I have one of those right now: an empty desk with three empty drawers. Empty bookshelves, too. I come into work now and see…nothing. No notes from students, no collections of Things To Do, no funny postcards, no drawings from my kids. Given all this emptiness, it occurs to me that I could (try) to become one of those clean-desk people, whose To Do lists are filled with crossed-off items and who keep their personalities off their walls.
I’ve started a new job. Left behind the small conservative Catholic college where I’ve taught for the past fifteen years and where I’ve never quite fit in: I am not small or conservative or even Catholic. Teaching there was like living with chronic back pain: eventually, you figure out ways to work around the source of the aches and it’s only after the pain disappears that you realize how much it used to hurt.
Actually, the ache was mostly the administration, led by the virulently anti-intellectual college president and his cronies, all of whom thought of higher education as a purely transactional exercise: faculty were well-educated customer service reps responsible for doling out knowledge in precisely calibrated units to their clients.
What I do miss about my old job are the few colleagues who risked administrative wrath by refusing to buy into the corporatization of education–people who do things like ask their students hard questions or force them to think about connections between what , and I miss my students. For many of them, I was utterly anomalous: a liberal well-educated woman who lived in The City and frequently wore black motorcycle boots.
At my new job? Women like me are a dime a dozen—and I realize that, in fact, motorcycle boots are like so totally over. Which is too bad, because I love my black boots and intend to wear them even when I’m hobbling down the street pushing one of those walkers that has the little tennis balls on the tips.
So I packed fifteen years into seven boxes (a remarkable downsizing, let me tell you) and said good-bye to a bean-counting administration and commuting to Westchester. I’m sure that long-term riding on Metro-North gives rise to an actual medical condition called “Metro-North back,” caused by the curve of the train seats, which conform to the shape of no human spine.
Now? Now I can ride my bike to work. How amazing is that? I have achieved a New Yorker’s ultimate dream: I live and work in the same zip code.
Sure, there are some pesky details, like having to teach all-new classes to an entirely unknown audience, and deciding to switch from PC to Mac, right now, in the middle of all this other change, which was maybe not the best idea on the planet.
I bring my new shiny mac book pro to work now (I’m trying to work on my relationship with that silly silver machine, with all its bouncy icons and utter lack of intuitive sequences), sit at my shiny empty desk and contemplate this new chapter. Here I am, in my late mid-forties, starting over. Or maybe I should say re-(black motorcycle)-booting.
It feels good.