The Church of Lifestyle
Updated: Aug 15, 2019
There is a different god to worship here.
Almost two months ago I left Virginia and returned to Fort Lauderdale, my hometown. I didn’t have a job lined up, as I left rather quickly, so I’ve been job hunting. With the excitement of change came the unrealistic expectations and delusions one has when moving on - the money, the sunshine, the new friends, the man who seemed to come out of nowhere and has a "fuck yes" conviction about me, etc.
In Virginia I attended an evangelical Christian university. Not by choice. I was unemployed and I wanted to make films, so I enrolled in a local university’s Master of Fine Arts program. People told me not to do it because of the horror stories they had heard, but I grew up in a Catholic home and figured I’d be able to at least survive. But even if you don’t experience abuse firsthand, you still see it around you. I didn’t know to expect misogyny, the denial of my experiences, and the shaming of being a woman who is intelligent and questions things. I entered the program with a hope for God’s existence. However, I know now that there is no god, I am completely atheist, and while religion has played an important role in the lives of those I love and countless others throughout history, I cannot gloss over the genital mutilation, castration, emotional abuse, wars, suicides, and preventable illnesses that have continued to proliferate in countries where the UN has been able to send doctors to administer vaccines only to have extremists in those regions brainwash people into believing that the UN is actually poisoning them. The real poison, I agree with Christopher Hitchens, is religion.
I returned home to a new religion, however. The Religion of Lifestyle. You can’t miss it when you come to Miami. The flashy cars, the condos, the many services you can buy here, the luxury vacation rentals, the exclusive beaches and keys, and how almost every job I’ve applied to as a videographer has required me to provide my Instagram handle and Facebook account. My first article for a new writing job I started was to write about one of the Real Housewives casts' luxury vacation here, written in as much of an excited voice as I could muster. Everybody here is all about their data and stats. How much money you make, how many followers you have, where you can pose to increase your Likes on a photo (Wynwood Walls, P. Diddy's house), etc. I recently downloaded a few apps to help me boost my online presence, allowing myself to indulge in the delusion that I could fit into this box in Miami with bright, saturated photos and maybe one or two of me on a boat with a piña colada. I graduated from one of Florida's ritziest prep schools, and was a Lauderdale Debutante when I was 18. I grew up at the Coral Ridge Country Club and was on their swim team for several years competing at other clubs. I have attended impressive, private colleges other than the evangelical one, so not only do I have an everlasting ticket to play the game, I have insider knowledge on how to play it better than anyone else. However, because it doesn't make much sense to me, the facade is usually broken quickly, and it's obvious that I was merely born into a religion rather than a willing convert or disciple of it. And while I enjoy filling up my Insta with what I'm up to, I think I lasted about 2 weeks before I stopped worrying about my audience and building my brand. (I'll still post pictures of the beach, though. I missed this in Virginia - their water is much too cold, and there isn't much to see off the coast compared to our coral and world-famous snorkeling and SCUBA sites.)
On the one hand, yes, I do want to gain popularity. Who doesn’t want to be liked? And I want to talk to people about issues I care about, and to reach as wide of an audience as possible. But that’s the problem - I am too genuine for the Church of Lifestyle. I am too raw and vulnerable and sensitive for the ritual machismo one must show around here. I am too broke for the boasting necessary to be relevant. I don’t fit in here. The audience I seek doesn't choose to live in Miami, or at least not in the numbers as those retiring here or trying to make a killing in real estate or boat/yacht sales.
This isn’t a permanent solution, which is something I haven’t made very clear. When I left Virginia I said I would be back in a few months. My job is still available there at the television station where I worked. I currently have a work-from-home position with an SEO marketing company a friend hired me to be a part of, and he’s really excited for me to grow and pick up more content writing and editing. This will allow me the flexibility to move anywhere, and unlike my previous work-from-home job, I won’t have to worry about face-to-face meetings with people in other countries keeping me awake in the middle of the night. As I write, I am groggy from sleeping from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. after teaching last night. (I am also sore from an aerial silks class I took for the first time, and queasy due to both taxing my body right now.) Since this weekend it I have been able to think about my next step, and if I want to return to Virginia, a place where I will have to reface evangelicalism and its influence on the area, as well as my eternal association to it through my degree. But at least when I look at agency Instagram accounts up there, there’s a personality each one has, as well as their employees. In Florida authenticity has to be strategically parceled out over several posts, each one posted at the ideal time, according to artificial intelligence, for higher engagement.
South Florida is my home, but I cannot praise the God of Lifestyle.
And you know what? It doesn’t want me.
I know what rejection feels like. I’ve let myself stay in situations where I knew I wasn’t wanted, or at least I wasn’t actively wanted, and I am tired of wondering where I stand with people. I also want to tap into repressed artistic impulses that I held back on developing because of fear that my former classmates and potential employers would see. Rejection is sometimes also knowing ahead of time that if you want something then you better damn well hide a part of who you are and what makes you proud of yourself in order to get it. It is already knowing you’re not wanted, and making yourself small to squeeze your way in somehow.
I already know I don’t fit in here, and I don’t want to face this monolith. An icon doesn’t have to be a golden calf in your home for it to be a god. Religion doesn’t have to be about God, or Allah, or whatever. It is about what you worship and fit your worldview around. And I don’t want people who are members of this or any church.
I want to walk freely, hand-in-hand with a free thinker, and discuss our ideas and creativity and our life together in a sanctuary that suits us. I don’t think I will find him here. Tinder has confirmed that. There are a lot of things I like about being here, to be sure. The new arts district was barely gaining momentum when I was last down there in 2012 (though...I have other thoughts on gentrification, and my memories as a child of that being a predominantly black neighborhood). I have been able to explore more things creatively because of the weirdos and the lovers I’ve met since being back. But even they, too, have eyes elsewhere. This land tolerates us but doesn’t need us. We are entertainers when we need to be but artists first, and they’d rather have entertainers who don’t think too deeply about it. Everyone must obey in this congregation. If you don’t, you are forced to leave. Those are your options. They’re too limited for me.