What Does It Mean to…Settle Down?

Those two words, when used together, have always terrified me. Settle + down. Settle, a word that evokes a “coming to rest,” an acceptance of things as they are, a seated position. Down, a word that means everything but “up.” What else could it mean but a snoozefest in the suburbs? A wanderlust unfulfilled? A life that’s predictable, simple, and altogether comfortable?

Oh course, I’m mostly kidding. As I transition into this new decade, the decade that comes after all the college partying, waywardness, and all-around general uncertainty, I see it happening to a lot of my friends, and I have to admit: there is something more attractive about the idea of settling down now than even five years ago when I was still knee-deep in my mid-twenties. So many of my childhood and adult friends own houses, have children, are in jobs they don’t necessarily love (or do love, if they’re one of the lucky ones!). I’ve never had any of these things, except for maybe the “job I love” part…but even my long climb to pursue a job I really wanted has made me question whether or not spending so many years in higher education as an exploited graduate student teacher making less than a poverty-level income is worth the prize at the end.

There were many restless nights, nights spent eating leftovers and fretting about my dissertation, in which I thought very long and hard about giving it up completely, about taking a new path, about jet-setting somewhere new and “settling down” at a foreign language school somewhere and doing what I do best: teach, travel, and write. Plus, the academic job market is nothing short of grueling–it takes every ounce of confidence, perseverance, and tenacity to survive it. For a hopeful academic and a freelance writer, rejection is part of the daily grind. But rejection after rejection is not easy, let me tell you.

I did, unexpectedly, have a job offer to teach English at a very prestigious satellite American university in China. The “me” five years ago would have literally jumped on an airplane with one stuffed suitcase and no regrets, and I would have had countless after countless stories to write, countless after countless photos to take. My parents would have been so proud of me (love you, mom and dad!), and my sister would have wanted to hear every detail. My dad started sending me every expat website he could find on Shanghai, and he put me in touch with friends he knows who work in Asia.

Then, when they offered Ryan a job as well, I did something unexpected: I paused.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized I didn’t think I wanted that life, that life characterized by chaos, uncertainty, excitement, and adrenaline, again. At least not right now. I wanted, for the first time in my adult life, to be closer to my family, to spend more time with my parents, to make more memories with my friends here, rather than selling everything I owned (which, admittedly, isn’t much), stuffing up a suitcase, and heading off on a one-way ticket. Having been by my mom’s side through her seemingly interminable struggle with cancer over the past seven years, I’ve thought a lot about family, about lifelong friendships, about the world right outside my door that is stunningly beautiful on its own. I’ve thought a lot about the quickness with with life passes, and about how, despite our best intentions, we can’t hit the pause button. Perhaps Shanghai could wait.

So I did something even more unexpected: I went back on the job market, and I, with a freakishly dogged persistence, kept applying. I knew my contract at the University of Arizona was going to be up in May, and I didn’t–I painfully didn’t–want to end up adjuncting for less than I’d make working at a fast-food chain or panicking every month because my blog didn’t have enough unique page views to support potential advertiser’s appetites. As I’ve learned, talent and charisma can only take you so far–the formula for success is really no more than just trying really really hard and refusing to give up no matter how many rejection letters or the sounds of crickets pile into your inbox. (Trust me, there were plenty). And for someone like me, someone who is horribly anxious by nature, this hasn’t been easy.

And then, in April, I got another offer, and during the phone call, I blurted out that Ihadahusbandtooandhe’sanacademictooandhereallyneedsajobtoo…. And they said they’d be happy to find him a job, too.

So, this settling down thing is really happening.

Ok. So I’m not really “settling down,” so to speak….we’re just moving to California.

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I’d like to think of it as an “unsettling down,” a partial settling for the two of us and our two cats….with a good amount of restlessness still in the wings. I’m confident that I will thrive in my new position as an Assistant Professor of English, and I am more than excited to be heading to a liberal arts college just steps away from the beach (with a view that is, let me just say, ridiculous!). Last weekend, we found a cute little place to live–an upstairs unit in an old-but-adorable 1920s bungalow three blocks from the harbor–and we arranged for the movers to take what little we have from Tucson to Long Beach. Marymount CA University, here we come!

We’ll be in the middle house here, with the green awnings and cute Spanish tile roof. It’s quirky, it’s got character, and it’s got just enough bungalow to remind me of Tucson.

Thanks to Google Earth–in all its awesomeness and creepiness–for snapping this for me.

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So, here we are, straddling one part of our lives, not quite ready to let go, but somehow, in some way, ready to embrace another.

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And dear Sonoran Desert, this unexpected, harsh, and lovely place I have grown to love, with all its buzzing cicadas, gigantic palo verde bugs, anthropomorphic saguaro cacti, and wonderful, wonderful writing community, I am happy, because you’ll still be just a day away.

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Yours in travel,

Kristin