Nicole Sweeney is a professional internet user and video editor caught in a lifelong battle between a love of travel and a hatred of putting on real pants. She loves maps, semicolons, and doing things that scare her. She struggles with writing personal bios and public speaking.
Saving money when living in Southern California requires creativity. Nicole Sweeny , crushed by student loans and working a cool job that pays “dirt and high-fives” solves this problem in a very creative way: she stops paying rent.
This episode of Tell Us Something was recorded in front of a live audience on March 29th, 2016, at The Wilma in Missoula, MT. 9 storytellers shared their story based on the theme “Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me?”.
Today’s podcast comes to us from Nicole Sweeney and is titled "Home". Thank you for listening.
I was not kidding about being nervous, so we’re just going to all kinda jitter through this together.
For the last decade or so, negotiating the concept of “home” has been kinda complicated for me. I have lived in five different time zones, I went to school on three continents. But growing up, this was much simpler. I spent most of my childhood in L.A. or the L.A. area. And that is what felt like home. That’s the one that felt “true”.
When I was in high school,. My family moved from L.A. to Jefferson City Missouri, which is a very tiny town right in the middle of the “Show Me” state. At the time, I had purple hair, about as long as it is now, but like, bright purple. And I fancied myself a city girl, I was not. And our home in the San Fernando Valley was dreamt up in some suburban cookie cutter fairy tale. But, I had ideas. I had some ideas. And I also had a lot of feelings about this move, as fifteen-year-olds do.
We...the town is a very sort of “Friday Night Lights” vibe to it in terms of like the devotion to the high school football team. The bus rides to school involved, you know, cow pastures out my window, which is not really a thing that I saw much of.
And so, I had a pretty contentious relationship with this town. I felt like I did not belong there. This place was not for me. I belonged in California. That’s, that’s what I was.
When I graduated from high school, though, I did not immediately go racing back to California. I went off to school in D.C, then I decided to go to graduate school in Paris, even though I didn’t speak any French. I’m really good at making impulsive life decisions. Even when I try to plan, it’s still kind of woefully disconnected from whatever that force is inside me that says, “Yeah, dive in! Do The Thing!” Always time to panic later.
So, after a year of [dramatically] croissants on the Champs de Mars, and drinking wine by the canal and like, also going to class and finishing my coursework, I decided that I was now going to do a responsible thing, I was going to be really responsible, and since my thesis was basically just Internet stuff, I could do that pretty much from anywhere. So, I decided that I would go home to my parents’ house, save some money, you know, pound it out, get it done. Be really responsible.
I don’t really know what that word means, it’s like this vague adult concept that I am forever falling short of in some made-up way. But. I was going to do it.
Shortly after getting back home, I went out to California to visit my best friend Anastasia, and celebrate her engagement. It was a really big deal because, spending most of our friendship long distance, we don’t -- we did not get to be together for most of these big life moments so being able to be there for her engagement was really exciting. And it made me, you know, really nostalgic for California in a pretty big way.
So I applied for an internship. It was this location independant internship for this really cool start-up company, and I was like, “Well, this is perfect, I can have something else to focus on while I’m writing my thesis, and then, maybe at the end of it, maybe I’ll have a job lined up, which is really responsible. So, I interviewed for this internship while I was visiting her, and instead of being offered the internship, I was offered an actual job. Of the show up. Be at the office variety.
Unfortunately cool little startup also like, paid dirt and high fives. So, not great. But I decided to -- whatever! I’m going to do The Thing! ‘Cause, that’s what I do.
So, I took the job. I convinced myself that I would write my thesis, like, on the weekends or something. Ahh, I don’t know. So.
I moved in, with my best friend. She had this pullout couch that she bought second-hand. And, things were going pretty great! I had, like, the most affordable rent in all of Los Angeles.
Even with my very affordable rent, I also had very high student loan payments, so, I had to get this weekend job. That I hated. At, this like, rich people neighborhood where a Kardashian lives, and, clearly I’m a very privileged person, but this introduced me to a whole other world of rich people problems that I had just never, like, comprehended. And really didn’t want to know anything about.
Every weekend, I drove myself out to my soul-sucking job, and, aside from that, I loved everything else. Everything else was going great. My, you know, dirt and high-five job was doing really well, I got to be there with my best friend and play in her wedding. Like, every night in this apartment was like a big wedding planning slumber party thing. Things were really great.
And I was also really good at avoiding emails from my thesis advisor, so, you know -- living the dream!
Unfortunately, Anastasia did eventually actually get married. And the plan was always that I had to go, when that day came. Plans and I don’t really mix really well. So, I, I didn’t. Couldn’t really find anything. I also decided that I could not continue to drive out to Calabasas, so I quit that job.
So, I had less money, and, there, you know, you just can’t beat the Best Friend Rate. Randos on Craigslist don’t offer that, it turns out. So, I had the brilliant idea that the solution to the cost of living in Los Angeles is to not pay rent.
You don’t pay rent, it’s fine, right? So I got myself a storage unit. And a membership to 24-hour fitness, and I moved into my car.
At the time, I did not tell anybody that I was doing this. Because, I assumed, correctly, that people were not going to approve, of this life choice. I have since told everyone in my life that I was doing this. But the thing that I have not admitted to anyone until, like, right now, is that I truly thought that this was a great idea. I, I was convinced that I had figured it out.
And, you know, 24-hour fitness, I had, you know, a bathroom at all hours, it was great. So where I parked was a block in North Hollywood just up the street from the 24-hour fitness. When I would get up every morning to go to the gym, I had a great gym routine going. Cause, you know, I had to work out to shower. I couldn't, you know, just use the shower at the gym, that would be weird. I’m like, sleeping in your car…not weird. But when I would get up to go to the gym every morning, I saw -- there’s a couple other cars on this same block that also had midwestern state plates and fogged up windows.
“I see you, Ohio.”
There was something oddly comforting and re-assuring about that. Unfortunately, there’s also, like, a constant anxiety about like, not being seen. Like probably the only time that I remember being genuinely afraid was the one night that I tried to sleep in the front seat. Just, the visibility factor. Not good. I love my car dearly. I have a convertible Mustang. It’s real nice, but I don’t know if you ever tried to sleep in the backseat of a Mustang, or just sit in it, like, at all? It’s not comfortable!
So, so that was a good time, but you know, I kind of piled under my blankets. Went to the beach every weekend. People now they don’t really do that, but I did, because, you know, they have bathrooms. They’re not great bathrooms, but I wasn’t really in a position to be selective.
So, you know.
I tried really hard to make this thing work. But, it turns out that all mof the free time that I thoguht I was going to have to spend at the library was pretty consumed by like, “where am I going to sleep? Where am I going to pee? Like -- Dagney -- where can we poop?”
The questions, they are many.
Pretty constant. And, eventually I had to sort of accept that this was not working out for me and I was going to have to go home.
When I was telling this story the other day, the phrase “homeless in your hometown” was thrown out. And it was sort of jarring to me because I had never thought of myself as having been homeless. Like, I thought of this as this stupid thing that I did, once upon a time.
And so that word, it's just sort of weird to me, but the actual kicker though is that I was in a position where, in my hometown, I don't feel comfortable telling anyone, like, “Hey, can I sleep on your couch? That would be cool.”
Instead, I you know, packed up my life, which was, you know, already very conveniently packed up, and returned to my parents’ in Missouri.
And, um, yeah -- the idea of “home” this whole “hometown” thing. Turned out to be a lot more fraught and complicated than I had previously idealized it to be or imagined it to be. Except, I will add, that clearly I did not stay in Missouri. I did eventually write that thesis. Took me a very long time, but, got it done. Took extra -- several semesters -- enrolled in thesis.
But, I found myself here, in Missoula. Moved here in the dead of winter. And, it was snowing the day that we unloaded all of my stuff from the truck and into my apartment. And a few strangers from my new job who had known me for all of a hot minute, turned up to help me unload all of my stuff in the snow.
So. I don’t know. Maybe it’s not that complicated.