18 March, 2015

South by Northeast

(In which life offers a jarring, unanticipated change of circumstances)

Sometimes you throw yourself into the arms of the Universe, and the Universe catches you with a right hook. At least that's what it feels like.

Friday. I've long wanted to attend Austin's SXSW festival, though that wasn't a desire i pursued with any measure of single-mindedness. When actor Daniele Watts and her raw food chef S.O. traveling to the festival broke down in Tucson and needed a place to crash, the calculus changed. While i couldn't afford a festival badge, offering a place to stay meant a ride to Austin had fallen into my lap.

It was less than two hours between realizing the trip was a possibility and walking out the door, which meant i was sending couch requests from couchsurfing's mobile app as i drifted off to sleep in the car.

Sunday. Road buddies dropped me off at Austin's flagship YMCA, a facility i've come to deeply appreciate in the past two days. I got in a workout and sent more couch requests; so far, neither the official CS community or the folkdance community had yielded a place to stay. At a cafe i worked my usual Sunday night shift for theplazz.com, and then proceeded to wander.

Not all who wander are lost, Tolkien wrote. Some are just looking fruitlessly for a place to crash.

The next morning at 6am an email hit my phone. I had not slept, and there was the news that the parent company had decided to shut down our site, effective immediately. That suddenly, i was for the first time in my life officially unemployed.

I found a spot well hidden behind a grassy knoll, wolfed down a spoonful of peanut butter, unrolled my sleeping bag on the wet grass and crawled inside. Three hours later, when i emerged groggy from the cocoon, i wasn't exactly a butterfly. I had just lost my job and slept outdoors in the city. The fear of becoming a homeless person one day had never felt more real. But not having to log in for work meant more time to explore.

With a little time to digest, the situation became clearer. Working that job, i could work from anywhere - but working from home most of the time, i was slipping into a sort of interpersonal stagnation where the only people i regularly interacted with were my homemate-tenants and, when i ran errands, cashiers. While that's not exactly a proper, personal-growth-stimulating social life, it was all too comfortable and familiar thanks to being homeschooled.

But i had made the trip to Austin for a system shock, because it had been too long since the uncertainties of my default seat-of-the-pants travel style had forced me to stay open to anything in my path. I had come to Austin to embrace the unfamiliar, and that's exactly what the Universe gave back. Losing a job with zero advance notice and by no fault of my own was something utterly uncharted.

So here i am, participating on the margins of what locals simply refer to as "South by," open to new possibilities and opportunities heretofore not considered. I just saw A Poem is a Naked Person, a newly restored 1974 stream-of-consciousness/cultural anthropology/concert film about musician Leon Russell, which i'd highly recommend checking out when it hits limited release later this summer.