About a month ago, I decided that I was moving out of Los Angeles. Everyone I’ve told has been surprised. The surprise turns to shock when I say I’m moving to Wisconsin.
The bewilderment stems from the fact that people in LA know the following things about Wisconsin:
1. It’s cold
2. The Green Bay Packers
4. “Really, do you know how cold it is there?”
5. Jeffrey Dahmer
You can see how convincing people of Wisconsin’s merits is an uphill battle. I wouldn’t move there if I thought all I’d be doing is shivering in my apartment, watching football, pounding string cheese and keeping an eye out for serial killers.
But, even if it wasn’t Wisconsin, I’d still be moving. So before I extol the virtues of the midwest, I’ll talk about why I’m leaving in the first place.
Over the past few years, I discovered that if I eat real foods, I feel better. I don’t know how it took me so long. You’d think that right around high school, after the hundredth time I sprinted to a bathroom and barely made it, or spewed foam out of my mouth after drinking a soda, or lay curled up in my bed with my stomach feeling like a whole nest of fire ants had crawled down my throat, that I’d consider a different diet.
Nope. Took me until after college before I started to slowly cut out the junk. Goodbye Reese’s, hello grass-fed butter and sweet potatoes. The final step was giving up even my beloved In-n-Out. That was hard. I was like a heartbroken lover who couldn’t resist drunk texting and making excuses to run into that person. I held on for a long time. “If I get it protein style and only go once a week, that’s pretty healthy!”
This all might seem inconsequential. After all, LA has access to the best food in the world. I should stay here and drink my 8 dollar juices and like it. But the diet change didn’t only change my physical health. It also made me stop every once in a while and go “huh, that one tweak made a huge difference in my quality of life. I haven’t destroyed a public toilet (literally) in over a year. I wonder if there are other adjustments I could make.” I would then go back to playing video games or working on my jump shot or re-reading Ender’s Game or whatever I was doing, but the seed had been planted.
I started getting into wearing minimalist shoes, even the kind that make me look like a lizard-freak and caused kids to cross the street when I approached. I did deep dives of research into the negative health effects of sitting, lack of sunlight, lack of outdoor time in general, stress, not getting enough sleep and not having real connections with the people you live around.
I started listening to less comedy podcasts, and more health and wellness podcasts. I spent hours listening to experts on food, farming, body alignment, mindfulness, death, breathing, supplements, nutrient ratios and more. I had less and less of a desire to re-watch Archer episodes I’d seen five times. I started forming a meditation practice. I became more interested in what Chris Kresser had for breakfast than listening to Marc Maron complain about his shitty dad.
Oh, and it finally hit me that it was going to be super fucking hard to get a job as a TV writer.
Not only are there less and less decent paying jobs, but most of them are going to people who have written a feature, or worked as an assistant on the same show for 6 years, or who are not only great writers but also perform in a popular show at UCB.
I knew it was a tough business when I got into it. I heard that you should be willing to work for 5-7 years, minimum, before you get your first break. And I was all about that grind. I would stay late at work, absorbing as much as I could from my bosses. I went to talks and networked and joined writers groups with my friends. I would drive home after writing all night and listen to screenwriting podcasters complain about the lack of character development in Ghost. I spent around 2 hours a day for a year and a half producing a body of work to show to potential employers. I was committed.
Until I wasn’t. The year came and went without the faintest possibility of getting a writing job. I didn’t get a single meeting. I also went through the process of watching my bosses create a pilot, and saw how brutal it was. The editing room is particularly soul crushing. I almost went crazy sitting in a dark, window less room for hours on end, rewinding the same clip over and over to see if we could find a way to shave off a second of screen time.
I did some real soul-searching and realized that maybe I didn’t want to devote my life to the TV world. It was similar to how I finally recognized that I didn’t have to keep eating a certain way if I didn’t feel it was optimizing my performance. Once I stepped back and had that realization, the flood gates were open. I started reassessing whether I would want to be in LA if I didn’t have to be here for work.
It helped that my girlfriend was having similar thoughts. And that we were coming to the end of the lease for our apartment. And that she was from Wisconsin and missed it and loved it.
We had many a long talk, then finally decided to pull the trigger. We wanted a more simple, healthy, affordable life, and we wanted to start it in Madison.
So what if I’ve never been there? I moved to Israel sight unseen, for Christ sakes. At least they speak the same language in Wisconsin. (Although the accent is pretty funny. The way some people say Eggs with a long “A” is especially amusing.)
Before I moved to Israel, I was a little nervous. I was worried about moving to a place that was one thrown rock away from WWIII. I watched the news. I knew that the entire Middle East was a dangerous desert full of full of rabid, marauding tribes. I imagined Tel Aviv having one or two high rise buildings and that the rest would be a shanty town.
Really. Me, a Harvard grad in the year 2009, thought those things. A guy who just a year prior took a whole class on the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. And I was still completely ignorant about what Israel would be like, on the ground. So I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising that people have a skewed view of what it’s like in the far off land of Wisconsin.
Sure, it’s cold. But it’s also cheap, the landscape is beautiful, and the people are renowned for being nice. If your goal is to live more simply (check) for less money (check) while having abundant access to nature and family and friends (check check check) then you could pick worse places.
What’s been really interesting is that the second most common reaction I get from people after they stop warning me not to get lost outside and freeze to death*, is jealousy. I can’t believe how many people have told me that they wished they could leave and live somewhere more relaxed and affordable. Even those who have great, high paying jobs.
Maybe I can be an example that it can be done. You’re allowed to leave. Who needs perfect weather and ample job opportunities and access to gorgeous beaches and mountains that are within 15 minutes of each other? I’ll take more flat land and a winter if it means having time to pursue, and appreciate, the things that are really important to me.
*okay, this was only my Dad. But he really did warn me about this.