Last week I was all about the emotional trials that the uncertainty of a burgeoning academic career can bring. But this week I’m reminded – in part by my students – of the other side...the unexpected experiences that can arise and enrich our lives as a result of the places we're pushed in these early years. (Of course, this perspective is possible for me because I’m childless, I’m mobile, I have a supportive partner who isn’t dependent on me for the day-to-day and can manage my not being around most of the time…and is willing to take care of the dog on her own! It’s not so for everyone…)
I’m in the midst of packing up my university office and my home in Canadian University City because I am moving back to Home City this weekend. I won’t be coming back here, since I have a job at another Cdn Uni next year. Today, a tough-yet-oh-so-vulnerable student for whom I have a very parental soft spot – she’s been in three of my classes this year – came up to me and cried about my leaving. (What is it with me and the crying students?) I was incredulous, shocked, to see her guard down like that. She got me thinking about what this place has been for me.
Seeing her like this made me realize just how sad I am to be saying goodbye. I really care about these students, this place. I was freaked out as I watched Tough Student walk out the door and wanted to call her back, to say, “let’s go for a drink, now that you’re not my student anymore.” And the thing is, that’s so far from what I expected when I started this gig. In fact, I wasn’t even supposed to be here, in a way. I thought I would spend this past academic year lazily finishing up my PhD. I certainly wasn’t on the market .(I still can’t get over the fact that we regularly use that term to describe ourselves!) When I saw the ad for this job, I applied on a whim. After I interviewed and got the job, I frantically finished my PhD and moved here – a year ahead of my own “career plan”, such as it was. It all seemed perfectly accidental, and I felt unencumbered by anything related to this city or institution.
I didn’t expect much from the year, except a few months of panic leading up to my defense in December, plenty of new-professor anxiety and learning curves, and some time to spend with family members who happen to live in this city. It has turned out, though, to be one of the most satisfying periods of my life. The community I have found here has been overwhelmingly wonderful. I reconnected with my old friend, Gorgeous Big Personality, and made the closest New Best Friend I’ve made in many, many years – Faux Girlfriend. I became very close to an aunt, with whom I shared many a gossipy meal and drive – including a shockingly wine- and gin-soaked goodbye dinner on Monday night. I’ve had colleagues like Eccentric Mom, whom I adore as people and also have a productive intellectual connection with. And the students I’ve met are lovely.
All of this connecting flies in the face of an assumption about the difficulty of making connections – an assumption that is true a lot of the time, I think. How much harder it becomes to forge friendships as we get older. People are in relationships or they’re just…busy with themselves and their lives. That feeling that there are infinite possible friends to be had fades with adolescence. But this year was enchanted in the way it opened up that horizon again.
When I got a job another university even as I was being offered a renewal of my contract here, I faced a tough decision. The school I’m at now really isn’t very good. When I eventually decided to take the new job, I was making a career choice instead of an emotional choice for perhaps the first time in my life. And now, as I do all this packing up and saying of goodbyes and watching Tough Students walk away, I’m still not entirely sure about it.
Anyway. As much as I wish for a tenure-track job – I really want to settle – and as strongly as I object to the culture of the bloody nine-month, limited-term appointment that is taking hold and causing so much uncertainty (and intermittent unemployment) for so many folks, right now I’m also feeling damn lucky to have had this time here. Tonight I had dinner with two friends and then we went for a walk. The sun was setting all pink and streaky and we ended up in a park, looking at a beautiful monument I'd never seen before. And I wouldn't have seen any of the loveliness that is this place if it weren't for my shitty nine-month contract; I'd certainly never have considered moving here. And look at all I've gained. Huh.