On Outsiders

Find yourself a city to live in

A stranger in a new land. Had been in job search for a while, kind of figured it would come to this, there’s only two industries in Orlando other than selling each other real estate after all, both of which look askew at outsiders (at least that’s what I tell myself). It was disappointing to discover a lifetime of college, credentials, and certifications turned out not to be worth the paper they were printed on, leaves one to second guess decisions and paths of yesterdays, not really the healthiest of past times. Still, there could be worse fates than what basically amounts to picking up where had left off before making the questionable decision of a sabbatical turned departure from what in honesty was a good job turned stale. This last year has been at times boring, exciting, convalescent, and anticlimactic. The biggest consolation prize has been the discovery of a new channel and medium — I’ve really enjoyed writing.

The experience of saying goodbye to your family and friends (some whom you were only just getting to know), leaving behind your ruts and routines, of starting over alone and from scratch in a new city is frankly jarring. People generally avoid cold showers for a reason, but there are a certain class of thrill seekers that don’t shy away from that winter swim, who forgo the wading in inch-by-inch routine and instead jump head first into the deep end. I bet after a dive like that it could take weeks to feel yourself again.

This person is a little odd

My father is a somewhat unorthodox movie buff. It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy good cinema, in fact he does frequent the movies, but his own peculiar quark is that he will on occasion find some obscure movie that particularly speaks to him and simply latch on to the point that he is compelled to watch and re-watch ad nauseam, pulling in all of his friends and family in the process, until he finally gets it out of his system (which usually takes months). I’m not quite sure exactly what these certain movie obsessions say about him psychologically — actually may have to try dissecting that someday — but to give you an idea some of the more recent examples have been films like Sweetland, Brooklyn, or The Imitation Game. Upon inspection some similarities appear. In each an innocent young idealist finds themselves thrust into some new territory — each a fish out of water, an immigrant in some fashion (whether to a new country or in the case of Turing into Hut 8, home of the British campaign to break WWII codes and cyphers).

This immigrant to a new land is an appealing genre because it offers the audience a protagonist who is experiencing and learning about these strange new environments for the first time along with them. They have someone to relate to. A valid criticism of the Star Wars prequels was along these lines, that they lacked the equivalent of A New Hope’s Luke Skywalker, an everyday man forced to leave behind his comfortable but sheltered existence to take on a foreign enterprise and explore a galaxy far far away.

In Florida, where I’ve lived most of my life, we are used to a steady stream of immigration (yes a disproportionate portion are retirees, working on the closing chapter of their novel and often terrible drivers). I am fond of a particular memory from around 2005 where I was enthusiastically lectured by a realtor friend on why Florida home prices can never go down, that it is literally impossible because of the constant influx of new residents. Florida natives, affectionately known as crackers, are a rare breed — almost everyone is from somewhere else. As such, the culture of most Florida cities are generally open and inviting to outsiders. A good deal of our economy is after all welcoming tourist visitors both domestic and international — and fortunately for the economy the scale of these same international visitors has continued its track to growth despite initial alarmist forecasts based on dips following recent federal elections.

My older sister has a good friend who’s been toying with the idea of leaving Orlando for a good while now, making plans that have so far not quite fully coalesced. I suspect the appeal of starting anew in a strange city partly stems from a belief that it might be easier to make new friends. All of the sudden you actually have a valid excuse for not having a life, and whether by curiosity or pity the currency of “hi I’m new in town” simply must be an easier barter that “hi I’m from here but have really fallen into a rut in last few years.” My brother has effectively ruled out that option by purchasing a house exactly halfway in between the one mile separating our parents and his wife’s. The lil sis on the other hand got a taste for a new city while studying in New Orleans, and not being satisfied with that distance upon graduation promptly doubled down by moving to Los Angeles of all places. I figure it’s only a matter of time before she ends up in Hawaii if not Australia.

So I’ve somehow found my way to living in Houston. Some initial impressions: it is a good idea to stay out of debates over which state has the best BBQ, despite all of one’s experience otherwise the locals will possibly take actual offense to any interpreted disparagement of their treasured pass time, best to let that sleeping dog lie. Some people may tell you that everything is bigger in Texas, it‘s possibly a big myth. The good news is that every restaurant here serves tacos, and if you’re ever hungry but with limited budget and it happens to be Tuesday you are in luck my friend. I haven’t seen much of the city yet but have heard that this place is quite heterogeneous such as in demographics, crime rates, or economic prospects. This is actually fairly common in most cities. The Schelling segregation model has demonstrated that even mild similarity preferences in a population can lead in aggregate to high levels of segregation over time, even with random initializations.

Image source

So the current goal now in this new city is to find a circle of friends. In old days the primary way to get connected to a community were through avenues such as joining a church congregation, professional societies, or perhaps a mom and pop’s gym. Newer online tools for listing events and networking opportunities make the prospects for those in a new city easier although not automatic. Through Facebook events, meetup.com, etc there are a wealth of potential avenues for outsiders to intermingle with those who share common interests — although I’ve found that the algorithms for what events are listed do require a little tuning (when I first signed up for meetup I think the algorithm somehow grouped me in with like homosexuals or something? Like it mostly suggested meetings for like naked yoga and wicken orgies or the like, was quite off-putting — lord knows what I must have clicked on to trigger that classification). My mom is the ultimate success story for finding a new community in territories unknown. What started a few years ago as a one-off mission trip through her church to volunteer at a Ukrainian orphanage has since evolved to semiannual expeditions to some of the most needy and remote orphanages in the country, and in the process she has formed lasting bonds with these needy children and the selfless people that provide for them (many orphans themselves). Through the generous devotion of her energy and resources to a mission of service and charity I have watched in admiration at a life transformed. (Although it’s entirely possible the whole thing is just a way to compensate for a lack of grandchildren.)

Its a slightly tortured analogy, but the process of selecting a new home is like applying an optimization algorithm to your life. Each potential home has good points and bad points, and our path over the years is like a mini-batch stochastic descent until we settle in some local minimum to write our final chapter. Of course that analogy assumes that we have options between points on our path, and that is not always a given. My grandmother, the closest to a saint I have ever known, was a Jewish refugee in WWII. Separated from her parents as a small child and placed with a Catholic family in Paris, she was only just getting settled with this new home when was reclaimed by her birth parents after the war and spirited to the US. Sleeping on a cot in a back room of a tailor shop with her parents, she was finally learning the language and having success in education when contracted TB and was forced into the isolation of a quarantine for quite some time, where she eventually met my grandfather.

This is not first time have felt like an outsider in my surroundings. It’s not all bad, at least as an outsider you know where you stand. When you’re tuning a guitar, it helps when the string is first made really flat, then you at least have certainty what direction to turn the key. This blog has been a tuning experiment of my own over past year. Had fumbled around in social media for a while without any traction, don’t get me wrong have made a few new friends here and there, both online and off, but only rarely felt really understood. Coming from a background primarily of concise and precise professional communications, its been fun to explore a few different paradigms of the written word and shake off the constraints of the printing press. I certainly haven’t accomplished all that was set out for, but then here I am with a new job in a great city that am looking forward to exploring. I’ve had to say a few goodbyes in the process, and definitely made a few mistakes. The goal is to learn from other people’s mistakes instead of making them myself — I mean in just the past month have been pulled over for speeding, had car towed from parking lot, and arrived to parking garage late to find my car locked in overnight. I’m starting to wonder if am not the driver I thought I was, perhaps would be better off in some self-driving car enjoying the panoramic view. Either way I will continue to count my blessings, for a family that has always been there for me through good times and bad, for good health and happiness, and for the opportunities that God has granted. Peradventure the next side project will be to write a screenplay or something.

Have enjoyed blogging for past year but am going to take a little break of duration TBD. I’m active on twitter at Nicholas Teague if you enjoyed or got some value from any of these posts feel free to say hello.

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