The One Where Seattle is for Writers

“Artist Unknown – Image Courtesy of Google”

Yesterday, I wrote a post titled The One About Going Pro as a Freelance Writer. In hindsight, I realize this was rushed and left more questions than answers. That last post really doesn’t cover the jarring things I’ve said on my Twitter and Facebook accounts over the last several days. Things like how I can see which way the wind is blowing in my home state, so I am pulling up stakes, and making plans to skip town.

Seriously.

In less than a year I will be done with my Master’s degree. This graduation will close a very long chapter in my life, and I am ready for a long break from academia. I have spent the majority of my adult existence in higher education. I am looking forward to a reality that doesn’t involve faculty meetings, project deadlines, and FAFSA paperwork. Eventually, I plan on returning to academia to complete my PhD. My goal is to spend my elder years pounding English into the thick heads of Freshmen. However, before I can do that, I need to pay off my student loans, and take some much-needed time for myself.

That is where the freelancing and moving-out-of-state part comes in.

Traditional employment will only allow me to achieve one of my life goals, which is paying off my student debt. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with that I also have the goal of owning my own home, (sans mortgage), and retiring at 65 instead of 72. To do this requires some side hustle. I am making my “useless” degree pay for itself by hiring out my skills as a wordsmith, and using that extra income to pay off some major bills.

You can be an artist and be successful. You just need to be a smart artist who knows that the road to success, whatever that may look like, is paved with hard work and a level head. Part of that level-headed attitude includes taking a long look at where you are living, and whether or not your zip code will help or hurt you in the long run. Frankly, the writing is on the wall, Alaska is going broke.

Thirty years ago, the late Gov. Jay Hammond prophetically called future legislators to grow Alaska’s economy beyond oil. This one-trick pony has been the primary source of state revenue for more than forty years. Now, it is starting to run out, and the market ain’t what it used to be. True, there are plans to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for drilling under the current administration. However, even if companies were to break ground tomorrow, it would be too little too late.

Initial cuts to important services such as health and safety are already coming home to roost. One need look no further than the recent uptick in crime to see this is so. Yesterday, while running errands, Mr. Beard and I couldn’t help but notice the spike in graffiti in West Anchorage. At best it signals an increase in vandalism. At worst it marks growth in gang activity and the spread of their “territory.” Either way, neither one of us wants to stick around and find out.

A shrinking job market means an increase in poverty and increases in poverty are synonymous with increases in delinquency and addiction. Alaska is already experiencing an oipoid crisis that will only spread in the coming years. Throw in decreased funding and the elimination of key programs geared towards assisting addicts, including law enforcement, and you have lawlessness on par with Alaska during the 80s and 90s. Crime rates were high as people turned to thievery and drug dealing to supplement their incomes after the state went broke the first time.

I was a kid during the 80s and 90s in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, an area that lies roughly fifty miles north of Anchorage in farm country. I remember lying awake at night in bed listening to random gunshots as our neighbors warded off would-be thieves. My own parents were the victims of multiple break-ins that included armed standoffs with perpetrators who shot back. I decided, (after way too many nights spent lying on the floor to avoid a stray bullet), I would never again live that life as an adult.

Another reason why Evan and I are leaving Alaska is the cost of living. It is f—— expensive to live here. Gas is nearly $3/gal in the winter, and can run up to $10/gal or more out in the rural villages. Rental prices are highway robbery no matter where you are. Average rent for a one-bedroom apartment here in Anchorage is $1200/mo, and even affordable housing isn’t in this town.

Evan and I were lucky to get into our place – a rare $850/mo for a one-bedroom in West Anchorage – because affordable places typically go within hours of their ads being posted. If you want an affordable place to live you need to act fast. However, initial research into the housing market in Washington reveals that we could rent an entire house for what we’re paying for our apartment. Throw in our long-term goal of owning our own place and it makes sense to go where property is affordable.

Plus, I can’t ignore the reality that there are better job opportunities for freelance writers in Washington than in Alaska. Up here everything is in a microcosm because our population is so small. In some ways we are isolated from the outside world. This has its pros and cons, for sure, but as someone who is familiar with both I have decided that for my quality of life it is best to relocate.

All of the things I am interested in are far more common in Washington than Alaska. Not only do I want to grow tomatoes outside, (a lifelong dream of any Alaskan), but blog about gardening and alternative living. I want to experience what it is like to live in a community where non-traditional diets and lifeways are supported. In Alaska the popular attitude towards such things tends to veer to the negative.

Despite priding ourselves on our collection of oddballs and colorful characters, there is an underlying current of elitism. It has given rise to entire groups who want to make sure that their interpretation of the Alaskan “brand” remains dominant, and unchanged. I love Alaska, but I do not love the insular attitude that has been fomenting amongst her people. If we are to survive and overcome the challenges created by the budget shortfall, we need to change. Unfortunately, for some people the very word “change” is tantamount to spewing forth the most vile invectives imaginable.

The immediate effect of this refusal of adapt is brain-drain. The last three generations, including my own, have been pulling up stakes by the droves, and are taking our talents elsewhere. Alaska has been struggling with this issue since the mid-90s, and has failed to improve the situation. Economic instability coupled with the failure to implement or develop new technologies does not encourage young people to stay. Resistance to change does not help the situation either, and stifles any real creativity.

I can tell you, as someone who has been living here for almost a decade, Anchorage is growing as an arts and cultural hub in its own right – including the tech sector. However, Anchorage is still not on par with its sister cities, Portland and Seattle. It will be at least another decade, (if not longer given the budget crisis), before Anchorage can finally claim its rightful place as the northernmost center of technology and art. Until then, given the socioeconomic climate, it makes more sense to join the steady stream of folks heading south. I will miss the community that fostered the growth and development of my own talents. Yet, I am excited at the prospect of joining a new creative community.

The best part of all of this is that I get to take y’all along for the ride.

-RJK