Graduate college— check. Meet that special someone— check. Get a “professional” job— check. Establish credit— check. Start a retirement fund— check. Get a dog— check. Get a graduate degree— check. Get two dogs— check.
It’s the expectations society has for us, right? Go to school, be employable, dutifully pay taxes, and contribute to society.
We were both taught growing up that in order to be the most employable, we needed to attend college and get a degree. Curtiss chose public school teaching and I chose family services/teaching/social work. After college Curtiss landed his first teaching job in Tok, Alaska (bearing the record for the coldest town in North America), in 2011. Thanks to our friend Ryan, who coincidentally had his tonsils taken out the day of Curtiss’s departure, I rode shotgun for 6 days in a U-Haul with a boy I barely knew… and well, here we are today, 4 years more the wiser and madly in love. We like to think in these 4 years we’ve learned a lot about life.
In Tok, we learned what -67 degrees feels like, what “square” tires are, learned that your power-steering can in fact freeze while driving when it’s that cold, how big moose can be,
how to cut our own wood to heat the house,
what it’s like to mush dogs,
and most importantly, met some really awesome people. After two years we migrated “south” to Juneau, Alaska. We learned we were living in a temperate rainforest, heard the booming echo of glacial ice calving,
the eerie drip sound a glacier makes when you’re standing next to it, how big a humpback is when it swims past your boat, the magic that a pod of orcas brings when it glides past, what it’s like to have a bear on your front porch, using the “marine highway” as a regular mode of transportation, and living in a city where there are no roads leading to it.
Our first two years in Alaska were dedicated to exploring and to figuring each other out. Our second two years in Alaska were more dedicated to figuring ourselves out.
Last summer Curtiss toured on his own, from Alaska to Michigan and back. Show after show he was flooded with applause, compliments, and even a few standing ovations. Time and time again he was asked “No way– you’re a teacher?!” or “Why don’t you do this (play music) full-time?” In that regard, last summer’s tour was one of the greatest and worst things to have happened. The summer was great because for the first time in a long time Curtiss felt total creative freedom. No boxed curriculum, no standardized tests, no one asking him about reading proficiency or discussing test results. He poured his soul into his music night after night, and the crowds loved him. I say it was the worst summer because in Curtiss proving to himself that he has the potential to be a professional musician, he will inevitably leave behind classrooms full of students who won’t experience the energy and passion he brings to teaching.
For the past four years I’ve worked in a few different capacities supporting families who have a child with a disability, and teaching children how to communicate and function within their homes, their schools, and within their communities. I love the work that I do, but for those who work in the case management field, or something similar, you know that the rewards don’t come without significant challenges, exhausting days, and times where it feels like there are never enough days to reach everyone who needs to be helped.
So here we are, two employed 26 year olds who have worked hard to get to where we are in our careers…and we’re about to walk away from it all. Why?
Sitting at one of our favorite thinking spots,
we contemplated if this is what life should be about? Sure, I loved my job as a case manager but was it worth the stress? Sure, Curtiss loved teaching but did he love it more than his music? We talked about whether it was realistic for Curtiss to quit teaching to pursue his passion for music. We debated whether it was feasible for me to quit my job and hit the road with him.
With the success of last summer’s tour, Curtiss and I started questioning the possibilities of turning a utility trailer into a camper so Curtiss could live “comfortably” on the road, and if I was able to join him, would there be room for two humans and two dogs? Buying a camper would have been easy, yet expensive, so we figured with the help of the internet, we could build anything.
One thing led to the next, and after many thought-provoking conversations spent hiking with our dogs, Sawyer, and Doug,
we decided working 9 to 5 isn’t what life should be about. It should be about more than just our jobs. Life should be about risks, and lessons learned from those leaps of faith. It should be about adventure and exploring. It should be about laughter, good food, great beer, new friends, and old friends. It should be having time to spend with our families, being home for holidays, and spending days lounging in the Michigan sun. It should be about music, and dancing. Most importantly, it should be about knowing who we are, and following our passions.
One day I imagine myself going back to helping kids and supporting families. For now, however, I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Cousin Curtiss and what adventures we will have Paying Gas, Not Rent.
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