or months. It can be done.

Difficult times call for drastic measures, and those measures often include swallowed pride and deferring plans. That is the plain truth. You absolutely don't want to move back to the chaos of your F-ed up family? (and I don't blame you) ...then you've gotta figure out how much NY-style upheaval & uncertainty you can endure. As tough as it is to think positively or even clearly, you've gotta try to think creatively. If you are seriously facing homelessness, is there ANY place else you could live? Could you barter room and board? I don't know what career path(s) you were trying to pursue in NY but is there any way to do them elsewhere? or do something else that you've always wanted to do? ... I'm talking about anything from the Peace Corps to teaching English in Japan or India or China, or becoming a Nanny somewhere on the planet etc. I know it sounds like I'm just clutching at straws here, but don't rule anything out... It gets back to the age thing... It might feel like you can't do anything, but that also means that there isn't anything you can't do... Heck, I thought by the time I was this age my "years of experience" would count for something, perhaps give me some cache' in the world I've chosen to inhabit, but the truth is; for every opportunity 'age & experience' might give me. a baker's dozen of other pursuits are no longer possible or open to people over a 'certain age' (whatever that may be.)

I'm tellin' ya: As you sit there on your last dufflebag of clean clothes, everything you think is a weakness is a strength. You don't have any money, but you also aren't responsible to anyone but yourself. I'm assuming you don't have a mortgage, or kids or a spouse... sure you've probably got student loans, but those can be deferred. I'm not going to insult you and say that 20 or 30 years from now you'll look back on this period as 'the best years of your life.' ... they hopefully won't be... but I can promise you, you'll never again feel so light on your feet (literally and figuratively) as you do right now.

New York will always be th
ere. You've proved you're ready for it, maybe it just isn't ready for you...yet.

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