I'm in Wyoming. Laramie, to be exact. I know - it sounds like I've written it wrong, like it should be "Jeremy" or something. But no. It's Laramie.
Some people call it "Laradise." I can see why: it's quaint, but also a college town, so there's more here than the average quaint town. The trees are big. The wind blows almost always. There's a lot of sun (which we'll need once it starts snowing...). The people are nice. Everything is less than 10 minutes away.
Four (almost five!) years ago, I graduated with an English degree. Honors, not that it meant much (even though we were told it would). I had no job prospects and a thesis about William Faulkner and Edith Wharton under my belt.
My school friends were going into law, or medicine, or traveling, or going to grad school, or being all-around amazing. And me? I had nothing. I had the puzzle pieces of a larger dream of being a writer, a dream that I couldn't see myself putting together.
So I took the first thing I could find - an internship with a tiny company run by a husband-wife duo. The husband was a balding, pudgy man who quit his IBM job to teach socially-awkward young men about various types of alcohol and etiquette.
It was dumb and I found many faults with the product, but it also paid $15 an hour. Sometimes, the husband would give us free wine tastings.
When that internship ended, though, I was lost. My tentative plans after college had been to start filming a movie that I had cowritten with two other people, but that also fell through, as these things do. (A story for another time.) In the months of September and October, I applied to jobs, tried to ration my dwindling food supply, and wiled away my hours on the couch reading celebrity gossip.
A few unpaid internships. Random freelance writing gigs online. And then, when I was absolutely in the depths of despair, an interview with a startup in the heart of downtown Austin.
"Free snacks and booze in the kitchen. Biweekly happy hours. Free parking. Games like Foosball and shuffleboard. Breakfast tacos on Tuesday."
To me, it sounded perfect.
Miraculously, I got the job. And thus began the next four years of my life, one that I did not see coming.
I learned about marketing and sales and branding and business. I learned words like "low hanging fruit" and how to use "ask" as a noun. I learned that staying after 6pm was a sign of how hard of a worker you were. I learned how to play beer pong and flip cup well. Like really well.
I learned all the names of all the other startups in Austin, and who was who there and what they did and who they knew, and how they could perhaps help me. I learned how to tie everything back to revenue. I wrote to convert, I wrote for clicks, I wrote for other people's sign-offs and okays.
I went to a lot of happy hours and met a lot of people. I felt important. I drank more than I did in college. I came home drunk most nights, nursed bleary-eyed hangovers the next day, forced myself to go to the gym to repent for my sins, then did it all over again.
I learned how to shake hands really, really well.
I worked for Fridays. My friends (who were also in the startup/tech world) and I would go out and get smashed on these nights. We'd measure the success of the evening based on who we talked to - if this guy works at X company and does Y, and was relatively cute, then he was a win. Sugary shots. Cool, dark cocktail bars. An eventual drunken decision to go dancing at the same nightclubs. The sloppy walk or Uber home. Going to bed with a ringing in my ears, the sound of my brain cells dying. Waking up the next day and going to brunch at some kitschy restaurant that tried to differentiate itself by having something exotic, but American (like "Rabbit 7 Ways") on the menu.
Going out and doing it all over again.
I think we tried to convince ourselves that each night would have a different outcome, would end differently and spectacularly. But they were always the same.
It was fun and exciting at first, I'll admit. I never got to do these things in college. Now I had money, and I could go out and see and be seen.
But truthfully, I was sad. Was this my dream? Was I to remain in an eternity of happy hours and Sunday Funday's and bad club music? Would there ever be a morning when I woke up without a hangover and the dredges of shame in my stomach?
Would the circles under my eyes ever go away?
I love my friends and the experiences we had during this time. But as the newness and shine of this lifestyle wore away, I realized that this was not the person I wanted to be.
It was a particular Sunday, a particular Sunday Funday, that did it for me. I met up with my friends at a bar called Icenhauer's, where a popular Austin band, The Night Owls, was playing. The bar was filled with people my age who were also in the tech/startup world. Everyone was dressed in the affluent young-professional uniform: the women in off-the-shoulder dresses with "daring prints" (really these were just different versions of the same patterns) and chunky wedge heels; the men in button-down, short-sleeve shirts with "quirky" images of small animals or joke foods like pizza and burgers.
The band was loud, so people were shrieking at each other. Hoping to be heard. Hoping to find some meaning. Everyone was drunk off the $5 mason-jar pitchers of sangria. The entire crowd swayed lazily to a cover of some Jackson 5 song.
It was 4pm in the afternoon.
I looked around me and just felt despair. Was this what "happiness" and "success" was supposed to be? Was this all we would ever amount to?
Because when you strip away all the glitz and glamour of working in a shiny tech startup and knowing certain people and schmoozing at events and going to the newest restaurants and bars you see on Eater for happy hours and cheese plates, things became depressingly clear: We're on the same wheel that we always told ourselves we'd never get on.
We are slowly killing ourselves with complacency. At least that's how it was for me.
It took me four years to realize this. So that's why I'm here now, in my Laramie, pursuing my dream of being a writer (dammit, I AM a writer!) and getting my MFA. I gave up this relatively "good life" - the secure job, the nice apartment, my friends, my family, the happy hours, the RAMEN, the routine, the familiarity. I gave it up, because no matter how "good" it was, I wasn't happy.
I'm here because I let my heart take over. I'm here because I owe it to myself. I'm here because I deserve more. I'm here because I want to give myself a chance to be happy.
This writing exercise is to expound on my interpretation of the letter F, and if you haven't figured it out yet, that F is for freedom. (Or maybe it's for just Fuck it!) Freedom from what I was once told was necessary. Because out here, in the wide open spaces of Wyoming, I finally feel like I'm right where I need to be.
I'm not writing this because it's some new and startling phenomenon that no one has ever experienced before. Nor am I writing it because I think it's what everyone should do. Some people love the lifestyle I've described above, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
I'm writing it because it's my story.
But if you feel any unsettled turmoil in your heart, if you do not feel full, if you feel some sort of discomfort, if you go to bed with a gnawing pain in your soul, then maybe this post is for you. If you find yourself yearning. If you're sad, even when it's bright outside. If you write yourself drunken Evernotes about how disappointed you are that you're getting wasted amongst strangers, rather than following your dreams...
It's okay to give yourself a chance. Be brave. It looks stunning on you.