Yesterday I went to a talk Carl gave. He’s part of a group of nerds who get together every once and again and talk about their work. They have slide presentations and everything. Yesterday it was Carl’s turn.
I have to tell you, I had only a faint idea of what they were talking about. Let’s pretend it’s the mid-nineties and I don’t understand all these bits and bytes and whoa, I’ve been run over on the information superhighway, man! Hoooooo wee! I understood the basic premise of the talk, and I looked at the slides, and I nodded when people talked about the open-source advantage, and I looked intently at peoples’ faces when they dropped their jaws in awe of Carl’s technical savvy and business acumen. They started saying words like ebase and SQL and getting very passionate about database normalizing and I just watched them go at it, all these bright interesting people, trying to make the world safe for tech non-profits. It was very nice. I was very proud of Carl because he gave a great presentation…purely for the fun of it, you understand, on his own time…and also because he is just plain brilliant. He’s just really smart. A lot of the time when he’s with me I think he’s kind of keeping his smartness under a bushel, because it’s really specific to certain types of ideas and problems that don’t come up too often in our day to day life together. I have always known he was smart, but yesterday I got to really see that he was smart. So that was pretty fun.
However. You probably have guessed that what I was really thinking about during all this was, as usual, me. Me me me, blah blah, me. I started wondering why everyone in the room seemed so interested and excited about their jobs, and how I like my job fine, but how I’m not all that inflamed with excitement about it, although I do think we do some interesting stuff. I haven’t ever had a job like that, where I just couldn’t stop thinking about it because it was all so thrilling. I certainly have never had a job that really allowed me to use my self, if that doesn’t sound too woo-woo therapist for you. I’m not one anymore so I guess I should stop with the woo-woo, right?
I’ve said many times that I’m neither ambitious nor hardworking, career-wise. I mostly just like to hang out. I would make an excellent Lady of Leisure. In fact this is the first summer for two years that I don’t get time “off” as a result of being “unemployed. I kind of miss my summer vacation…I have a ton of books to read, for one thing…but I certainly like having money. But that’s it. That’s the only reason I work. I like having a job to which I don’t dread going and that involves interesting issues and nice people, but that’s it. I don’t think about ways I can be a better research assistant when I’m at home. I don’t dream up innovative business solutions. I don’t think about climbing the ladder, although it’s true I hope the next grant we do will include me as a clinician so I can a) make more money and b) feel cooler when people ask me what I do for a living. I don’t really want that kind of job, either.
I used to kind of have one of those, back in the late nineties when I was first out of college. I think The Late Nineties are going to be to me what The Sixties are to my dad…a time when everything was just like it should be, and I was very young and adventuresome. I was young, but not especially adventuresome. Although I did go to Italy that one time. Everyone I knew, it seemed, was working for a dot com or something else tech-y, and everyone had a lot of money for the first time. I didn’t have a lot of money, but I did have my very own apartment and car and I had to dress up a little to go to work. I worked in college admissions at the school I’d just graduated from and where I’d been a tour guide for four years. I randomly got a job there after I graduated, after one of my Best Summers Ever. I worked a lot. I traveled for work a lot, spent a lot of time in hotels and airports and rental cars. I talked to people about being in college all day, told stories about when I was in college, three four five six months ago. Thought about what was best for the school, best for the kids I was working with, all the time. I would write in my paper journal about how worried I was that I felt the school was going in a wrong direction, or how upset I was that one kid I’d really wanted to be admitted didn’t get in because he didn’t have enough money, and how it wasn’t fair that other schools had big endowments and we didn’t, and so on and so on. I worked nights and weekends all the time. Some of the time during those two years I would spend the weekends by myself in this weird hellish Inland Empire Valley suburb (my apartment was right by a sex shop and an auto body parts store) watching movies in my little apartment that had bright pink carpet, and I would be glad when it was Sunday night, because Monday morning I would have something to do. Other times I was very social! and going out a lot and driving to Pasadena and LA and San Diego all the time…especially to see this boy I was all obsessed with. My friends were starting to get married and I was a bridesmaid a lot. I discovered online journals. I went to ska shows sometimes.
I think about that time, that job…and even though I was in a good, a decent place in my life, I was really restless. I was pretty sure I was going to go to grad school in the next couple of years, but I didn’t know where or in what, and more importantly, I didn’t know why. I just thought I should go. I kind of stumbled on social work programs because I thought I might like to be a therapist, and I didn’t think I could take a five or seven year program. I was very naﶥ about what it would cost to go somewhere out of state. I thought Seattle might be fun. I didn’t know a thing about social work and hadn’t ever worked in an agency, but I was thinking a lot about class issues. I would travel all over the country (well, okay, to Texas) talking to all this highly privileged kids, trying to get them to come to my poor little second-tier school, and then I’d come home to the IE and go to these barrio schools, to college fairs where ROTC would set up a freaking tank in the middle of the school field and all the wussy liberal arts schools…not that there would ever be many there…would be all scrunched in the back. A lot of the kids at those schools didn’t know that the Claremont Colleges were right in their back yards, didn’t know how to apply to college, didn’t know about financial aid or interviews or anything. The private school kids, meanwhile, were getting all this preparation starting from about ninth grade. When I was at Snooty Prep School we got this huge binder junior year with all this information and you had to meet with your college counselor every month or something, and heaven help you if you didn’t take eighteen AP classes, and so on. So, really different, right? And I began to wonder why. And somehow I just thought that going to social work school would help me figure that out and that I would be able to do something about class injustice the world over. And that everyone could go to college and be happy in their nice houses with their nice cars and grow up to write self-obsessed online journals. Ta da! The end!
When I think about it now, four years later, what strike me most about the decision to leave that job and come to school here are two are a) I had a JOB that paid me MONEY and I left it? And b) wow, isn’t that nice of me to want to help the dirty poor people? And the crazy people? And the old people, and the homeless people, and the people all addicted to the drugs? Yeah, go me. Go middle class, highly privileged me, all helping the people. It seems so presumptuous…also, I always thought it strange that I took all these classes about race class and gender injustice for thousands of dollars. Amazing. That’s really the mark of the middle class, isn’t it? Well, I digress. So I went to school and couldn’t find a job and had a little horrible job and then got laid off and couldn’t find a job and then got the one I do now. I don’t feel as though I’ve chosen it though, nor do I feel it “chose” me, either. It just happened. I happen to like it, I happen to be okay at it. And I don’t think I’m the type of person, anyway, who gets a real charge out of work…but watching Carl in action the other day, I couldn’t help but think it might be nice someday