transitive verb; 1: to go over in the mind repeatedly and often casually or slowly


Projects & Info



Friend and Madison-based photographer Laura Zastrow. I originally made this image of Laura for Ruminari but the recording of our interview was corrupted when I switched to a new phone. I’ve been trying for a while to save/listen to the file but eventually just gave up. At least I still have the image.

Billy - 31 - Sandwich Shop GM
Madison, WI

I originally grew up in La Crosse, WI. I was unexpected and my family wasn’t really ready for it and my parents didn’t really have a lot of money. So I grew up a little bit in what we called “the shoe homes” in La Crosse and then we moved to Onalaska where I spent most of my life.

Onalaska, how do I put it, it’s a small town; 15,000. It’s that kind of town where you know who the black kid is.

And that’s what kind of town it is. Everyone knows who everyone else is.

Onalaska might not have a lot of famous musicians like Eau Claire, but a lot of musical, like broadway types have come from there. And supposedly there’s a UW-Madison basketball player who’ll be starting next year from there, a freshman. I don’t know his name. Probably a white kid.

A lot of people don’t know that there’s a huge Hmong population in WI in the La Crosse area. After Vietnam, they were given, what’s the word for it, it starts with an S. “political ___”. For fighting alongside us. ‘sreedom’ — Freedom with an S” That’s the word, I think. From Laos.

Anyway my family worked really hard to get where they wanted. My dad was a mechanic and my mom had a lot of different jobs. She worked as an accountant, at UW La Crosse in the culinary dept, and still, whenever I smell celery in water I think of UW La Crosse which is weird.

I went to MATC (Madison Area Technical College) because I followed a girl. I probably wouldn’t have even gone to college or left Onalaska if I didn’t follow her to Madison. I was big into playing soccer and was drawn to the school because of that. We got two games away from the national championship the year I played for them, like 13-1 record. Ranked 9th in the nation. We had to play at Breese Stevens field when it was 31 degrees outside in the winter, which is probably why we lost the quarterfinal game.

I had a ton of jobs in retail, but I then moved on to Qdoba, and worked my way up the chain over the course of a year to be a General Manager. I was also tending bar at the time and going out like 6 nights a week. I was still dating that same girl, but then she broke up with me.

I pretty much became the Charlie Sheen of the Burrito world. A functioning alcoholic who was managing my store to success.

For 3 years I was like 10% over sales, hitting all my numbers. And I got canned, pretty much because I was drunk all the time. I remember taking naps sitting on the toilet in the bathroom at the restaurant. I also gained about 40 pounds over those 4 years. So that was a rough patch in my life.

But then I got a job at a sandwich shop, which pretty much was an awesome job to take. At the sandwich shop I work for, you don’t really get a chance to move up unless someone gets promoted or fired. And there was an opportunity in Chicago, so I moved to Chicago. Best decision I’ve made in my life. It cut out my going out at night, because there was so much to do during the day, and I was working all the time. And about a year later I met Brooke. We didn’t meeton Myspace, but we became friends on Myspace because I knew who she was. Before I moved to Chicago she’d walk past my friend’s apartment on Wisconsin Avenue all the time. I’d be like “there’s the girl with the red glasses.” She always had red glasses. And when we’d be out partying on his porch, she’d walk by at some point.

Knowing her now, I can see her thinking at the time, “these fucking jerkoffs.”

Anyway I’m living in Chicago but I’m back in Madison for a weekend and I decide to go to this fun store downtown to pick out a birthday gift for my ex-girlfriend (which I always did because I’m a nice guy). And I go to this store specifically because I know they have all this fun stuff and I’m in there, and Brooke works there and she keeps bugging me while I’m looking which I normally hate. But then I go up to the counter to pay and she asks me where she knows me from but can’t remember. I was planning on messaging her on Myspace when I got home, but it turns out that she’d already messaged me because she remembered. I went up to see a show the next weekend and we started dating. About 6 months later, she moved down to Chicago and we lived in Chicago for about two years.

We actually planned to move to Austin, TX for a while just to go and see/live somewhere new and when I went to ask about transferring there, they offered me a move back to Madison to manage a store there. So that brought us back to Madison. And then we had Charlie, our daughter.  We’re pretty nontraditional, and weren’t married but we weren’t using protection and were really okay with whatever happened. It’s weird because when we were planning our wedding her family/friends were all “are you sure you want to do this? Are you ready for this? To make this commitment?” And it’s like, I put it this way.

It’s like I leased a car and I’m at the 33,000 mile mark and now I want to buy it. It’s not perfect but I love it. I think I want to make the full commitment to 250,000 miles and I’ll continue to repair it.

Brooke laughed sarcastically, but we kind of already sealed the deal already.

Having a kid and getting married isn’t really keeping us tied down. Being in management for the company I work for is great, because there are always opportunities to move and ply my trade wherever they open a store.

I’m totally content as long as Brooke and Charlie are along for the ride, which I know they are. And I love Madison, but I’d love just about anywhere as long as they’re with me.

And I’m happy doing what I do, I love my job which might sound weird to most people; working at a sandwich shop, but I do. We’re pretty much in Madison because our families are here in Wisconsin. If we didn’t have a child, we’d also likely live somewhere else, but we like to have her around family. And it’s going to get harder to move as she gets older and is in school, but that’s okay. I’d love to get out and explore, but I can always do that on vacation.

Drew & Emma - ages 28 & 26 - designer & music teacher
Glasgow, Scotland

A couple years ago, Andrew and I were a part of a site where we grew beards and took photos of ourselves, but the beards and photos really weren’t the point of it, as odd as that sounds. We both made some great friends all over the world (and that’s actually how we got to know each other, as well). I took a trip to the UK recently and had a chance to chat with another of those bearded guys, Drew, about why he’s come to realize he loves living in his home country of Scotland and couldn’t imagine moving from Glasgow.

DREW – I grew up in Bothwell, which is a neighboring town. We stayed in Edinburgh for a wee while too. Well, we moved through to Edinburgh because Emma was at Uni there and she got a position there, and I was doing freelance at the time. I was staying with my parents and she’d moved out. We’d been goin out for quite a number of years, so it made sense. It was me making a leap, y’know, fleeing the nest, or whatever.

We’d been goin out for quite a number of years, so it made sense. It was me making a leap, y’know, fleeing the nest, or whatever.

EMMA – I was [in Edinburgh] from 2006-2009, and you joined me halfway through 2007.

DREW – Moved 3 years ago to the place we are now.

EMMA – We basically decided one night, “let’s not do this anymore.”

DREW – And did it all like that.

EMMA – It was a Thursday night, and you came home and said, “I hate Edinburgh.” I went “Let’s not live here anymore.” So we decided, let’s just move!

DREW – It didn’t feel like home.

I ended up with a job in Glasgow and I was commuting for it, but then I got another job in Glasgow, which was more stable. So I was commuting for a good year I think, and then it just got too much. It didn’t make sense for us to be through there anymore, so we moved through to Glasgow, and now it was Emma’s turn to commute. Just as I predicted, with her line of work and everything it made sense for her to start looking for jobs through here.

I had a phase where I was thinking about moving to another country and everything, but that passed quite quickly. Thinking about it, I realized that I really did wanna stay here. I love it here. I love Glasgow – it’s weird to say it, but I do feel really at home here.

EMMA – He was gonna go to Canada.

DREW – Well, I was gonna go and check it out. Stay there for a wee while. I wanted to go and see other places and see what else there was.

Emma wasn’t the reason for me not going. Emma wouldn’t hold me back from doing anything. Just like – Emma was always talking about going to work at an international school in Dubai or something, and I’d let her go and do that. We would never hold each other back. We’d go check it out, and if it was looking pretty good… I’d be a house-husband [laughs].

I think living in Edinburgh made me realize how much I loved living in Glasgow. For somewhere so close – you can get from Edinburgh to Glasgow in less than an hour –you’re going across an entire country, that’s how small we are – but it’s so different. The people are different, the culture, the attitude, the ambiance, whatever you want to call it. It’s just not the same. It doesn’t have that home welcoming, y’know.

You never know what’s going to happen in Glasgow, it’s unpredictable. It’s like everyone knows each other before they’ve met them. In Edinburgh, no one knows each other. It seems like a passing-through place, or a temporarily occupied space. This is just one person’s perspective, though. 

You never know what’s going to happen in Glasgow, it’s unpredictable. It’s like everyone knows each other before they’ve met them.

Even us, we lived there for two years – how many other people were there for then? That’s fairly long-term and even then that’s still just passing through. Even as residents, we were tourists, which is kinda weird. I don’t mean to badmouth Edinburgh, it’s a beautiful city and I love to visit it. Right now, I can’t imagine living anywhere else other than Scotland.

Ethan - 35 - Cook/Barista
Madison, WI

I grew up mostly in California, graduated High School in Colorado, attended several colleges most recently in Illinois.

We moved from CA to CO when my dad had to relocate for work. I was halfway through High School. It was difficult to leave friends but it felt very stifling to live in CA. Lots of outside pressure to succeed; almost tangible.The pressure to succeed is partially a class thing and partially just a California thing. We moved to Longmont, CO, which seemed more of an accepting city. In the way that you could try something and if it does’t work, try something else. In San Jose you have to keep up with your neighbors; there’s a lot of class pressure there too.

I’m the oldest of 3 siblings, I have 2 brothers and a sister.

After I graduated HS, I decided to go to film school. I’d never made a film before, I just thought, “I like movies. This is something I could do.” So I applied to 3 schools, and RIT accepted me basically before I finished the application. So I took that right away. My parents I think were nervous but they weren’t really guiding me in a particular direction. There’s been times where I’ve even been angry that they should have been more persistent or demanding. I figured out in junior high that I didn’t have to get straight A’s. So I didn’t. I was a pretty good obedient kid, though. So I still did well.

I didn’t get my film degree. I went for a year and then had a freakout moment where I realized film wasn’t what I should be trying to do for a career. So I moved back home and went to community college Gen Ed classes that would transfer. I worked a lot of retail at that point in my life.

After that I visited some friends at Trinity college in Illinois. I was raised Christian. I liked the vibe of the school so I asked a bunch of students what people hated about the school but it was the same stuff that you hear about every school. I just wanted to finish up college and get on with my life. So I enrolled and started as a history major and ended as an English major. After 2 years at Trinity I realized that I’d just gone to college because it was what you did after high school. I still had no idea what I was doing, or what I wanted to do with my life. I was 22 then. I dropped out of Trinity. Because I hopped around so much, I still had many semesters left to an actual degree after 4.5 years of college.

It was nice to see someone doing something; like, “I have this job to pay the bills but I want to be doing something else.”

While I attended Trinity I worked at a Barnes and Noble in Deerfield, and I’d moved to Arlington Heights after that second year. They promoted me to manager, so I just stayed working there and living in IL. I actually worked with Jeffrey Brown there, I didn’t really get to know him that well but I know he’d just finished Clumsy and was shopping it around to various publishers and was selling it on consignment at some bookshops in Chicago. It was nice to see someone doing something; like, “I have this job to pay the bills but I want to be doing something else.”

Eventually all my roommates started getting engaged and I realized that my time in the place I was living was coming to an end, and I had been talking with some friends of mine that lived in Madison, WI and they were going to be attending this sort of alternative bible school thing where you go part time to classes and did some traveling missions work.  I wasn’t super keen on being a part of another Christian community but I’d met some of the people who were going to be involved with it and saw it as an opportunity to at least move and start something different and see where that goes.

I moved to Madison in 2001, I had some money from B&N and had some money saved up. They paid me pretty well as a manager. I unintentionally took about 6 months off work, spent a lot of time exploring Madison, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, basically the upper midwest.

Most of my regrets about not finishing school are the opportunities not available to me because I don’t have a degree. I felt like in high school, if you want to be a doctor you need a medical degree. If you want to be an educator you need to have a teaching degree, etc. But I found out much later on that most employers really don’t care what your degree is in. It’s just the showing of “hey I did this; I can finish something.” Some things require specialized training and you have to do it. But you can take the bar exam in most states without having a law degree.

Currently I’m a barista and a cook. I cook at a corporate training center for a big commercial and consumer appliance corporation and I also cook for a catering company. I’m also a barista at a coffee shop that my friends own. I mentioned that 6 months of unintentional sabbatical after I moved to Madison. It left me pretty broke and I started getting really desperate to work again. I was totally out of money and had to call my student loan lenders to ask for forbearance because I had no income. I started to look for jobs at the end of summer when all the college kids move into town, and quickly realized that when there’s 35,000 people looking for jobs in this city, it can be hard to find one. I was just trying to figure out how to make ends meet when I walked into a fast food burrito place and they basically offered me a job as I walked in to ask if they were hiring and I jumped at it. That was my gateway into cooking.

I love cooking but I can’t see myself doing this long term. I don’t really want to be a chef because there’s a level of responsibility there that I don’t really find enjoyable and to be honest there are some aspects of it that I’m just not good at. I like cooking but I don’t want to be the guy in charge. Plus, it’s really hard on your body; you’re on your feet all the time, sometimes for hours in the same spot doing these repetitive things.

There were some  really valuable things I learned though; like just general life and social skills. It’s funny; it’s stuff I feel like I should have learned in high school as opposed to say, differential equations.

Nothing really came of my time with the “Christian Community” thing. I mean, it was a lot like a bible college and I made some great friends and had some amazing experiences but currently I’d say I’m probably closer to agnostic than anything else. I think the agnostic thing was part of the fallout of going to more bible training but also partially being able to think for the first time, “What do I really believe? What do I think is true?” There were some  really valuable things I learned though; like just general life and social skills. How to focus on things day to day and how to treat people as adults and as human beings. How to take a goal you have and make a plan to head towards that goal. It’s funny; it’s stuff I feel like I should have learned in high school as opposed to say, differential equations.

I like Madison, though; it’s a good city. I like the size, there are times that I wish it was bigger but I like how I never feel as anonymous as I do in a big city like Chicago or Boston. And with the university we have a great arts scene and music. I also have quite a few friends here that I don’t want to just move away from. Not that those relationships would be severed; it would just be more difficult. There’s times where I feel like I can’t move because I’ve made some fantastic decisions regarding college and not finishing so I have all this debt so I’ve got this stuff hanging over my head. If I move to a bigger city I feel like I’d have to make X-amount of dollars more use because I’m moving in with this debt in addition to cost of living being higher.

Also there’s this feeling that like, I’m 35. Have I forgotten how to make friends?

Also there’s this feeling that like, I’m 35. Have I forgotten how to make friends? If I go somewhere new am I gonna be like, “Alright, I don’t really like the bar scene very much so what do I do to meet people?” School is easy, they put you in a class and it’s forced. It’s like making friends in prison; you do it because you have to.

There’s places I’d like to live but I don’t know what I’d do for work. I don’t necessarily want to cook but I have experience doing that. I don’t have a degree, but that’s not stopped many people over the course of history so…  I don’t really know. I’d say I’m moderately content. There are probably things I’d rather be doing but a lot of times it seems like it’s going to take too much work or energy. Like when you watch the dishes pile up in the sink and it looks like so much work but when you actually go to wash them you’re like “Oh, that took five minutes.”  But it seems like it’s going to take an hour so I put it off longer. Or I don’t know where to start or it’s like any thing you try to do outside what you’re used to. There’s a nervousness around it.   You don’t want to fail. It’s like writing a book; realistically every author’s first book they write is going to suck. So if I was to try to write a book I’d probably just need to write one and throw it away. But nobody wants to think about that.

I don’t want to ever be that washed up guy who let himself go; always talking about my glory days. I hope mine haven’t even come yet.

In 5-10 years, I’d like to be somewhere else. I think naturally seeing the same thing over and over, being in a routine generally produces a bit of wanderlust. Even down to driving or riding the same route to or from work every day. I don’t want to be the old man reminiscing, “I remember when that used to be…” I never want to be in that suburban reactive state where you give in to what happens to you: playing softball with the same people every week at the same time, going to the same fish fry every Friday night, taking the kids to soccer practice 3 nights a week, etc. I don’t want to ever be that washed up guy who let himself go; always talking about my glory days. I hope mine haven’t even come yet.

Caspar - age 32 - designer/filmmaker
Brooklyn, NY

Caspar and I met a few years ago through some mutual friends in a rock band called The Protomen. He was doing graphic design and web work for them, while I just knew the guys from when they played dive bars in TN and weren’t packing out venues in all over the country. Caspar co-founded Version Industries, where they’ve done client work for Disney’s Tron Legacy, Louis CK, 65daysofstatic, and a whole bunch of other stuff you’ve probably heard of and/or thought was cool.

He and I chatted in May about why he moved to the city from his home country of England and how long he planned to be here. 

"When I was about 2 years old, my parents moved to America. My dad got a scholarship, and it meant that he could come to the US and teach, paint, lecture, that kind of stuff. For two years I lived in Virginia. It had some kind of profound effect on me, because after that, we went home and all I wanted to do was go back, but we never had the money; my parents were artists. Until the age of about 18, I would plead every summer that we could go to America. For whatever reason, despite every plan we made, it never happened.
By this point I had a really good friend called Lorenzo, and as it turned out he was American. He would come over every summer to visit his English father (his parents had divorced). My summers consisted of hanging out with this American kid, and he would just tell me stories about things in America – movies that had come out, things people were into. I was this little village kid, literally, totally unaware – there was no internet back then – and he would come over with stuff that would just blow my mind.

Eventually, I took the year off after I graduated school. Everyone goes to Nepal or Japan to teach English or something, and I just got a backpack and went to America for 3 months. My parents knew a load of people from when we used to live there in all these different cities, and I just took a bus or a car or hitched a ride or whatever. I went to San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Chicago, Memphis, Kansas City, Los Angeles.

It was one of the best 3 months of my entire life. Every single place had an amazing experience to offer, and at the end, I remember thinking New York left this tangible sense with me. I thought, if I could ever go back it would probably be New York. It kind of had this thing where I thought “maybe one day,” and then eventually I did go back.
In 2001, I got money for graduating and went back to America as quick as I could. I was going to be there for 3 months, and after about a week I decided just to go to New York, because I wanted to learn, work for filmmakers and live in New York.
A week into staying, the World Trade Center got hit. I was living on Grand street, in an old converted police station in this $9k/month apartment belonging to this filmmaker I was friends with. He had shelves of VHS tapes, and I was watching 3 or 4 of them a day, because he had all the coolest films and I had to catch up – which as far as I was concerned was an education. When the World Trade Center got hit, I was watching Werner Herzog’s Enigma of Kaspar Hauser. I’d started watching it at about 8 in the morning, and my friend up at Columbia University calls at 9 and said “what are you doing?” I said “I’m in my pajamas, drinking coffee and watching a movie.” She said “do you realize what’s happening right now? Turn on the TV!” She got me to change the channel, and I didn’t even know what the World Trade Center was, so I saw these planes hitting, and I was like “what is this, it looks like a movie?” Because it looked like a movie. It really did. She’s like “that’s the World Trade Center and it’s been hit with airplanes. You need to fucking get out of there!” She told me to look into the streets, and I look out and people are running past the window, covered in shit. This fancy apartment had this double-paned, soundproof glass, so I couldn’t hear it, I could just see it, which is why I guess the whole thing hadn’t hit me yet.
So I told her I was coming and turned off the TV – the movie was terrible, anyway – and I put on a rucksack and had to walk with all of my stuff from Grand st. all the way up to 116thst, because there were no cabs, no trains, there was nothing. I just saw unbelievable stuff on my way up. One of the things I’ve never forgotten was that all the cars had all of their doors open, and all the radios were on in the cars, all tuned to the same station. You heard the news full volume as you were walking down the street. 
New York after that point was very serene and surreal and everyone was kind of super chill. So my 3 months there the second time were amazing and I had a very serene, beautiful experience. I made some very good friends that time, and then I went back and lived in London with no money, and no job. So… I started a company [laughs].

Someone got us a job making a website, so we kind of thought, “let’s make a website company.” Giles was working at a really fancy company, and I convinced him to quit his job, and my other friend quit his job and we started this thing – and we got no work for a year or two. Suddenly out of nowhere, work started happening.

I had a girlfriend in America by this point, and I basically said “you know what, fuck it, let’s go to America.” At that time, the internet in England sucked – websites sucked, the understanding of what you could do with the internet sucked, the speed of everything was still modems – it was really lousy over there. This was 2003. We wanted to make cool websites, and we couldn’t get anyone to pay for a cool website, because the Internet was just like a back-burner situation in England at that point.
Eventually, we found a lawyer who wanted to trade a website for a visa. The whole thing was this unrealistic situation where we just didn’t think for a second that it would work. She was just out of law school; it was kind of this “fuck it, it’s free, why not” thing. Exactly a year later, a letter arrived at my parents’ house and it was my visa to America, and I just cried.
Giles and I stayed for another few months, packed our shit and moved over. We lived at 125th and Broadway, up on the edge of Harlem, next to the Cotton Club. We landed with absolutely nothing, and spent the next 2 years pulling it all together, and now here we are. So I guess that’s my New York story.”

Luke - age 24 - Copywriter
New York, NY 

Luke and I worked together for about a year at an online marketing agency. He’s moved up the ranks, from personal assistant to his current position as a copywriter, where he’s one of the most talented people I’ve gotten to know there. He and I caught up while he was discussing how he’s already eager to move away from New York.

"[I’ve been in NYC] since January of last year. Just about a year and a half. I’m always kind of like that - wanting to head to the next place. I don’t get sick of places earlier, but I just have a lot I want to see. I don’t want to just go there for a week, I want to actually be there.

The goal was not to be in New York - the goal was not to be anywhere on the east coast. I was a film major, so the goal was to move to LA. The one contact I had out there had been successful in a previous life writing Halloween H2O - my weird connection. I was waiting around for him to have his next big thing, but that never happened. He wanted to bring a couple of us out there, but there’s no work. I ended up moving home after I graduated for like 6 months and just took the first job I found. In between that, I worked at Amazon’s fullfilment warehouse, walking 30 miles a day in a factory. I needed to get out as soon as I could.

[Living in NYC] is not going to be one of those things I do forever. I’m open to that. It seems like it’s a couple year thing; get it out of your system and then I find a place to settle down. I don’t think it’ll be New York. I feel like when I first moved here, it was worth living here because everything was so new. Just the cost of living thing… I didn’t care because everthing was so new, but now that i’ve gotten past that point like… I could live in any other city essentially paying half of what I pay now, probably making the same amount of money and actually be saving money.

I want to be closer to the outdoors. I [grew up] an hour west of Philly. I grew up surrounded by farm land. I spent summers in Maine, hiking, so I want to be close to that in whatever way I can. That’s why every trip I take now is mostly outdoors. Just generally being not in a city.

I don’t not like New York. I love it here. Just like… I’m ready to leave.” 

Cory - age 21 - Photo Lab Tech
Madison, WI

Cory is one of those people who can get along with everybody. He grew up attending a private Christian school on Madison’s far east side. Maybe he was a different person before graduating high school in 2009 but I can imagine him walking several blocks off campus at lunch to sneak cigarettes while listening to Kid A. He tells and has been part of some of the wildest stories I’ve heard; from being awarded a mall-airbrushed shirt for enduring a disgusting bathroom dare to eating street cookies outside the Majestic Theater. He’s found himself at a point in his life that to me feels and sounds very familiar, and although he hasn’t pinned down any one thing he’d like to do with his life, he intends to seek out his opportunities elsewhere.

"I’m moving to Kansas City at the end of July. It’s a big step for me, I’ve invested 21 years of my life into relationships and various projects but I feel like it’s due time. I need a change of pace, more and different opportunities, and a more consistent rhythm of life. And I need to be on my own and making it work. Be around people that are my same age and going after some of the same things. I have a lot of friends that are several years older or younger than me and the people I know who are my same age, they’re off doing their own thing and are so into it and work different hours than me.

And I just think I have different ideas than my friends. It’s discouraging to have an idea I want to chase after and see people get excited and say “Oh yeah, that’s perfect for you; that’s a great idea, we’ll support you,” but that’s where the encouragement stops. One moment I’ll be really motivated and inspired. And I’ll get distracted and lose that idea. And just sit on my ass. And nobody around me is trying to be about that thing so I don’t stay motivated.

I want to help people. That’s a really broad statement but I just want to do that. I’ve had friends tell me that I’d be a good counselor; I feel like I’m really good at relating to people. Now I don’t know that I’d be able to do that It’d be possible to do it for a living, but if I got to do that and still had to work at Walgreens for the rest of my life, I’d be fine with that… But at the same time I don’t want to work at Walgreens for the rest of my life. I don’t need to get paid for doing something I love. I’ve never been a fan of 5-10 year plans. I don’t want to get stuck in a situation. But at the same time it’s kind of important to be locked in a bit. I need that tension; without it I might have a lot of passions but I won’t have them focused anywhere.

The past few years I’ve been restless. I need to get out and get away and I’ve wanted to since I graduated high school. I’ve had a couple of opportunities but circumstances were never really ideal. So I’ve been working, thinking what’s the point of starting something long-term either career-wise or whatever if I really just want to leave.

People do their own thing, and I want to do my own thing. I don’t want to be a copycat. I want to have my adventure and not someone else’s adventure. My parents are really devout Christians. They have this really cool attitude toward me and my life; as long as you know and trust God in whatever you’re doing, we’re happy with it.

They never really pushed me in one way or the other as far as what to do after I graduated high school and I’m not sure if that’s because we have a good or a bad relationship. I’d like to think it’s the former. I think they want me to figure out my life and what I want to do on my own. So I own my successes and failures.

That’s why this move is so major for me. I’m moving 10 hours away from everything I know and dropping into something that’s going to be completely brand new to me. And I get really nervous very easily, about opportunities that come my way. And I guess maybe that’s fear of failure but usually I just don’t like doing things on my own; I want to work with other people and enjoy that part of the process. Whatever I do for a career needs to have that. And I feel like I’ll have more success in a new city meeting new people that seem like a better fit from the start than trying to coerce people around here into collaborating.”

Bethany - age 25 - Pastry Chef
Brooklyn, NY 

Beth and I have run into each other in three separate states and been connected by a half-dozen mutual friends over the years. When I asked her to participate in this project, her response was that it was “weird to be telling [me] this stuff, since [I] pretty much know all of it already.”

We met through a mutual friend from Texas, discovering that Beth and my girlfriend (now wife) lived in the same dorm together in college in Tennessee. After she left midway through college to pursue a culinary education in NYC (followed by brief stints in Nashville and Dallas), we reconnected when we realized we lived within a few blocks of each other in Brooklyn. Funny how that happens in the biggest city in America.

"I’ve been in New York for exactly three years now. I came here for work; I have my connections here, that’s why I moved back after working in Dallas. I moved to Nashville for a year, but I wanted to get out after 6 months. [I was] thinking, ‘I’m turning 21 and I want to be by my friends!’ but I realized I had nowhere to work in Nashville. I was coming from a 3-star Michelin restaurant, and to move to Nashville after that, there was absolutely nowhere for me to work."

I moved to Texas originally because my plan was to live in Dallas for a year with my parents, save money, and go to Europe for a year. Instead I moved back to New York again.

My friend Rachel called me and said ‘hey I’m moving to New York for the summer’ and I was like ‘yes, that’s a good idea!’ I called an old chef that I hadn’t spoken to in two years and said ‘do you have a job for me’ and he said ‘yeah, I do actually.’ So I had a job before I moved to New York.”

I couldn’t do this job anywhere else, unless I was owning my own restaurant or something. I don’t want to work in a place that only has like 10 restaurants because that’s boring!”

John - age 24 - musician / booking
Brooklyn, NY

"All the shit that’s in our peripheral vision here is irrelevant elsewhere. I even look at the stuff I do here, and it means nothing to anyone outside the city. There’s people I’ve had interactions with, either playing with or eating with, and they’re so influential but outside the city, nobody knows who the fuck they are, nor do they care. Like, ‘oh he’s played with all these people and is a legendary musician,’ and they’re like, ‘who?’ I dunno, you come here and things are magnified. Especially like these small little microcosms of people, cultures and bullshit. It’s all magnified here, and you leave here and it’s like man… nobody gives a shit what I’m doing. Including me, haha. And then you come back and you’re sucked right back in. 

I never felt at home in TN. I always felt like I was on the outskirts of something. Now that I’ve left, I like a lot of it… It felt very clique-y to me. People were in it for the wrong reasons. I came here and I was embraced immediately. It took me like two weeks and I was meeting people that like… I was buying their records when I was in Nashville.

I came here and had a very defined idea of what I wanted. People’s interests here are more in common with what I’m interested in, too. Trying to get involved with experimental music in Nashville was like beating your head against a wall. I loved that scene and it was cool, but when you hit a wall you’ve gotta get out.

I get so tired of in TN - people would just go to the bar and talk about what they wanted to do with their lives instead of doing it. For me, I always just wanted to do it, and New York has allowed me to do whatever the fuck I want. You can fuck something up, move on and do something else. You have the opportunity to try 5,000 different things here. In Nashville, if one thing doesn’t work out then all of your doors are shut. ‘Oh we hit a wall with that venue, ah we’re fucked.’ Here, something goes down, something else pops up.

It was two weeks til my lease was up before I decided to move here. I was tempted just to stay in my comfort zone, and it ultimately came down to my friend who wanted to move to Brooklyn. I called him up like ‘hey do you wanna move together,’ and it worked out. Had he not said yes, I dont know that I would’ve done it. He’s in Minneapolis now, funny enough.

It was good to be able to move here and know somebody. What was tough for me in TN was I didn’t know a soul, and I hated it; I hated Murfreesboro. I hope that town burns to the ground - you can put that in there [Davis: at this point I busted out laughing]. It never felt good to me. I wish I’d had the balls to move to New York when I was 18. I was always trying to make connections here when I was there. It wasn’t me thinking I was too good for these people, I thought they were too good for me. I felt like everyone was involved in some kind of clique. I’ve never felt so out of place in my life, mostly because I came from a bigger town to a smaller town. I came there from Louisville, and I still kinda felt out of place there.

I’m in my element here, and that’s why I’m loving it.”

Sarah - age 30 - Retail Manager @ Aveda

Madison, WI

Sarah hasn’t always shared a last name with me. She was once a Christoffersen. I’ve known Sarah since my brothers and I met her and her sister Gina at a summer camp for Talented and Gifted kids (for which I’m pretty sure my mom did something sinister or outrageous to get us into). When I was attending this camp she lived in a Madison suburb to the east of town. She moved away to Ohio, graduated from OSU with a History degree followed by working toward her education certificate at UW Whitewater. She traveled the world for 6 months for a volunteer organization recruiting at various universities, and returned back to Madison with her pockets a little less full than expected.

"They covered our airfare, lodging, and food, but you’re only there once, you know? You want to live it up. I thought I’d come home with a ton of money but I basically came home with nothing."

Flash forward 5 years or so. Sarah married my younger brother, had a daughter, and she’s managing an Aveda store in the mall of all places.

My desire to travel comes from inside. I can’t control that. If money were not an object, I’d love to pack up Nich and Lily and travel the world.

Andrew: Usually getting married and having a kid makes you put down roots and get a job to pay the bills. Were there certain opportunities you had to forgo or things you had to put away to make those things more feasible?

Sarah: Before you get married, you can do whatever you want. I probably would have tried to transfer with my job. Why did I come back to Madison, you know? I could have gone anywhere in the country and started fresh like a bunch of my other friends did after school. But instead, I came back to a place that was familiar. And that sort of bums me out a little bit, because that I think was my one missed opportunity. Everything else has flowed. Because once you get married, it’s not just your money and your life, you have a whole other person’s interests, career, and lifestyle to take into account. You can’t just say, “I don’t want to be here anymore. let’s go.”

Andrew: Do you think those opportunities to transfer will come up again?

Sarah: Oh yeah, there’s always positions posted in other cities and I’m always watching them.  But I feel like it would have to be the right circumstances. Nich knows I want to, but we’re trying to figure out if what he’s doing with his denim and leather work if that would translate to another city when he’s building up more clients here locally.

Andrew: If those circumstances don’t work out, would you be okay with that? Staying in Madison indefinitely?

Sarah: I can’t see myself  being here in Madison for the rest of my life. I’ve been in this position and this same store for five years. And the thought of another 5 just seems… So long. I get annoyed having to manage people. It’s not like the girls I work with need it, but when you work with 6 women in the same space, everybody has the ability to act like high schoolers at times. I’d much rather be a mentor or an educator for Aveda. I really do believe in them as a company; I definitely drink their Kool-Aid.

Andrew: So is that some thing you’d like to do; teach?

Sarah: Well I graduated with the intention of becoming a high school history teacher and after seeing classroom time I decided I don’t want that. It’s not just about helping kids learn anymore; you’re not allowed just to go in and teach. I didn’t want to deal with parents and administration. I had one semester doing that and if I went back it’d probably only take me a year to finish up. But, being the breadwinner of the family, at least the one with the most reliable consistent income the idea of taking time to go back now, to just quit or even go part time seems completely ridiculous.

Andrew: What about going back to school for something else?

Sarah: I don’t know, maybe. I’d love to but I don’t know what I’d do. I feel like there’s so much that i could do.

The hardest part that I have with working in retail is that people think that it’s a last resort. Or that I’m not smart enough to do something else. That I just work at the mall.

Andrew: So do you like the public-facing facet of your job?

Sarah: I make new best friends basically every day. That’s part of my job to be personable, to be nice and energetic and to help people out. And it might seem vain to say you help people with shampoo, but your hair is something everyone else sees every day; it’s a part of how people perceive you and a part of how you express yourself. It’s important. And having people come back, wanting to talk about my family and seeing pictures of my daughter; I’m not just some girl that works in the store where you buy your shampoo.

Andrew: So I imagine that’s something that helps in the meantime; while you’re still working at this same store. You get this repeat business where people come back specifically to you. That’s not something that happens in retail anymore; it’s a bit of a lost art. It’s usually pretty faceless. 

So. 10 year goal. It’s a bit of a ways out, but think back to when you were 20. What did you think you’d be doing at 30 and maybe take that juxtaposition into consideration.

Sarah: When I was 20 I thought at 30 I’d be in suburban living, in this super nice house (laughs) because I mean I grew up with my dad making a lot of money so we pretty much got whatever we wanted. So like, nice furniture, that’s what I expected. Teaching, probably with a husband and a kid but that now seems completely ridiculous to me.

Andrew: I think it turns out different because we’re responsible for our own situation instead of stuff just happening to us. I wouldn’t have thought I’d be doing what I am now when I was 20.

Sarah: Right.

Andrew: Based on what you know now, knowing the reality of how things turned out over the past 10 years but also thinking about dreams you had for your life when you were either in college or right out of school, what do you want to be doing in 10 years? So much of those dreams or plans we had get put on the back burner in the wake of “being responsible”, and I feel like we try to bury them because they become an annoyance; you feel like a failure because you don’t accomplish them.

Sarah: It’d be cool to be in Denver. And I’ve never been to Portland but I want to go to Portland so bad that I don’t even care (laughs). Or Seattle but it seems kind of rainy and I don’t know if I’d be bummed out with all the rain.

The one thing that when Nich and I first started dating we talked about eventually opening up some sort of Youth Center. That I think would be my dream.

To run this place where kids can come and do something productive, get homework help and play sports, and be the cool place to hang out and not just the last resort or like the unofficial babysitter because your parents drop you off there.

So I’d need to learn grant-writing, but it’s something no matter what that I’ll always come back to but I wouldn’t know where to start or if it’s possible at all.

Another thing would be moving overseas somewhere , but again I’m not sure what I’d want to do. With all these jobs, I’ll always feel like I’m still 18 and looking for a major. I know what I don’t want, but I’m not quite sure exactly what I do want.

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