Recently, my editor at Columbia Home asked me if I would write an article about how I came to live in Columbia. My first response was, “Are you kidding? 1300 words about myself? I’m in!” But when I sat down to actually write the piece, I felt a little stuck. It wasn’t that I didn’t have enough material or narcissism (I have plenty of both), but rather I felt a lack of momentum, of motivation, of drive. As I telepathically willed my computer to burst into flames giving me an iron-clad pass on the assignment, it hit me: I am basically a pretty lazy person. And then it dawned on me that my laziness was the very thing that brought me to Columbia in the first place! I just love it when things work out like that.
I was born and raised in Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago, and like so many others, I came to the University of Missouri to go to Journalism school. Writing was the only bright spot on my otherwise stunningly average high school transcript, so I thought I’d become a journalist. I liked the way it sounded. I’d practice saying, “Hello, I’m a journalist…” in the mirror. It made me feel very Lois Lane. Plus, to me “journalist” sounded better than “unemployed English major.”
The other reason I decided to go to Mizzou was that the application was one-page long. And ironically there was no essay. This pleased the lazy girl inside me and after a fun-filled visit, I had made up my mind. So much so, that I didn’t apply anywhere else. I knew what I wanted, and my mother’s anxiety over the fact that I filled out a single college application was mere icing on the cake!
When I first moved to Columbia, I experienced some predictable culture shock. I missed the little things about urban life, like people honking at you and giving you the finger when you hesitated a second too long at a green light. Or someone rapidly punching the “Close Door” button in the elevator when they see you coming. Nobody did that in Columbia. In Columbia, people made eye contact with you on the street. Some of them even said, “Hello.” Complete strangers saying “Hello” to each other? I wondered what black-and-white TV show I’d moved into.
Whether it was because or in spite of Columbia’s friendliness, I had a great experience at Mizzou. After four years I grew to love so many things about this idyllic college town. But even still, my plan upon graduation was to head to Chicago, or Dallas, or Atlanta and get a job in Advertising (the lazyman’s sequence in J-School). I fancied myself a city-girl! But four months before graduation, fate, in the shape of a goofy guy with the best smile I’d ever seen, stepped in and changed my plan. All throughout college Jimmy Orr told me that someday he was going to ask me on a date. I’d roll my eyes and tell him that I’d be waiting. Well, one day he finally did. And I was. So that was it for Chicago, or Dallas, or Atlanta. Jimmy was going to dental school in Kansas City, and you’ll never guess where I got a job.
One Year Later…
After Jimmy’s realization that he, in fact, hated teeth; and my brief stint at an ad agency, we moved back to CoMo. Jimmy is from Columbia and the promise of rent-free living in one of his parent’s apartments was unspeakably alluring to two crazy kids who had just chucked their futures out the window. It was time to decide what to do next. I should mention that while I am lazy, I am also an excellent procrastinator. And nothing says procrastination like getting another degree! So that’s what I did.
I spent the next couple of years getting my Master’s in Social Work from the University of Missouri. This was the only period of time I didn’t really like living in Columbia, though it had nothing to do with grad school. Columbia is an amazing place to be in college or to raise a family, but not so much to be in between those two worlds. At least, it wasn’t for me. In my mid-20’s I wanted to go out to clubs and spend Saturdays shopping at trendy boutiques and go out for brunch on Sundays. (It was the late 90s and everyone wanted to live in an episode of Sex in the City.) The reality was that I felt old when I went to the same bars I’d been to in college; there was no Elly’s Couture or Girl yet; and through some deep, personal failing, I hadn’t yet discovered Ernie’s. Columbia felt really small to me, and not in a good way. So Jimmy and I spent many weekends traveling to St. Louis or Kansas City to visit friends. We saved up to take trips to both coasts. We got married. And then, for lack of anything else to do, we had a baby.
After I’d had my first child, Columbia suddenly became the perfect place to live again! I cannot stress enough what a lovely and supportive community I think we have for young mothers. I got my very own Parent Educator from Parents as Teachers who came to my house and “ooed” and “ahhed” over how gifted my one-month-old clearly was. We had drive-through dry cleaners and pharmacies, which meant I could go in my pajamas. And Hy-Vee even added two special front row parking spots for New and Expectant Mothers. My life was complete!
However, try as I might, it was very hard to be lazy and the stay-at-home mother of two young kids. It was hard work filled with what my father-in-law aptly called “combat fatigue.” They were wonderful, stressful years, and the only time in my life that I have ever been needed so completely. One of the things that got me through the hard moments were the friendships I developed in a weekly play group that we started under the guise of “infant socialization.” We were 3 Amy’s, a Beth, a Dawn, a Jill, and a Kaisa (she totally threw off our Popular Names of the 1970s motif). And these six women were indispensable to me as a new mother. We met once a week, sometimes more, for six years and together experienced everything Columbia had to offer young kids. Going Bonkers, Chuck E. Cheese, story time at the Library– if it needed anti-bacterial gel, we were there! Being a stay-at-home parent can be a lonely experience, but these ladies made it one of the most special times in my life. (I mean, in addition to my kids. Yeah, my kids made it special too.)
I wanted to mention this because I have many friends who live in larger communities who don’t have the same kind of close-knit support system that I have in Columbia. Maybe that has to do more with luck than location, but I like to think that Columbia has more than its share of kind, friendly, and supportive people. It’s one of my favorite things about this town.
Now that my children are in elementary school and gone seven hours each day, you’ll be relieved to know that I am once again back on the lazy-train! In fact, to procrastinate getting a real job, I’ve even written a novel. Because nothing says I Don’t Want to Get a Real Job like writing a book! And while it’s true that writing a novel in itself doesn’t actually bring in any income, it does give the writer the appearance of working – which ought to at least buy me some time. And who knows? If my book ever actually sells, then my laziness and procrastination can be reframed as my “creative process.”
So the moral of my story (note: having a “moral” is the laziest way to end an essay) is: Don’t ever let anyone tell you that being lazy won’t get you anywhere! It got – and has kept me in Columbia for the past 22 years. I can’t imagine anywhere else I’d rather live-lazy than in this friendly, supportive, drive-through-filled town.