Saturday, October 18, 2014

Life Lately: Living and Working in Austin

Austin_Crossing over the River

Hello, long-lost readers!  I’m alive and coming up for air.

I had no idea that I would disappear so completely from this site for a month.  The last time I did that was, I believe, two years ago when I was recovering from a heart so broken that I had to be alone, inasmuch as that was possible.  But while my absence in 2012 was driven by loss, my absence this year was driven by fullness, the incredible overflowing fullness of my new life in Austin.  In a word, I am happy.  In more words, there is lots to tell you.

Today is a rare day off for me: I’m at home with no students on my schedule today or tomorrow.  I’ve been so busy for the past five weeks that this mini-break feels delicious.  I feel like I’m finding my groove in this business of being self-employed, so when a break naturally falls into my schedule, I’m happy to take it.  Just around the corner is likely to be another day full of students and teaching.

There is so much to tell.  Let’s start with work.

Work.  Austin has shocked me with its abundance of tutoring work that landed at my feet.  Paul and I accepted jobs as freelance contractors with a company (College Guidance Associates), where we work as learning coaches (or tutors, for the uninitiated) with various students.  My primary gig at CGA has been teaching geometry, which I haven’t studied seriously since I was fourteen and taking high school geometry.  But I love the subject, and I’m learning how to teach it, at least to my one student, which is good enough for now.  In addition to CGA, I’ve got a steady load of students who found me through WyzAnt and a few students who found me through other channels.

Tutoring full-time is incredibly rewarding.  I’m very honored to do the work that I do now.  It has absorbed my attention and energy since the fall semester started; I haven’t had much time for writing or reflecting on my experiences.  I’m getting pretty good at simplifying ideas so that my students can grab a foothold and climb the mountain in front of them.  I’m a learning sherpa.

That being said, tutoring has significant challenges too.  Wrangling my schedule is an on-going task.  I’m figuring it out.  I am learning how much commuting I can handle and being willing to say no when a job isn’t the right fit for me.  Finding time to study is hard too, because I often have chores and other work I need to do when I’m not with students.  Today and tomorrow I hope to take advantage of my unexpected free time to do some studying.

Home.  You might recall that when I moved to Austin, I moved into a townhome with Paul and our friend Courtney.  We’ve been together for more than two months in the house now, and we’re finding our groove.  We eat lots of delicious home-cooked meals together, we share rides and grocery lists, and we watch episodes of Community every night.  We try to stay on top of the house chores.  Courtney made us an adorable chore chart that lives on the fridge.

Courtney's Chore Chart

The longer we live together, the more I feel that we are not just roommates; we are becoming a family.  We live together, we work together, we play together.  We take care of each other.  We all moved to Austin without “real” jobs, and we have supported each other as we set up new lives in a new city.  We’ve had our bumps along the way (such as battling a pile of dishes that never goes away!) , but life here in our south Austin home is very, very sweet.

Spider House

Out and about in Austin.  Because of work, we spend a lot more time in the car than I used to in my old life in College Station.  The upside to all this commuting is that we’re getting to know Austin as locals (which, of course, we are now).  We’ve got our favorite burrito place (Super Burrito) and coffee shop (Café Crème, where I meet with students in south Austin).  Across town, we’ve got our favorite ramen shop (Michi Ramen).  And if we had more money, I’m sure we’d be regulars at Kerbey Lane, where we dine when we have guests in town or when we need a treat.

We are so lucky to live in south Austin.  We’re a five-minute walk from a wildflower preserve where I like to go for walks and runs.  We’re an incredibly fast bike ride downhill to the riverfront, where Paul and I like to ride our bikes on Sunday mornings.  And south Austin has a kind of urban grit that I like—we’re living in the city here, not in the suburbs.  We can take the bus to downtown Austin or UT’s campus easily.  We can ride our bikes to the grocery store if we’re up for handling the punishing hills between us and HEB.

On the Bike Trail

In short, we love Austin.  Settling into our new city has been one of the best parts of moving.

Love.  The kind of move that Paul and I made comes with a significant amount of stress.  We’ve stressed about money, moving logistics, work prospects, housework, driving, all of it.  All the stress could have left us frazzled and angry with each other.  We’ve definitely had our moments.  But now that we’re a good two months out from the big move, I think it’s safe to say that we’re stronger and more confident in our partnership.  We’ve given up tracking our expenses separately and now treat our money as one big (or not-so-big) pot.  That was a huge shift for us and one that I think was the right decision.  We’ve tied our boats together; we’re sharing everything else, so why not share our money?

Sharing my life with Paul has been one of the best things to come out of the mess that the last few years have been for me.  Loving him came so easily to me that I sometimes forget how incredibly lucky we are that we found each other.  Austin was a destination for us for nearly a year before we moved.  I remember asking him, hours after I found out I was losing my job for the second time in 2013, “Can we just move to Austin now?”  Never mind his work, my lease, any of it—in that sad moment, I was ready for a fresh start and I wanted it NOW.  

You Are Here

 It took us much longer to get here.  Having worked toward our Austin move together, it feels like our city now.  It’s a place we get to discover and love together, a place we chose together.  It’s a place that feels like us.

Brief chronology note: I started writing this yesterday (Friday, October 17).  I’m finishing it today, October 18.  I decided to leave the timeline inside this post as though I had published it yesterday.