Sep 10, 2012

Fear and Loathing In the North Country

Fourteen months ago, my wife and I moved to Ogdensburg, N.Y., a small town on the St. Lawrence River.

I was chasing a new career - I work for the Watertown Daily Times covering municipalities and higher education in St. Lawrence County, New York's largest - and poorest - county.

Ogdensburg is a shrinking post-industrial city littered with swaths of empy, contaminated land and crumbling buildings, dilapidated houses and asphalt slabs which stand in contradiction to the beautiful vistas of the St. Lawrence River and the relative prosperity across the broder in Canada. A fifteen minute drive in any direction from Ogdensburg places one in areas of exquisite natural beauty.

It has its downfalls, however. Moving from Lexington, Ky, a bustling mid-sized city of 300,000 to a tiny New York burg of barely 10,000 has given us what I like to call 'reverse culture shock.'

We were used to Lexington's art scene, quaint coffee houses and ethnic dining options. We were used to living in a place where both of us could find decent-paying work, making ours a two-income household.

For the past 14 months, despite sustained efforts, my wife has not been able to find a job. As a result, our quality of life has declined. It is really difficult to look into your wife's eyes and tell her she can't have her medication, you can't buy her a Christmas present, you won't be able to celebrate your anniversary and that you can't afford enough gas to drive to see your closest friends.

In Lexington, we were able to find a niche in a community with a certain level of education and aculturation. In Ogdensburg, we stick out like sore thumbs. To exacerbate matters, we can't afford to cross into Canada or regularly make the drive to interact with people of similar intellect and ethic. We are very alone here.

I take some refuge in my work. I work in a vibrant newsroom full of fascinating people - not all of whom are pleasant, but at least they are interesting. My wife, on the other hand, does not have that luxury.

An important lifeline for us has been social media. If it weren't for Facebook and Twitter, we would feel abandoned.

In case you couldn't tell, I'm going to get more personal with these blogs as I try to navigate my journalism career and move up (and out) in the world, and my wife, Cheryl, tries to relaunch her graphic/web design career. Don't worry, there will still be some snark and wonk as time goes by.

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