Monday, October 18, 2010

Itinerant academic

I've gone itinerant for the moment, although I couldn't say that I'm sleeping rough on the streets of Research City.  (And thank heavens for that.)  I'm currently bunking in the spare bedroom/office of a colleague here in RC, and feeling embarrassed at the hospitality that zi and hir partner have shown me.  I really hope I get to pay all of this forward one day.

The first order of business — aside from fiddling with the Blackberry I've purchased as an experiment in pushing my technological boundaries — is, naturally, finding myself an apartment of my own.  Since part of the practical purpose of this fellowship is to give me time to write, I'm trying to acquire a place where I can live solo, even though I could do much cheaper by splitting a place with a roommate.  Historically, I have poor relations with roommates, and I find them a stressor that I would rather avoid, finances permitting.  RC is cheap enough, by US standards, that this is a viable possibility for me — although, funny story!

So, RC is so named because I did my doctoral research here, as well as this current stint.  The housing prices here tend to rise pretty swiftly from year to year, so I had sticker shock when I started looking around: I remembered prices several years out of date.  Once I adjusted for inflation, I started looking for a place pretty much like what I had last time: small, relatively cheap, nothing not too okay-maybe-just-a-little-bit fancy.  I actually wanted to get a slightly nicer place than last time, and especially a quieter one.  (I lived in the heart of downtown RC as a grad student.)  This means probably paying a little more than sheer adjustment for inflation, but so be it.  Still, I was having trouble finding anything reasonable to pay; the rents I was hearing quoted to me sounded totally bananas.

Until this morning. 

While walking down the streets of my favored potential neighborhood, searching the landscape for signs of apartments for rent, I had one of those very belated moments of clarity.  I calculated the value of my monthly stipend in RC money, and realized that I could pay nearly twice what I had set as my price ceiling before, and still do just fine.  Not buying rounds of champagne for the whole house, but fine.  And it occurred to me that I was still thinking about my finances like a grad student.  "Remember, half of your money really goes to tuition.  Remember, you can't spend more than X on rent or you won't be able to feed yourself."  And I'm not a grad student anymore.  (I mean, duh, you knew that.  But as I've said before, I'm really not that smart.)  I realized that my stipend is intended to fund a postdoctoral scholar who expects to live slightly better than a Dickensian grad-student existence.  When I almost double (not quite, that's still hard for me to choke down) the original price ceiling I set, I wind up with approximately a quarter of my monthly check.  It's been a long, long time since I made that much money, relative to my rent expenses.  I'm still kind of staggered by it, wondering if I haven't hit the right keys on the calculator.

I'm hopeful that I can find a place that I like with room and quiet to write and think in the next few days, now that I have my head straight about the relative costs.  My friends here have already fed me so many nice meals, I want to cook something impressive for them (...and their kids?) when I have my own kitchen.

For now, to bed.  Tomorrow: the search continues!
"Well, sure, kid, it's got three bedrooms and the neighborhood's quiet.  But does it get any western sunlight in the living room?"

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