How do you decide where to live?
March 1, 2014 8:48 AM   Subscribe

My wife is finishing up her MFA this year, and our lease is up in August. We have to decide where to live next, and it's giving us some headaches. Special snowflake inside.

For many years we lived in Cleveland, Ohio. We both worked in the burgeoning theater scene there, but while I was content with my work, both paying-job-wise and artistically, she had a string of unfulfilling service jobs and not a lot of artistic work. Three years ago she decided to apply to graduate school, and we moved to Staunton, VA where she could study Shakespeare and Performance and get a dual MLitt/MFA degree. Her goal is to teach theater at a college level.

She graduates this spring, and now we have to figure out where to go next. I have no idea how to do this. I have not lived in many places, and as an independent adult I had only lived in Cleveland before moving where we currently are. I would love to move back to Cleveland; our friends are there, her mom is there, there is an artistic community that already knows us and that we could use as a base of support for our future theatrical endeavors. She is afraid that if we move back to Cleveland, we will stagnate and never improve, and we will be stuck there for the rest of our lives.

Another complication is my job. I still work for the company in Cleveland that I was working for before we left. I am a front end web developer for a small but successful web design firm. When we moved, they graciously allowed me to work from home, and it's been great. They obviously value my work enough to keep me on, and I appreciate that loyalty. If we move to another city, I don't know if a) they would want to keep me on remotely on an indefinite basis, and b) if they could necessarily afford the salary of the place we move to. A Cleveland/Staunton salary is not the same as a New York salary.

Criteria we have so far:
  • Should be a city. Having lived in the middle of the Shenandoah Valley for 2 1/2 years, we know we both prefer cities. I hate New York City and will never live there.
  • There needs to be a thriving theater scene.
  • There need to be nearby colleges where she could apply for adjunct/assitant professorships.
I'm not necessarily asking for suggestions of where to live. But how do you even start figuring that out? I don't know how to research something as vague as, "Where would I like to live next?" And I can't certainly just point to a map and say, "Let's move there!"
posted by starvingartist to Society & Culture (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm in the middle of a similar thing myself. For me it did help to start by looking at a map, if only to eliminate the parts of the country I knew I didn't want to live in. Most of that was weather-based.

Like you, I want to live in a city, so I spent a lot of map time looking at individual cities and reading about them to see which ones offer the stuff I like/need. It has taken a lot of time, but it's definitely possible through research to gradually get a feel for which places might work for you, and which you can strike off the list. Wikipedia's a great resource for finding out things like which cities are in the same population bracket, etc.

(For what it's worth, so far my top pick is New Haven, CT, which happens to fulfill all your requirements.)
posted by jessicapierce at 8:57 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Would the first move be for her to see where she can get hired? An adjunct salary will go farther than it will in others. Is she hoping for a tenure track position? I'm not sure I agree with her worries about stagnation in Cleveland--I'd think there's more opportunity to grow in a community where you already know people.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:58 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I absolutely do not agree with her worries about Cleveland, but we've had the argument too many times already.
posted by starvingartist at 9:01 AM on March 1, 2014

Twin Cities - big theater scene and lots of colleges.
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:07 AM on March 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

Minneapolis and Seattle both have decent-sized theatre scenes. Chicago is another obvious possibility.

As for methods, I would pick out some initial candidates based on cities you've heard of and spend some time reading about them. Even Wikipedia will tell you some basic facts like how many colleges are in a city, and you should be able to figure out something about the size of the theatre scene.
posted by Area Man at 9:10 AM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah, since you've got at least temporary freedom, this is the perfect opportunity for her to cast her net very wife in finding a job. Once she finds a position, you can assess the location to see if it makes sense to accept that job or keep looking. Explain the situation to your landlord and ask them about going month-to-month if she doesn't find a job this summer.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:11 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Typically, people in academia apply everywhere and move to wherever they can find a job. It might be good to stay where you are (or go to Cleveland briefly) with the intention of moving to the city where she's able to get a job as soon as that happens.

But if she's more open-ended about her career goals, I agree that Minneapolis and Seattle would be a good match for your interests. (Obviously Minnesota is a lot cheaper.) If those seem like good potential matches, what about trying to set up a bunch of informational interviews and going to visit both places? That would allow you to see which you like and do some networking.
posted by leitmotif at 9:21 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Urk. That should be "cast her net very wide". Sorry for the unfortunate typo.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:21 AM on March 1, 2014

Maybe she would have more options teaching theater in a secondary ed environment?
posted by oceanjesse at 9:24 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Reality is, you have to be able to support yourselves as adults. You have the job. It appears your wife's plan is to move somewhere first, you both look for work to pay bills (your Cleveland job may not approve you moving further away) and she look for her dream job. As you both know, her dream job has a lot of applicants but a small pool of openings each year (and often at pretty bad pay).

It sounds like there is an impasse around compromises. I do understand her fear of stagnating but that is motivating her to run away from a problem instead of the opposite, which would be running towards a solution.

Personally, I would move back to Cleveland if nothing appears before Spring and explore her job opportunities from there. If she gets a job offer, then judge to merits of the offer and community (and job prospects for you) and if it is win-win then move.

I like the map idea to visualise where her resumes should be targeted. Put up a wall map, black out areas that are definite no-goes and note where college clusters are and research those communities. I can only speak of Canada, but we have some thriving theatre scenes in some odd little places that escape mainstream attention, I assume that is also true the the States. There is also the possibility of building up a theatre scene yourself with a lot of work and enthusiasm.
posted by saucysault at 9:24 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I move a lot. I'd first do some online research to narrow down the cities. For example, "best US cities for theater" pulls up a lot of sites, such as this one. Searches like "most underrated US cities" would make sure you're not missing anything.

Then I'd do a first-pass elimination based on whatever criteria mattered most (for example, a warm climate for me). Then I'd research each remaining city. You could look for social groups related to your interests ( might be good for that) but also look at local online communities to see what the locals are complaining about.

It does seem odd or risky to move before finding a job, since your wife is in a niche that sounds pretty small to me.
posted by ceiba at 9:31 AM on March 1, 2014

I was actually very impressed with the active theater scene in that Washington, DC area, including the Capital Fringe Festival, and there is a lot of tech work available for you.
posted by deanc at 10:24 AM on March 1, 2014

Is getting an academic job in Cleveland a realistic possibility? The advice I see around here most often is that if you want to work in academia, you move to where you get a job, not the other way around.
posted by rtha at 11:11 AM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

NYC is the number one theatre city, by a huge margin. But since you've ruled that out,
there's Chicago and Washington DC. Minneapolis has a lot of theatre for a city of it's size, and always boasts about being the second largest theatre city, but IMO most of it feels very amateurish. (I am in Minneapolis and used to play in pit orchestras to make money in college)
LA has improv-y theater-ish stuff which might be an interesting substitute. Beyond those cities, every city has one local theatre company that probably sucks.

If you don't want to live in NYC, Chicago, Minneapolis or DC, need more info about what you and your wife do and don't like to offer advice.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 11:22 AM on March 1, 2014

Her goal is to teach theater at a college level.

My recommendation is that you don't move until she has a job offer, and then you move where the work is.
posted by slkinsey at 12:16 PM on March 1, 2014 [9 favorites]

I am married to a history PhD who has spent the last 6 years on the job market looking for a tenure track job and teaching as an adjunct. The academic job market is BRUTAL. I imagine it is even more difficult for someone who has a master's and not a PhD. I'm not saying that she won't be able to get a job, but I do think you're getting ahead of yourselves, and the job search should be the primary focus, not the location search. Especially in the early years when you really don't have much ability to pick and choose. Also, adjunct's don't make much money and you should take that into account if you are looking at some more expensive cities.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 12:25 PM on March 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

There are a fair number of relatively small (50,000-100,000 population) college towns that would nevertheless tick your boxes regarding a lively city feel and (at least some) theater. The nice thing about that track is that relatively small college towns are usually very inexpensive places to live. You still get paid like a starving artist, but your money goes a lot farther than it does even in Cleveland, much less NYC or LA.

TBH, I wouldn't stress about it too much. You guys are still young, so if she gets a job at a university in a town like that and after giving it a year you are going stir crazy, you can always pick up and move somewhere else, hopefully with a bit more savings from the low cost of living.
posted by wierdo at 1:42 PM on March 1, 2014

I don't want to rain on your parade, but your wife isn't yet qualified to teach theater at a university level. She might be qualified to teach at a community college. Be aware, that even at prestigious universities that beginning instructors are adjuncts and very poorly paid. Good thing you didn't take out expensive student loans to pay for her education.

That said, she needs to start applying for jobs. You move where the best job offer is and where you can find work.

I'm not sure where you got the idea that you could cherry pick an ideal spot and that work would naturally come to you. But I think you need to change the discussion, or else you and your wife will be in a pretty terrible situation, pretty quickly.

My suggestion would be for you to find a fantastic paying job, and your wife should apply for community college and HIGH SCHOOL jobs. In all probability, High School will pay more than college. There is theater everywhere, she can be involved in amateur productions until a paying job comes along.

Knowing how terrible the academic job market is right now, what was your plan b?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:53 PM on March 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

When we were deciding where to move after NYC, Mr Corpse and I made a big chart. Across the top of the grid were all the features we wanted in a city, like public radio, weather we liked, public transportation, good libraries, etc. Going down were all the cities we'd heard mention of as possibilities (many from MeFi). Then we went through and checked off what cities had which amenities, to compare them.

Then we said "Fuck it, let's just move back to Seattle," but I maintain it was a good system.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:52 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Has she taught before? Did she do any teaching as part of her degree program?
posted by nakedmolerats at 3:28 PM on March 1, 2014

My previous comment was flagged. Sorry about that.

She has teaching experience, 10 years of various workshops and classes before the program, and 2 TA spots and one full teaching spot within the MFA program.

We know adjunct jobs are shitty pay, but they can be a way in, or at least a way to get more experience.

We do not expect jobs to magically find us once we decide on a place to live. I just want to know how other people went about choosing a place to move to. If it's all about having a job, fine. I've never had to make this decision before.
posted by starvingartist at 6:37 PM on March 1, 2014

Yeah, considering her career choice, it IS all about the job. Most academics I know have moved multiple times across the country from contract to contract in search of a stable position. I hope you both land somewhere you like.
posted by saucysault at 9:47 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Unless you know you can get suitable employment wherever you go (which may be true here for Cleveland but is most likely not true anywhere else), that needs to guide your decision. You're not 22, so you're not moving across the country to wait tables. If you can find employment in advance, that is perfect. That really ought to be your goal. If not, well, one of you has a job in Cleveland, and unless there are specific concerns about the job market there for her, this idea of stagnating is probably the opposite of how careers work. But okay, Cleveland aside, where is the job market strongest? Where can she do theater teaching, and where can you do web design? I don't know if that's Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, or San Francisco, but these are the questions I would be asking in your situation.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:46 AM on March 2, 2014

In case anyone is interested in resolution, we had a talk this morning that did not start off so well, but ended on a mostly positive note. We decided to look at DC, with the condition that either my company has to agree to keep me on as a remote employee, or we both find jobs by the end of June. If neither of those conditions has been met, we move back to Cleveland for the time being and I continue to work for my current employer while she looks for a job in academia.
posted by starvingartist at 8:29 AM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

DC is GREAT, for the record-- lifelong resident, here. Look in NE or just north of Eastern Ave for affordable housing.
posted by nonasuch at 1:46 PM on March 2, 2014

I think people tend to way undervalue the importance of being near family and friends. I vote for sticking with Cleveland.
posted by Jess the Mess at 4:45 AM on March 3, 2014

Sadly, that just doesn't seem to be a primary factor here. I wish it was.
posted by starvingartist at 8:11 AM on March 3, 2014

With most professorships, even college or adjunct don't choose where you live. You're lucky if you get any position at all, doubly so in the arts. So pick anywhere convenient for you, and live in a rental until she finds a position. Could be 6 months, could be 4 years. Moving to a location and aiming for an academic position there feels like a recipe for strife.

(We were looking at a chemistry postdoc/college professor route while I provided with an employable job for a while. Ended up being a sketchy and depressing enough picture that the mister decided to go into freelance writing because that is more likely to happen than a higher-ed teaching position, while we stayed where we knew I had good work. This isn't even for a university level position - college positions are hard to get too, nowadays, doubly so with only a Masters.)
posted by aggyface at 11:22 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I know this is late, but thought I would add a thought. If you're looking between Cleveland and DC, go with Cleveland! I've lived in both cities, and while DC is a really fun place with good theater and good jobs, it is SO much more expensive to make a life there. Cleveland has a fantastic theater scene and you have a job there. It's so much less expensive, it gives you much more flexibility to live a good life.
posted by percor at 11:44 AM on April 15, 2014

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