Mondays on Zelda & Scout are all about you! In a series we call “Just Folks,” we talk to Southerners who have found their way to New York about where they’re from, where they are now, and what home means to them. Tell us your story here!
This week we have Jason Edwards, aspiring fiction writer, theater worker, and general good guy (and the significant other of our very first Just Folks profilee, Sarah Sheppard). We totally understand what he means about grappling our identities as Southerners, and he reminds us that some things just don’t happen anywhere but NYC. Though when those things include sharing a bathroom with two other unmarried men, we may have to reconsider if we want to call this place home.
Who are you and what do you do?
This is the question I always fumble on job interviews, but here it goes: I am a fiction writer who also does tech theater work. Is that too vague? Specifically, I’ve been lucky enough to work with The Public Theater on and off for the past six months, which has awoken in me something I thought I had left behind in high school, but like most monstrosities, I killed it once in my late teens only to have it re-surface every few years to wreak havoc on my life and reap diminishing box-office returns. Oh, I should mention that I also like movies. A lot.
Time North of the Mason-Dixon line so far?
Just short of 1 year.
What brought you to New York?
I can unabashedly say that I moved up here to be closer to my lovely girlfriend, Sarah. I was working a part-time marketing assistant job back in North Carolina, but my overarching career goal is to be a writer, which I figured I could do anywhere.
What’s the most common reaction when people learn where you’re from? What’s something about life in the South that you have to explain to non-Southerners?
Most non-southerners don’t seem that interested in where I’m from, honestly, but the most unexpected reaction I run into is when someone tells me that they’re from the south, too. It happens much more often than I thought it would, and it’s always a nice chance to bond with someone I may have not otherwise know how to talk to.
Describe life in NYC as people at home picture it. Describe life in NYC as it actually is.
Sarah gets this way more often than I do, but a lot of people back home seem to think our lives are fantastically interesting and successful just because we live in New York. There was a time this winter when I would have strongly, vocally disagreed with that, but then there have been long, optimistic stretches of time when I really do feel excited about just how many cool things there are in the city.
On the whole, I’d say New York life is about the same as people imagine it, but with way more trains. Seriously, getting anywhere in this town is a major hassle.
Where do you consider home? Why?
I’d have to say that North Carolina still feels like home. I think it’ll be a little while before it doesn’t feel like home. I’d have to live someplace a little less transient, a little less hectic, and on a practical level, I’d have to live somewhere where I don’t share a bathroom with two other unmarried men.
Do you miss where you’re from? Do you see yourself going back?
I was visiting NC a few months ago, staying overnight at a friend’s house. He was already at work when I woke up, so I went about my morning routine, brushing my teeth, showering, stealing cereal from his roommates, and it was all very relaxing. But as I was sitting on my friend’s couch, placidly starring out of the window at the nearby mountains, my heart rate shot up and my palms got sweaty, completely out of nowhere. I didn’t know what to make of this random shock of anxiety, until I noticed that it was about that time of day when I would, in my New York life, be boarding the subway for my hour-plus commute into the city, a daily routine that forces me into close contact with hundreds of strangers, which for me is a real anxiety-inducing activity. My body had adapted to the constant hum of nervousness that permeates city life, down to the exact time of day. An experience like that will make you really question whether or not you belong in New York.
On the other hand, every time I’m home and I have to set foot in any sort of outdoor shopping center, I feel like lying down on the pavement and waiting for death. So, I guess what I’m saying is, there’s a certain sort of unescapable malaise that will plague you no matter where you live and you kind of just have to go with it.
Do you consider yourself a Southerner? Do you consider yourself a New Yorker? Why or why not?
One of the most interesting things about moving to New York has been the way it’s thrown my identity as a Southerner into sharp relief. It’s the sort of thing you don’t really notice when you’re in your original environment, but as soon as you step outside of it and spend some time in a foreign place, you recognize how much your home has shaped you. I don’t know if I can really define what I mean by ʺmy identity as a Southernerʺ — actually, it might be more accurate to say that if I started trying to define it, this questionnaire might hit novel-length before too long — but this is the first time in my life I’ve been able to hold it at arm’s length and really get a good look at it.
Which food/drink/song/book/movie/artwork/quotation/gif/etc. defines New York for you? (choose as many or as few as you’d like)
Here’s a neat-yet-meaningless thing about living in New York: I can finally see my town represented in movies and television without having to watch MTV’s ʺTrue Lifeʺ or subjecting myself to yet another Nicholas Sparks movie. Alright, that’s probably not fair to Mr. Sparks, but really, the novelty of watching a movie set in New York while I’m in New York has not worn off for me yet, nor do I imagine it will.
The most significant experience of that sort that I’ve had was watching ‘Inside Llewyn Davis‘, a depressing yet ultimately defiant portrait of a struggling artist mucking his way through a punishing New York winter, which I saw during a personal low period back in January, and I’ll just spare us all the embarrassment of explicitly drawing out that parallel. I will say that during the credits, some guys stepped on the bag that I use to carry around my computer, and I got pretty steamed but ultimately directed all my frustration inward, which felt very ʺLlewyn.ʺ
Which food/drink/song/book/movie/artwork/quotation/gif/etc. defines where you’re from? (choose as many or as few as you’d like)
I might lose some liquor snob points for this, but Tennessee whiskey is still my favorite kind of alcohol, and whenever I drink it, I feel the sort of unearned pride that only comes from enjoying someone else’s accomplishment.
There’s another kind of corn-based alcohol that strongly reminds me of home, but I’m not going to get into that for legal reasons.
What is the best cure for homesickness?
Call your parents. Better yet, Skype your parents. It can only go one of two ways: either you’ll have a wonderful conversation that fortifies a connection you will always have, or it reminds you of what a stressful place you’ve left behind and how much better off you are here. Either way, boom! Homesickness: cured.
(for the record, my experience has always been the former, so mom and dad, if you’re reading this: chill out.)