Nomacademic

January 14, 2010

It is now exactly one and a half years since I saw both, my wife and son, off to school. My son left home to start as a a freshman at UC San Diego, and my wife became a Full Professor at NYU in New York. So what am I still doing here in the Bay area?

I love it here. But more so, it is home for the entire family and someone needed to stay here to keep it that way. Even though we cover three locations: East Bay, Upper West Side, and La Jolla, home is mainly in the Bay area. It’s where all the “stuff” remains. It’s where the extended family comes together for festivals and where we spend all our holidays.

My wife and I spend time in both NY and the Bay area. We try to spend this time together, moving between locations. Whether this is a commuting situation I do not know, but it hardly feels like that. A commute usually means one fixed point and the other one moves. In our case we both move back and forth, a lot together. And our son drives up and down from San Diego, setting various land-speed records I presume!

This seems pretty unique–I know of no other family with our situation, though I am sure there are plenty out there. People often ask me, what is this like? Did you ever think you would end up living this way? How long can you keep this up?

It has been interesting, this nomadic life. There are many questions I don’t have answers for, so the best I could do was to come up with a new term for someone like me–“nomacademic” which is an amalgam of a nomad and academic. Hence the title of this post.

I am still developing my understanding of this new state I am in. Yes, I hardly would have anticipated this life, which is very interesting of course, so let me give you my impressions. It may help me to understand things better too.

  1. It is tiring and costly. Living in more than one place, two in my case, is more than twice as tiring. Not only do you deal with two of everything, especially mortgages and bills, but it adds up to more than that because you can only be in one place at a time. So things slip and then one needs to fix them now and then.
  2. You get used to being minimalist. Our place in NY has very little and it feels spacious and bright. I hope we never end up filling it to the brim with things. Feels light and easy. Who would have thought the simple life could be so easy to settle into?
  3. You learn to travel very light. I get on the plane between NY and CA with what I would call a laptop bag without the laptop. I have a laptop stored in NY and so I do not take one with me when I fly. I also have a lot of things “in the cloud” and can work from any machine from almost anywhere. And my iPhone lets me do a lot from most locations anyway. I keep a few clothes in both homes and so nothing ever needs to be carried. The best part is, I do not have to pack. I have also become adept at making it from door-to-door using only public transport (walk, bus, air, subway–I use them all). Maybe I should take the ferry one day just to make sure I use all five modes of transport in one trip.
  4. You get used to living anywhere any time. When my wife is in NY and I am in CA, I do not always come home from work. I have cousins and good friends covering various points of the compass in the Bay area and I simply drop in and stay with them. It saves me a fifty mile drive each way to and from campus but more, it lets me spend time with many people I enjoy very much. The trunk of my car always has a fresh set of clothes and other clothing for various kinds of weather, making it easy for me to “crash” anywhere. It’s easy, just keep it simple, don’t get too dependent on too many comforts, and life is really quite simple. Most important–you can make home extend to the people you love.
  5. You get used to a lot of solitude. I do spend more quiet evenings at home than expected, and it can get awfully quiet. I thought I would write a lot more, but it does not work that way as I learnt. I am not a hermit, so that does not work for me. I ended up watching a lot of TV, but have managed to wean myself off, and its been nice after that. Reading and writing for pleasure is all that I need. So much better than reading and writing for work.
  6. You don’t have space. Strangely, you think you will get a lot of “space”–and keenly look forward to it. I realized that I already had the space I needed. Luckily my wife always respected my space, even though I am not sure I did hers. I also realize now that having your space is more a mind thing than a physical thing. You can feel like you have your space even in the most crowded subway car, if only your mind is free to roam and do its own thing. That I always had, and so living alone matters much less.
  7. I spend a lot more time at odd hours in the office. I quickly found that I got more work done in the office when no one was there, and so I stay later than usual and come in a little later too. It also helps me beat all the traffic, which in the Bay area, is a real nuisance.
  8. I also tend to spend more time in other academic locations now as we tend to go together to these places. We just spent an entire month in India. I managed to travel with just one small handbag, and it made things really easy. It forced me to rule out shopping which I did none of, as it would have meant buying an additional bag. Avoided that. Laundry is a wonderful thing.
  9. I am getting less work done than I was when the entire family was here. Its been hard. When we are all in different locations, you spend a lot of energy on managing locations and trying to communicate, many times quite unsuccessfully. It can be quite frustrating. So there is stress, let no one doubt that. I am in the early stages of learning to deal with that, and I think I will. But it’s been hard, and stress is an odd thing, it kills your concentration and makes you horribly inefficient. So am working on that to get back my smooth, efficient work rhythm.
  10. I sleep late a lot. There is a vacuĆ¼m in the house that makes me potter around, reading, writing, clearing, etc., all in an effort to fill the place with activity. I have to learn to develop a new routine and go to bed on time. But nowadays, I sleep around 2am, surface whenever and then mosey on to the university. It feels good, even though every morning I get up regretting yet another late night.
  11. There’s is lots more to write about being a nomacademic, and I will return to this theme again. But now, it’s close to midnight and I have only two hours more of time to binge on books and songs and other distractions, till sleep just takes over and shuts me down involuntarily.