My job as department secretary here involves one fabulous forbidden pleasure: opening official transcripts. You know, the ones that say UNOFFICIAL IF OPENED OMG DON'T OPEN THIS all over them? It's like cutting off the tag that says DO NOT REMOVE UNDER PENALTY OF LAW, which I always giggle gleefully while doing. For my first week here I had to be constantly reassured that I wasn't going to get in trouble for opening transcripts.
The transcripts show me everything that people have done before they come here to be grad students, and sometimes I read the class titles and degree concentrations and wonder what the hell I thought I was wasting my time with at Berkeley. Seriously. I was patiently memorizing the names of the fiddly bits around the door of a Greek temple while other people were taking Lab: Coastal Exploration, and I was falling asleep over the complete geologic history of Africa while they were in Environ. Perspectives and Whitewater Rafting. And I think this and sigh and tell myself that in the real world at a real school you can't spend your entire undergraduate career getting credits for ceramics and sailing trips.
And then I ask: why the hell not?
Yesterday I went to my local plant nursery, because there are only 16 plants currently living inside my house and it's just not quite enough for me. Also, chickens. It's a strange nursery: a tiny, crowded indoor shop selling little houseplants and elaborate fern dioramas and chicken feed and obscure soil amendments, surrounded by a sprawling backyard dotted with tables of arbitrarily-arranged seedlings and giant tubs of strawberry stubs (I really don't know what else to call them) and stacks of straw bales and dusty plastic pots and three nonchalant hens pecking around in the straw and wandering out the back gate to see what's going on in the alley. It's just... well, it's ragingly Portland.
The reason I mention this is that I make my living in a fluorescent-lit office surrounded by stacks of paper. My work does not involve chickens. It does not involve food. I do have seven plants in the department office, but I am discouraged from regarding them as a primary responsibility. My work does not involve dirt, paint, screws, or hand tools (no, I will not count my stapler). It does not involve coastal explorations of any kind. And I have a nice salary and health insurance and vacation days and a typical work day doesn't require me to break a sweat, so of course by all the standards I've been taught to accept I have a job that is good and legitimate. But I'd really, really like to trade it for a job involving things that interest me.
Problem: I have had a very nice respectable upbringing in an upper-middle-class professional family with high expectations of me. Things that interest me have a tendency to involve dirt, doing shit with my hands, things that grow (even if, as in archaeology, they are merely holes), and food (not necessarily in conjunction with dirt, though, you know, depending). These are not respectable high-expectation upper-middle-class professional family things. I can squeak archaeology in under the radar -- yes, there is that undignified phase of digging holes in the ground and touching dirty old things, but then you get to go take a shower and spend a year or two sitting around in an armchair writing about what you found. And at least in the abstract that sounds snooty enough for the standards and unsnooty enough for me to potentially like it. But what if I don't? What if I realize in a moment of cold realism that academic archaeology means publishing or perishing, and grantwriting and teaching and all kinds of uncompelling things, and CRM archaeology means constant stress and diplomatic difficulty and dealing with legitimately angry people whose great-grandparents just got accidentally dug up after you promised they wouldn't be? If there is one thing on this earth I cannot cope with, it is legitimately angry people.
What if, indeed, I would rather learn to do one solid, concrete thing, like fix bikes or make pies or build porch rockers or whatever, and just do that forever and be competently serene in the knowledge that I am the Person Who Does That One Thing? In my bucolic fantasies I am starting to sound like my dear off-the-grid sister and I am probably no more realistic than she. But what's really happening is I'm going totally batshit Portland. My ideas about work and status are getting all turned around, so that, for instance, working in the plant nursery and selling people obscure soil amendments and tomato seedlings isn't, ugh, retail, it's a job where you know that you are just always tending and selling little wonderful green things. Or working at the Rebuilding Center isn't, ew, manual labor, it's a job where you are always picking up big bits of recycled houses and taking them carefully apart into smaller bits and sorting them so crafty people can find them. How far does this go? If I let myself fantasize long enough would a job as a prep cook at Nutshell turn from, gah, food service to something where you are always cooking tasty food, that's all, really, just tasty food all the time? You'll never get to 4:45 pm and realize that there's some obscure and vitally important task that you forgot to do, unless of course you just didn't make tasty food.
This isn't the first time I've been tempted to drop out of people's expectations of me, so I should probably take my own fantasizing with the proverbial grain of salt. On the other hand, the last time I was tempted I actually did drop out, and went to bartending school and spent four months unemployed and obsessing over my tomato plants, so I should probably also consider myself a loose cannon who might do anything if not properly supervised. On the gripping hand, it's starting to be springtime and I'm feeling slightly superhuman and unreasonable right now. The sun, you know. And I don't know whether to move back to California because Oregon is clearly making me slightly unhinged, or stay in Oregon because unhinged is starting to seem pretty good.
Tune in next month, by which time for all I know I'll have quit my job and moved into a $200/month houseshare in Southeast and gotten hired as a farmhand at a CSA farm. Then tune in the month after, when I've had enough of getting what I wish for and gone back to living like a nice little yuppie-spawn suburban sheep. Sheesh.Posted by dianna at February 25, 2008 11:14 PM