I spent my whole life feeling like I didn’t fit. I was always a bit too straight or a bit too crooked, way too big or just a little too little. I felt it as a child in a new city every few years, felt it as a teenager in the same old high school year in and year out. This is why I used to love travel so much – everyone expected me to stick out, and I actually got to sort of enjoy that out of sync rhythm of mine.
It wasn’t until I went to grad school that for the first time in my life, I wasn’t faced with that difficult and uncomfortable choice between pretending to feel normal, or pretending to not feel bad about not being normal. From the first day of class, it was like I had hit the happiness jackpot (I wrote about my utopian art school experience here). I had finally found my place.
Not a lot of research went into choosing an MFA program. I knew that I wanted to go to art school, and I knew that when I got there I wanted to write. I picked my school based on the relative success and general awesomeness of the alumni I knew who had come through the visual and performing art programs (because at that time, I didn’t actually know any other writers). I was accepted at the last minute and on a fluke, and just as I was sitting down to write law school application essays, my life made a hard right turn.
This week, nearly ten years after receiving my diploma, I applied for a job at my art school alma mater. Sounds great, right? Actually getting paid to spend all of my time at this perfect place I love so much? A dream come true, of course? Not quite. More like an acceptance of my failing in the one arena that art school actually trained me for – namely, being an artist of one sort or another. Because yes, while the successful do get called back to teach, I haven’t applied to teach at my alma mater, or to work as assistant dean or assistant provost or even head of student services. I’ve applied to become the Registrar.
Beyond the oxymoronic notion of a registrar even existing at an experimental art school in which one of the most important defining characteristics is the total disregard for rules, the idea of me actually becoming the registrar at this school is proving problematic in a much more personal way for me.
It’s been some time since I put myself out on the job market – not since that flirtation with moving far, far away to live an idyllic life in a small (and remote and isolated and isolating) college town. Since that time I’ve been in constant flux about what to do next, where to set down my next move. Continue on the path of academic administrator extraordinaire that I landed on by accident (because I was too stoned after art school to really have an understanding of what I was getting myself into)? Go get a PhD that would guarantee me even fewer job prospects than my MFA? Drop out entirely and find a way to live cheaply, getting by on love and adjunct stipends alone? Or maybe I could just delay all decisions for a few more years while I have another kid and see whether I don’t get paid a million dollars to just keep writing this blog?
For months now I’ve been paralyzed by indecision. I’ve talked myself so deeply into a rut that I’ll need a new pair of tires to get myself out. And this job announcement appearing in my inbox at first seemed like that new pair of tires with chrome rims added for extra impact. Until I thought more about it. Because returning as registrar might just mean that my artsy fartsy utopian dream would officially and forevermore be finished. I’m worried that if I return as my new, boring self, that last haven of abnormal normalcy would disintegrate.
But if I’m honest with myself, this isn’t about the job. The job is simply water thrown over my head, clearing the air and forcing me to acknowledge the fact that I’ve been denying for some time – that already and again, I feel like I don’t fit. My life doesn’t look like the lives my friends are leading. Either my house is too messy or too clean. My clothes are too old or too new. My time is too monopolized by mommyhood, or my brain too boring now for anything other than an office job.
Which is not to say that any of my friends care about any of these things. The problem is not that they care; the problem is that I care. On so many levels, I’m still that little kid in a new city who just wants somebody to hang out with who likes the same kind of bikes that everybody in my old city used to ride. And if this is how I feel with my FRIENDS, how do I really expect to show my face again in that world we all came from with any inkling of pride?
But maybe, just maybe, I’m not giving myself enough credit. If I were to get this job, maybe instead of the disintegration of all of my ghosts of happiness past I would experience something else entirely, a Type II supernova that would light my path for years to come and leave a newly formed star in its wake.
Maybe this is my last best chance to combine the best of both of my worlds: bureaucrat by day, blogger by night. I’d no longer even have a choice as to whether to actively conceal my writer persona from my day job, because my day job would be the institution where my writer persona was born. And as long as I’m still making good work, what do I have to be ashamed of? Shouldn’t I, in fact, be proud of what I’ve achieved? And if this job doesn’t work out, what does this process tell me about how I might approach the employment paralysis that’s dogged me now for too long?
All questions I am happy to finally ask, and questions I would be even happier to ultimately answer.