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Episodes: What if you just gave me money to drive around in my car?


Emily VanDerWerff

Oct 10 2015

5 min read



During the brief unemployment that preceded my current career, I realized that the job I was probably best cut out for was freelance journalism. Thinking long and hard about it, I narrowed my choices down to two: TV or travel.

TV had the advantage of me knowing a lot about it, but travel had the advantage of being a relatively easy field to break into (at least so far as I could tell). If you wanted to write about the Federated States of Micronesia for some weird paper in the Midwest, Micronesia would pay for you to travel there, put you up in their finest hotel, and ask you to write only nice things about them, like, "Micronesia is probably going to disappear beneath the ocean thanks to climate change, but it hasn't yet. Act now!"

(Please note: This is just something 2009 me read on some person's website. I never got far enough to actually test if I could get random countries to pay for me to go there, so I could write about them for the Des Moines Register and be paid $100. But I like to think I could have.)

Anyway, 2009 might have been a lousy year to find just about any job out there, but it turned out to be a surprisingly good year to look for TV critic work. (Everybody was launching recap sections. Everybody.) This is how we got here, to where you're reading a newsletter called Episodes and mocking me behind my back about how it has the same name as a Showtime show literally nobody watches, instead of reading a newsletter called Todd VanDerWerff's Europe Through the Back Door or something.

I do still feel that wanderlust, though. A couple of years ago, I heard about a couple that traveled the country, living in AirBNBs for a few months at a time, moving on whenever they felt ready to go. It struck me as a terrific potential life, one that was theoretically plausible with my then job, but not so plausible with my cats. The dream withered on the vine and died, and now I'm about to get a Real, Grown-Up Apartment and have an Office to go to every day.

I think because of my adoption, I've never felt that firmly tethered to any one place. There are so many other selves I could have been, so many other lives I could have led. My biological mother, in fact, was quite sure I was in Colorado, based on the information she'd gotten about the couple she chose. And if I had been born a girl, I would have been adopted by some other family entirely, the little sister instead of the big brother. Maybe that's why I've always felt like this life is one I might slip out of and find myself in some other person entirely.

Oh, sure, I had my childhood home that still feels like an anchor, and I have fond memories of everywhere I've lived with my wife. But I've also always felt like I could just as easily turn into some sort of drifter, those people who write online about how the travel the world with $5 in their pocket, relying on odd jobs and the kindness of strangers. In fact, when we got married, my wife and I actually planned to spend a year traveling the world when we turned 30. The notion came and went.

I suppose there are some people who find the right place or right city and say, "This is home!" One of my best friends is doing just that in the city she initially went to for grad school, then just never left. I think she feels connected to that place in a way I never really have with anywhere I've gone.

But I also don't know! Maybe "home" is an illusion we build when we have enough memories. Maybe I don't feel at home anywhere because I feel a little at home everywhere. Or maybe that's crazy. Maybe once I have children and a dog and an actual house-house with a yard, I'll think of that as home. Or maybe we're always stuck thinking about the place we grew up as home, doomed to only create home for our own kids, but never to really feel like we live there.

I'll say this, though: I really would like somebody to pay me to drive around in my car and write about stuff. So if you have a job offer that fits that basic description, I'm all for it. I once thought about writing a piece about the Federated States of Micronesia. There's still time to visit, maybe call them home.

For a little while, at least.


Episodes is published daily, Monday through Friday, unless I don't feel like it. It is mostly about television, except when it's not. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox Dot Com.

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