Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Real Cost of Living

What began as a cost of living comparison ended in something of an epiphany.

I'd recently had a job offer, interesting and permanent work that would engage a larger portion of my skill set - in all respects, the kind of job that I seemed fated to take.
In considering my options, weighing the pros and cons of either choice, I determined that the cost of living increase was large, to say the least: 150% of the where I live now, with a near doubling of the property prices. It was a good offer, on the high end of the original range they quoted me, and it was certainly possible to live comfortably enough on that salary. But considering such cost-of-living increases, it was actually equivalent to less than I make now (yes, where I live currently is just that cheap!). Surely, however, such a job would be worth taking the financial hit? Even if it meant I would have to go back to living solo for the foreseeable future?
But then we went home, got on our bikes in the beautiful evening air and rode the two miles to our favorite local restaurant. The one with the buffalo and elk and ostrich burgers, the best hot wing sauce in existence, and the local beer on tap. The one where we're two of the regulars. It turned out that night was open mic night, and we stayed for several hours listening to amateurs sing and play guitar (I say amateurs, but they were quite good and we ended up giving them $10 in the tip jar). After dinner and a few drinks, we rode home, the air chilly along the lake, fog rolling across the path in places.

And I realized then that this was the kind of place I wanted to put down roots, and that, for better or worse, I already had.

It wasn't the monetary value of the cost of living that I discovered, but the true - call it spiritual or whatever you will - value of the place. All the while I seek happiness, I will not find it. You cannot seek it. You must seek something more meaningful, and happiness will find you. Like the fortune cookie said, "not having a goal is more to be feared than not reaching one." I have - had - no goal other than happiness, and certainly I will not achieve it.
What is more important to me? Doing something other than what I'm doing, or having my fiancĂ© to read to in the evenings and the cats curled up on my bed every morning? Having the most amazing job ever, or having a garden full of tomatoes and friends to share them with? So my current work frustrates me, as does the funding situation surrounding it, but my life's meaning is not to be found in only my job. Surely I can find something here that will satisfy me, something that will provide at least the cost-of-living equivalent to the job offer I have before me. It could be managing the Books-A-Million, who knows? But here, despite the bugs and the heat, there is the house and the garden and the greenways, there is hill and river, there is bluegrass and osprey and the relatively surprising wonders of nearby Knoxville.
How can I leave here? I can only see leaving for something that is without doubt better (like getting an SFI faculty job in Santa Fe... hint hint...).

Better then to stay and see what I have foolishly been overlooking all along.

Monday, August 6, 2012


Hiroshima Day. But tomorrow is, for me, the day of death from the sky.
I don't have to think about it consciously. It's there all the time, fomenting just beneath the level of which I am fully aware. I am constantly unsettled – I must force myself to eat – and even in the midst of a conversation or engaging movie I cannot break away from the fear. There is no escape.
God, and it's just a flight to Dallas. Two hours, no more.
What I wouldn't give to become actually ill; demonstrably and unequivocally sick, too sick to travel, sorry, can't go, someone else needs to give my talk. It should be telling that I would prefer a real evil to a perceived evil. I know as well as anyone (perhaps better than most people, actually, as I am a physicist) that humans are terrible at correctly perceiving probability versus consequence. I know that this fear is not legitimate, not reasonable, not logical. And yet I know that I will not sleep tonight, and that I may vomit my breakfast back up before downing another lorazepam and driving, utterly defeated, to the airport.
The thing that seems strangest to me is that the phobia has gotten worse as I have grown older. I was not scared of flying in high school. But it bothered me in college, and then in graduate school it began to be a serious hindrance. Now it is flat-out debilitating. Now, just as my life seems the least worthwhile, I am the most scared to lose it. If this trend continues... I dare not think of it.
I don't want my experience to facilitate the fear of others, though. I can think of nothing so horrible as causing others to suffer from my suffering. Just because I am educated, no one should point at me and say, "but she has a PhD in physics, and she's afraid of flying, so it must be dangerous." It's not dangerous to the extend that I am afraid. The relative magnitudes are all wrong. What I hope is that, instead, people might point at me and say "she has a PhD in physics, and she's afraid of flying, so even smart people have weaknesses." If you are afraid, you're not alone. If you suffer a mental illness, you're not alone. And it doesn't make you less of a person.
It's hard for me to think. What if I did die tomorrow? I haven't done enough. I haven't achieved enough or shared enough or loved enough. Perhaps it is my youth that cries out against death; I am not ready, and therefore am certain that no one could ever be ready. I'm not ready to consider the possibility of my own non-being.
I've checked in online. I guess I should go home and pack.