Personal Life

I Want to be a Mushroom, Not a Bird

The one thing academia and business have in common is the belief that everyone wants to be a bird. They want upward mobility. They’re willing to go where the jobs are, even if the promiseland is filled with people who absolutely hate your guts.

But that’s where the jobs are.

“You can easily find a job in the Midwest,” they say, or “You should apply to universities down South! The South is much more liberal where the universities are.” Considering I drove past a bunch of Confederate flags on thirty minutes away from a conference at a college in Upstate New York, I somehow doubt that.

It’s the same thing we tell people who live in red states. “Just move!” like it’s so easy. Sure, if we hate our families, have plenty of desire and/or disposable income to visit, are free from disabilities or chronic illnesses, aren’t queer or trans, I’m sure it’s very easy to uproot ourselves and fly off to a job that could fire us at any moment and leave us stranded somewhere we never truly wanted to be.

Maybe I’m a cynic. I think in worse case scenarios because someone has to give those shiny-teethed, business-minded bastards a reality check. Some of us don’t want to fly. Some of us don’t want to go someplace far away where no one knows us and we don’t know if we’ll ever feel like we truly belong. The threat of violence is always in the back of my mind. What if there are people who hate queer people there and they’re vocal about it? What if someone finds out I’m nonbinary and fires me? What if I need medical attention and no one will give it to me because I’m still potentially a viable incubator even if my partner had a vasectomy years ago?

But the people who suggest uprooting our lives for a job never think about that.

The sad thing is, I don’t even want upward mobility. I don’t want to be the boss or make six figures. I have no desire to soar so high that I lose sight of the humanity of others or that my grossly oversized paycheck is a sign of other people being underpaid. Other people have to be on the lower levels of the pyramid for it to stand, and I don’t mind being down there. I want to work to live, not live to work. I want to put it my time and go home to play video games and hang out with my dogs.

I want to be a mushroom, not a bird.

Mushrooms are just the fruit of a fungus. The important part is what you don’t see. They can have miles upon miles of roots where they feast upon dead material, gather resources, and stay connected to each other.

I want to be where my roots run deep. My family has been in New Jersey since the 1800s, and I like it here. I like going on boats down the Navesink in the summer or seeing the NYC skyline on a clear night while driving home. It feels like a place that wants me to be there and wants me to thrive. I feel safe enough that I can mostly be myself. My healthcare is protected, and my partner and I can both get our medications easily enough. I grew up here, my family has lived here for two hundred years, and to continue to be a part of my local area to make it a better place is what I want. NJ is good in many ways, but there’s always room for improvement.

Moving somewhere for a job where I’m not invested in the area feels shallow. I care about the students who live here or have come from across the world to be here. I want to show them that we’re nice here, that we want them to succeed too. I want them to have all the good things I had when I went to these universities and the things I wish I had. They’re all part of that root system, those little hyphae and connections that help us all to thrive. If I left for supposedly greener pastures, I would be torn out of that ecosystem. It would heal itself, but would I be able to reconnect in this new place. Would I always be a weaker, more damaged version of myself in this new environment?

I don’t need people to know me or even have local friends to hang out with, I just need to feel safe and supported. Mushrooms can grow alone if they have all the things they need, but is trading those known supports for a paycheck worth it if you need those things to flourish?