Not ago, my Aunt-in-Law (Is that even a thing? She’s just “Aunt Cindy” in my world) wrote a really cool letter from Vermont, home of Brattleboro and the best skiing (in my New England-bred “vertical ice-skating” sense: KILLINGTON, y’all) and shoelaces that say “I LoVermont” and gay huntin’ lodges. She and her better half were getting hitched up there in the Green Mountains, and she took the time to send a note to Denis and me — especially me.
Aware of my undying quest for what I will describe as “A Job I Don’t Hate But Which Actually Pays Money,” she noted that some of the happiest people she knows, including some of the good folks she met back in my old stomping grounds, don’t have what anyone would describe as normal American “careers.” Instead, they do lots of things, cobbling together a living from the sweat of their brows and hands and brains and creative faculties. She suggested that maybe a similar path would work for me.
At the time, I was horribly depressed, and all I really heard was a message about how the only course of action for someone like me is an overwhelmingly hard one that leads to working long hours just to survive. I am quite sure, having re-read the letter a couple of times since then, that she didn’t intend to send me that message at all.
Instead, the message she was sending was this:
You’re a restless, wildly creative free-spirit. You weren’t built to abide by arbitrary rules or sit behind a desk or climb a corporate ladder. You want to do everything — so why not do it?
My inner collectivist says, “But that’s not how things work.”
My inner iconoclast says, “Who the **** cares how things work for anyone else? No matter what the song says, sometimes fish gotta fly.”
Even in collectivist societies, there are people whose role it is to do creative stuff, to dance in the gaps, to bridge them — not as the George Washington Bridge spans the Hudson, but as a spark jumps a gap in a combustion engine.
Being one of those liminal people is not necessarily easy. It means that you don’t get to follow a predefined path (a route, by the way, that offers its own challenges). It means you have to reinvent the wheel, build everything from the ground up for yourself.
No biggie. I’ve been doing that all my life. In every way, my life as someone who has never fit in, anywhere, period, has optimally fitted me to be a gap-jumping spark. So has a happy marriage to someone who is willing to patiently pay the bills while I figure out what the heck to do with myself; who would be just as happy to let me stay home and be a nice little homemaker and never earn a red cent if that’s what I wind up choosing.
I say that because I recognize how lucky I am. I am in a position that allows me the luxury of choice. I do not have a family to support or mouths to feed (well, except the cat, who frankly costs almost nothing to feed — a huge sack of cat food costs about $20 and seems to last forever). My husband is a well-paid professional who works for himself in a career track that isn’t going to dry up and blow away any time soon — but if it did, between us, Denis and I have an extensive support network. It is deeply unlikely that, barring a disaster that wiped both Louisville and Connecticut off the map, we will be homeless or hungry any time soon.
So am thinking that with that good fortune — that fortuitous dose of circumstance — come both opportunity and responsibility: opportunity to do what I’m good at and what I love; responsibility to make the most of the talents I’ve been given.
I don’t know exactly what that means, yet. As Cindy suggests, it might mean doing a whole bunch of things.
Certainly, writing will be one of them — whether it’s in the confines of academia or in the books-that-people-read arena.
I hope to find some way to make my obsessive need to do crazy physical things at least pay for itself (maybe I will teach Zumba some day; maybe I’ll even learn enough to teach ballet to beginners, who are always my favorite group of people everywhere). I hope I can do at least some of this work in the service of mankind: like I said, interfering busybody. It’s not really that I’m some kind of goody two-shoes; it’s that I’m pushy and I want to spread the gospel of moving around and dancing and jumping up and down.
I think I’d like to teach something. Why? Who knows? Who cares? It sounds interesting.
For a while, realizing (yet again) that medical school was not really a very realistic option for me was a shattering loss. Now I’m starting to see it in a different light. I suspect that I have a couple of vocations — in the most technical sense: callings — that I couldn’t really answer with full faith if I also worked as a physician.
I think I can begin my career-finding journey much in the way I began the mate-finding journey that led me to Denis: by defining what I don’t want.
So here’s what I don’t want:
- I don’t want to sit behind a desk all day, or even most of the day.
- I don’t want to wear normal clothes to work.
Don’t get me wrong, I can enjoy a really smart suit as much as the next guy — but I prefer to keep my suit-wearing opportunities in the context of playing “adult dress-up,” the kind that involves going to the opera or a wedding or what have you.
What I mean is that I like running around in what most people think of as “exercise gear,” and I’d like to work in an environment where that’s okay.
- I don’t want to work forty hours a week at something I kinda hate to pay the bills and push all my passions into the “hobby” category.
It turns out that I already have a couple of things on my “do want” list, as well:
- I want to be able to travel. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a function of my job (though that would be super cool), but my work life does need to allow time for it.
- I like the idea of teaching, though it might turn out that I hate the reality. I guess we’ll find out.
A lot of people will think this sounds like a tall order. Maybe it is one; maybe we’ve just lowered our expectations so remarkably that any stack of such criteria seems tall.
Some part of me feels like I’ve lost a lot of time, wandering in the wilderness of corporate IT work and so forth. Another part of me realizes that I still have many, many years ahead of me in which to do great things, even if in the end only I think they’re great.
So now it’s time to start exploring what’s out there, and asking questions like, “How can I combine my background in psychology with my love of dance to make make something good in the world which hopefully also gives me at least a little income?” and “Is there some way I can plug that into cycling, too?”
And, of course, that all-important question,
“Do these tights make my butt look triangular?”