6 Months in to the best job I’d ever had working for Twitter in NYC, I was about to spring some pretty tricky news on them.
My then fiancee Lydia had just landed a new job with Nike, for which, we had to move from Brooklyn to Portland, Oregon – with Portland being a place I’d always fancied exploring thanks to the brilliant insight of an online quiz on ‘which city are you most like?’ I was really excited about this, but worried about holding onto my job. Not making it a straightforward coast to coast move, we’d also planned to move back to the UK for the summer and get married. We’d planned the summer wedding for a long time, but not the Portland move.
After breaking the news at work I somehow ended up in a situation where my managers were letting me down tools over the summer, get married, spend some more time with my family and then move to Portland where I’d work remotely for them there. Within that 6 months I’d also taken a week off to fly back to the UK and visit my terminally ill dad having learned of his diagnosis mid-way through a super-fast turnaround project. That’s a lot to ask of a position you’ve only just started but they must have been able to see my passion to make good work and supported me through it all. I’m so grateful to that team to this day.
And so after 4 years in NYC (enough to feel jaded), in July 2019 we left for the UK to get married and look forward to our new lives in Portland, Oregon.
I knew it was too good to be true. After the amazingness of the wedding I’d had a horrible feeling something bad was going to happen… I’d been seeing articles pop up about tightening immigration rules, the H1B visa I had was under fire by the Trump administration. Lo and behold, shortly before we were due to return to Portland, I received a call from my manager informing me my visa petition had been denied. We worked for a while and tried to find a way to appeal but ultimately any effort seemed futile and so frustratingly, my employment was terminated. I hated breaking the news to Lydia. Luckily marriage had unlocked a way for us to be together, so I scrambled to get a spousal visa to at least live with my wife back to the USA.
We eventually arrived in Portland, a little battered, but still excited.
At first I had the job of setting up the house, then... I found myself trying to figure out what to do next. I couldn’t apply for a new job as I’d already used over 4 years of my 5 year visa. No one would sponsor a me for 9 months. I couldn’t legally earn an income.
I saw the lemons life had given me and started to look for the juicer — I’d always struggled to slot into one role at a company thanks to my curiosity not resonating with the ‘division of labour’ concept anyway, so I wanted to use the opportunity to do something new with my life. I’d always wanted to be free from the shackles of a 9–5, to work on my own things.
I tried making some art for a bit, but realised I’d have a long way to go to actually turn it into a profession that could sustain the standard of living we’d like. Despite a little success with a self-initiated Covid-19 mask project called Everymask and ‘Eat Bitter’ a collaborative project between Lydia, some other peeps and myself, I was lost. Here I was, with time and thanks to Lydia, far from struggling financially, and yet I couldn’t find a direction in which to apply my energy. I felt unfocused, irrelevant and pretty useless. I found comfort in going out into nature and foraging but ultimately regressed into the role of house husband — keeping the house running and Lydia fed and watered as she jumped from back-to-back Zoom calls and it somehow managed to fill my days.
Fast forward a few months and Covid-19 was making its way around the world and measures were being introduced to tackle the spread. The Covid-19 Lockdowns have a Wikipedia page. They’re a concept unto themselves. And their side effects drastically changed society.
People en masse were forced to take their foot off the gas, finding themselves suddenly having to manage their own time and energy. Many struggled, spinning without a purpose, questioning what they had even been doing with their lives. Without their usual daily cues; the metaphorical shock collar keeping us straying too far away from domestication and the constant need for daily productivity, people began to reflect on what society, community, and our modern way of living had become. This was what I experienced thanks to my visa denial. I had no idea I was just a little ahead of everyone else.
It was a process of being broken down — without purpose yet with time to think, you quickly end up looking at your life and the systems we exist in critically. Of course we don’t need to look far to uncover insights that lead us to despair, there’s lots to fault with modern living and lots of it we cant individually change. The interesting part is how people have been reacting to this process. Judging by my admittedly oversimplified, anecdotal evidence below, like most things we either chose to address it and seize on an opportunity, or retreat and run from it…
Since lockdown began in March 2020, alcohol consumption rose dramatically. The British Liver Trust reported a 500% rise in calls to its helpline. There have been spikes in breakups and divorces. Meanwhile the FT reported a record number of business startups across major economies. I personally know people that changed careers, young graphic designers in NYC that moved upstate to farm. I know that right now there’s a desperate scramble for rural and small holding properties with people buying them without viewing for cash. All spurred by this pause for thought.
Is this a second Age of Enlightenment?
Fight or flight, I believe some of the ignorance that we all took comfort in has been lost — and maybe it will save us. We’ve known for a long time we need to address our current trajectory. And when “studies have shown that tribal people on their own land are some of the happiest in the world” the act of rewilding might just return us to the right path.
So get a good night’s sleep and eat a hearty breakfast — there’s a lot to be undone.