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Wednesday, January 05, 2005


Once upon a time.

Once upon a time I left college because I didn't know why I was there. I was a straight-A student; this was not expected. At home I felt like a hamster - take me off my treadmill and I have no idea what to do with myself. That was when I discovered the satisfaction and sorrow that come from stepping outside the normal motion of things. When I went back to school, I was there on my terms. I did things like ask to write plays instead of standard essays in a class about the English Mystery Plays; my modern-day Noah chose a bullying God over his devoted wife, and Joseph raged at Mary for cheating on him (how else could she be pregnant) - Mary raged at God for giving her a child she didn't choose. I proposed a course for freshmen asking them to think - and write - about what they wanted to get out of college. I wrote angry guest columns in the student paper, admonishing my fellow undergrads to recognize the responsibility that came with their degree - the responsibility to lead meaningful lives, and to give something back. I graduated Phi Beta Kappa, and it meant so much to me, because it felt like a recognition of my independent - rather than compliant - intellect.

I left my first job after college because they misled me during the interview process. They described themselves as a publishing house/think tank/consulting firm, the perfect fit for the intellectual college grad who wasn't quite sure what she wanted to be when she grew up. When I got there they mentioned that oh, by the way, there were these things called productivity points, and I needed to earn five of them each week; if I didn't, my manager would give me a talk about time management. People there thought they were adults because they wore Ann Taylor suits. I wrote angry poetry about the executive lingo - "let's double-click on that idea" (vomit). I was quickly losing faith in the possibility of finding meaningful work.

My parents gave me Zen and the Art of Making a Living (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is one of my favorite books ever); my dad's inscription: "no one said it would be easy." I began to think about the difference between an occupation and a job. Years later I came across the quote (I'm paraphrasing), "don't ask what the world needs - ask what makes you come alive - because what the world needs is more people who have come alive." I have spent the past 7+ years trying to figure out what makes me come alive. I have the Ranier Marie Rilke quote on my fridge, about having patience with unanswered questions... I have no patience. I want answers now. I know it's unrealistic, I know life's a journey, but I want to know my journey's purpose, before it's over and reduced to photographs in an album with little notes scribbled on the side: "Niagara Falls, 1980." I want advance notice.

You'll notice I haven't told you what I do for a living. I'm being deliberately - and uncharacteristically - cagey. I'm not quite ready to talk about that. On good days my job was made for me. On bad days it's like an abusive relationship - you stay because they say nice things, and you figure it's the best you'll ever have, but meanwhile it's steadily destroying you. I'm afraid to say much more because if anyone who works with me finds out about this... if my feelings about my job are on display, it will be not only incredibly embarassing but also career-limiting. So my lips are sealed for now, but I'm going to have to figure out a way to talk about this, because it's what I think about most of the time (unless I'm successful at crowding it out of my thoughts, which is unfortunately rare).

* * * *
I was feeling like this blog was self-obsessed, but then I came across this passage of The Right to Write:

"Valuing our experience is not narcissism. It is not endless self-involvement. It is, rather, the act of paying active witness to ourselves and to our world. Such witness is an act of dignity, an act that recognizes that life is essentially a sacred transaction of which we know only the shadow, not the shape."

It may sound like rationalization, but it's the best description I've found of why I write.


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