Last week it was my turn to leave. After nearly a week of single parenting, my husband came home, we spent the weekend as a family, then I was off in an uber to the airport, along with my sturdy old spinner suitcase, all weather computer tote, not quite noise canceling headphones, and enough music and reading to keep me busy through even the longest of layovers. Travel is something I have down to a science.
My job has never required a lot of travel, probably never will. I used to think this was an accident, that I had fallen off of the stage at my college graduation and landed into exactly the wrong spot. I should be jetsetting, I used to think, I should be exercising my expert packing skills, making late night ice machine runs and mixing cocktails on fake marble countertops, should be shooting the shit with strangers on strange streets, shooting photos I will never be home long enough to turn into prints. Because I am an adventurer. I am good at being away.
Or I was. I was good at being away. And I was really, really good at running away.
Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s acceptance. Maybe it’s all those years of therapy, or maybe it really was just that one moment, sitting on a sofa in a shared, rented flat, somewhere in the outskirts of Madrid, that one moment when I realized that this was not home. That this never would be home, and I would rather live with all of the inadequacies of home than be a long term visitor in places that by all measures were just on this side of perfect.
And so I came home. It took another year or two (or five) to finally come skidding to a stop, but I came home, and, eventually, I stayed home. But still I yearned for away. I thought all of my travel and all of my adventures had qualified me for a travel and adventure filled career, and I spent years – YEARS – thinking that my next big move into the big time was just around the next corner, just one more turn away.
It turns out my life doesn’t have a lot of corners. What it has instead are curves.
Last week I was away at a conference for work. Which is to say, I was away at a conference for registrars, admissions officers, and academic middle managers of all stripes and sizes. There was a fake marble countertop in my hotel room bathroom, and I made more than one late night run to the ice machine, but professional development for paper pushers is not exactly what I imagined my jetsetting future would hold – nor is it what my ego’s own paper pushing predecessor thought my future would hold.
A year ago, I never would have believed that now, today, a year later I would be in this place.
A year ago, I was at this same conference. Same time, same topic, different city. A year ago I was making a presentation to my colleagues. I was drinking with work buddies. I was mourning the moments lost with my daughter who was then and still is now growing by leaps and bounds. A year ago, I was doing a lot of what I found myself doing again last week. The only difference is this crazy curve in the road I’ve been following these past six months, which means that the only difference is just about everything.
I’m working both harder and smarter, I am more effective and yet more relaxed. I have my own department to run, and yet am running more miles a week than ever. I am home again at my alma mater, not as the visiting artist I dreamed about ten years ago, but as a boring bureaucrat, an administrator more concerned with overall achievement at the institute rather than individual ambitions (though let’s be honest, that ambition is still there – it just looks a little different these days). But have I mentioned that I actually like being registrar? I even wear heels to work now. Heels and dresses and lipstick and newly colored hair.
Sometimes life curves in circles, and sometimes it curves into new worlds. And sometimes, in an amazing feet of geographic impossibility, it curves both ways at once. And so this conference that made me so miserable last year actually ended up as an almost enjoyable experience. Almost.
Because here’s what’s not changed: any night not spent with my daughter is a night that kind of sucks. Even when it’s fun. Even when it’s a much needed, well deserved bout of uninterrupted sleep. Even if it feels soooo good to be on nobody’s schedule but my own (and the conference organizer’s, I guess, at least until around 5:40pm). Not being with my daughter always and inevitably makes me sad. No matter how great the day job, no matter how important the nightly pursuits. Nothing curves where I want it, unless it curves back home to her.
[And in case you’re wondering, yes, there is one other thing that’s different now, and that’s my writing schedule. In order to allow time for all of the over the top effort my job needs of me right now, and for my other writing projects (which are coming along nicely, thank you for asking), and most importantly, for any extra stolen hours of happiness I might squeeze in to soothe that impossibly insatiable love for my daughter, I’ll be posting every other week for a little while – probably until the end of the year. Hopefully this will give me a chance to hug this curve like my life depends on it, giving my all here and everywhere.]