Project Wonderful

Sunday, November 3, 2013

To Washington On My 29th Birthday

Over the course of my seven years in politics, I've given a number of very legitimate reasons for not to wanting to move to DC.

When it comes to living on the East Coast, New York has DC beat in nearly every facet: food, theater, diversity, pop culture and everything in between. Even growing up as a New York City suburbanite and then a campaign nomad, I always imagined myself packing it in and moving to Manhattan. As John Updike famously said, "The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding."

In addition, I've never shared the desire that many of my friends have to work where the sausage gets made. I got into politics as a fluke and stayed in because of the satisfaction I get out of empowering people. "Those on Capitol Hill," I would say to the approval of my Midwestern and Southern campaign constituents, "are empowered enough." Campaigns are my wheelhouse. I'm out of my element when it comes to any discussion of what happens on the hill.

There are other personal reasons I've never wanted to live in our nation's capitol. For one, the place is a veritable exboyfriend convention. I went down for the inauguration last January and ran into four people I've dated over the course of three events. DC is also less than ideal for someone who is as directionally challenged as I am. In what Earthly realm does New Jersey intersect with Louisiana? Then there are the complaints that everyone has about DC: People in DC work all the time, which is true; all anyone talks about is politics; everyone who's ever gotten a Congressman his coffee think he's Fareed Zakaria.

The thing is, the further away I get from campaigns, the more I miss talking about work all the time and being surrounded by people who get where I'm coming from. I even made a blog out of it. Besides the older my friends and I get, the more humility my social set seems to have about our livelihoods as we realize that for all of us, politicos, lawyers, and doctors alike, the brass ring will forever be a moving target. And so in my old age (I turn 29 next week) I find myself for the first time with my sights set on Washington, sending flurries of networking emails, braving the traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike and posting Facebook inquiries about DC Yoga Studios and where to find the best Bloody Mary, in an effort to convince myself that DC is livable.

And old age it is. When I left for grad school I wrote a Dear John letter explaining that while campaigns had meant the world to me, it was time to grow up and be an adult. I was intimidated, terrified really. A lease? An apartment? Living in the same place for two years? Leaving campaigns meant relinquishing my best excuses as to why my life wasn't going the way I wanted it to. Campaigns left little time for diet and exercise, or relationships, or most importantly introspection. Even scarier than the prospect of leaving campaigns for adulthood was the prospect that it wouldn't take. I knew that it was possible I would come out of those two years saying to campaigns, "it's not you, it's me." What if I couldn't be happy without the excitement of campaign life? What if I learned I had to choose between the work that has defined my life and having a life at all? In 2011 I wrote:

I looked around, thought about what I want in my life and realized that,for me, the campaign lifestyle wasn't sustainable. I'm proud that I had the courage and the wisdom to make that decision but that doesn't mean there's nothing to mourn.

I could say maybe in a couple years, who knows what will happen, but I don't want to lead myself on. In three years we both will have changed so much we'll barely recognize each other. When I do become involved again, it will be in a totally different capacity. I'm hoping we'll still be friends, but that's gonna be hard without falling back in.

In many tangible ways, I am not the adult I had hoped I would be by the time I finished grad school. I don't have a job, I'm single, if anything I weigh more than I did when I matriculated. Yet I have to tell you I have never felt like more of a grown-up.

And that leads me to the real reason I never wanted to move to DC. It wasn't the nightlife, or the (lower case p) politics or the exboyfriends. Deep down, part of me always suspected that my former coworkers who moved to Washington were leading lives of quiet desperation, spending their days at happy hours and hiking in Virginia and fantasy football to fill the void left by campaigns. You see, the true campaign person secretly believes that people doing anything else have to be, in some sense, kidding. Grad school felt like beginning adulthood, but DC felt like buying a house in the suburbs. One of my favorite comedians, Mike Birbiglia, has this line about how he didn't want to get married until he was sure nothing else good could happen in his life, and that's how I felt about DC. Just this great resignation.

Mike Birbiglia is married now and as far as I can tell good things continue to happen to him. He had a feature film produced last year. Maybe the same forces that drive men who are commitment-phobes in their 20's to get married in their 30's are what lead me to lustfully skim DC apartments on Craigslist at 29. What I know now that I didn't know two years ago is that no one really feels like an adult all of the time. (To wit, I recently walked in on my mother dressing a barbie doll as Miley Cyrus whining, "IT DOESN'T LOOK REEAAAAL.") That said, I've noticed that valuing flexibility and fervor over stability and self-care no longer feels authentic to me. Moreover, admitting that no longer feels like a betrayal. I still don't feel ready to write the eulogy on my sense of adventure, but I don't need to wear it on my sleeve to know that it's there. I can change what I want without changing who I am. After all, I could live alone on a mountain top, but I would always be a campaign person.

And that is the most valuable thing I could have gotten from these past two years: not a boyfriend, or a job, or a leaner midsection, but the confidence and sense of self to have none of those things, to be completely out of my element, and to know that I will be okay. I've had jobs and boyfriends and a waist before and I have the tools to get them again. So maybe stability is my next big adventure. Maybe it's something else. But if all goes according to plan, it may just be in DC.*

*Unless I get the one job I am applying to in New York.


  1. Thanks for the great read Nance! I'm pretty sure we are sharing a brain, you're just able to turn the thoughts into real words - words that are visible to others and live on a page.
    All the best,

  2. Thanks, Heidi! It's always a little scary to publish one of my more personal blog posts and SO GREAT to hear when people relate to it!

  3. Oh my gosh, we have the same birthday!