This week I was on the road, travelling not so much for my job as for the possibility of a new job, of a head to toe makeover of my life. The trip involved many flights and many layovers, all to reach a beautiful and isolated college town in the Pacific Northwest. On either side of my seventy-two hours of interviews, the trip also involved lots of time to think. Last week of course I talked about how much time I spend thinking of all my old lives, playing out all of my past tense what if scenarios, but this week it was time for a change. This week my thoughts were limited strictly to the future subjunctive.
The job I am in the running for is just about a dream come true (at least if I am basing my dreams in reality rather than the dream job that would involve skipping over the extra ten years of work experience and the prerequisite PhD). This job would take me to a school that sits comfortably in the upper strata of the top tier, but nonetheless remains unpretentious and committed to a noble mission. I would run my own little administrative department from a corner office on the first floor of a beautiful, historic stone building, with windows looking out over trees and a stream. I would work and live next to intelligent, like-minded individuals, and with students that are smarter than me, that are so aware and self-possessed they give me faith in the Millennial Generation. What about this job would not be a higher ed professional’s utopian promised land?
As with so much of life, there is a long answer to this short question.
My whole life I have lived in metropolitan areas – Los Angeles, Madrid, Athens. The closest I have gotten to rural life has been a couple of visits to my mother’s ancestral village in the mountains of central Greece, my father’s hometown in an Ohio farming community, and in a way, the suburb of Los Angeles where I work – I have (old) coworkers who still wear cowboy boots because when they grew up there it was nothing but farms and orange groves.
My husband and I have often talked about our rural dreams. We were married in rural Marin county, spent our honeymoon driving through the rural towns lining the Pacific Coast. We’ve always sort of agreed that a liberal little “small town for smart people” was where we wanted to end up at some point. But now that this option has a one in three chance of presenting itself, we are forced to ask whether that point really is now, or ever? Could we ever really leave our urban roots?
The college campus I visited is exceptional, and the town is beautiful in parts, particularly the parts surrounding the campus. There is a thriving downtown with a tiny upscale department store and high design restaurants boasting local, organic ingredients. We could buy a big old craftsman a few blocks from campus, the kind that would cost a million or more in South Pasadena. I could ride my bike to work, and to pick up Koukla from school. And speaking of the koukla, I have no doubt that she would be better off here, less prone to eating disorders and other self-mutilations, not so much for the isolated environment but for the extra time I would have to dedicate to actually parenting.
From a purely practical, objective perspective, this job would mean a vastly improved quality of life in so many ways – unless, perhaps, those objective quality of life measures accounted for personal preference, for cultural considerations, for the urban elitism that I will openly admit to. Because WHAT ON EARTH WOULD I DO IN A RURAL TOWN?
I tell myself, and I almost believe, that the satisfaction I would get from this caliber of career shift would sustain me through just about anything. I also tell myself that I rarely leave the confines of South Pasadena as it is, and that small town living is what I have always fantasized about – both of which are true facts. But I love small towns when I am the outsider, when I’m the city girl come for a visit, the city girl that entertains the small town folk by wearing cowboy boots and talking up a storm about the Merle Haggard and Towns Van Zandt songs that come up on the juke box at the local dive bar. So what happens when that city girl becomes just another townie? Do I cease to be interesting to others? Do I cease to be interesting to myself?
I got the hard sell this week. Everyone I met with told me what a wonderful place it would be to live, to work, to raise a family. They told me about the burgeoning arts scene, about the symphony and the farmers market and all of the opportunities for children. They told me about the supportive community and the mild, four-seasoned climate.
And I bought it, hook line and sinker (a clichéd but appropriate metaphor, given the abundance of fly-fishing in the area). But then I came home. I missed her more than words during my trip (this was my first time travelling so far away from her or for so long), so maybe coming home to her has made me more emotional and nostalgic than I would otherwise be, but right now I feel like I never want to leave South Pasadena again. I don’t want to go to work, and I don’t want Koukla to go to school or to Yia Yia’s house. I just want to sit with her in our perfect little house in our perfect little town and never go anywhere ever again.
There is a two in three chance that a month from now, once I have settled back in with my good old stirrings of discontent starting again to rumble, and I will get a call that will tell me I have simply (and once again) let my imagination get the best of me, wasting a whole lot of mental energy on a question that never really existed. And I will go back to my life as it was, only with that discontent firmly entrenched now that I have had a taste of what might have been. But tonight I’m not concerned about what was, and I’m not concerned about what is. I’m concerned about what might happen with that one-third of a chance.