Monday, November 10, 2003

Jack of all trades.

What a weird week. All these people from the old life are suddenly re-appearing, and now I'm in the middle of a mini identity crisis. Trying to fit back into the spot they all had carved out for me in their minds, trying to be who I was ten years ago without letting go of who I am now, trying to keep up and realizing I'm not so sure I want to. Who are these people, and what do they want from me?

A little bit I feel guilty. I'm standing among friends, and I think that the one friend I'd really like to have a face-to-face conversation with right now isn't in the room. So I feel bad, as if I'm looking over everyone's shoulders, hoping for someone else to appear. What, these friends aren't good enough? So a little guilt, and it makes me shift in discomfort too many times in a single evening, I think.

Mostly, though, I'm just recognizing that the way my life has unfolded over the past 6 years isn't how anyone expected it to, and although I've moved on, everyone else only has the old mental picture of me. So instead of falling back on familiar topics and old patterns of conversing, everyone has to do a little bit of adjusting, and maybe it's not going that well, I don't know.

My mind works differently now. I'm listening to people talk around me, and I'm discovering that I've left the world of ideas for the world of skills. It's not that I've become less intelligent (although I have to admit I don't engage in the critical thinking process like I used to) but more that I've just directed it elsewhere. It's not that I don't read, I just read differently and for different purposes now. I've no longer got the mind of a specialist; instead, I'm a generalist.

For the past several years, my knowledge has been expanding in terms of practical skill--the physical rather than the cerebral. I cranked up my information technology skills. I stopped thinking about architecture and started thinking about building. I draft, I construct. I've discovered I have a favorite power tool. I took music lessons and I joined a band. Learned how to skate, and then to play hockey. I learned a new language (well, sort of). Took up the martial arts. Learned how to properly slice tomatoes. I suppose I was thinking during all these things, but it's not the same as living on campus, speaking the language of the academy and thinking academic thoughts.

For once, I'm fine with that. I like working with affordable housing programs (even if it doesn't pay the bills). I like being able to go to the library and pick up any damn book I please w/out having to work it into my current research topic. I like being able to change my mind without getting written approval from my advisor.

Somehow I've got to figure out how to convey that to everyone around me, that while of course I'm interested in what they're researching and what they're writing about and what it means for the future of humankind, it's not what I do anymore, and it's not what I'll do in the future. Everyone needs to stop expecting that I'll recognize the names they're dropping and the scholars they're reading.

What I'd really like to say to them, except it sounds like I'm criticizing them and I don't really want to, is that it would do them all good to give up their career paths for awhile and hang out with the rest of us. Have some conversations that aren't so narrowly focused, and that aren't fed by guest lecturers and course material and current research. Maybe they should find some people who don't share their same career goals and go camping or something, anything to broaden their horizons. Read some poetry instead of the New York Times with breakfast. Maybe even watch some TV. Listen to something that isn't NPR.

Well, I guess that is a criticism, isn't it? But about the fifth time someone expected me to recognize the author of an article they were reading, I really wanted to say, "Look, do you know how to put insulation in your crawl space?" It's just that when I realized all these people were coming to town, I thought it would make me sad about everything I gave up. Instead, it's made me heavy with this feeling that my friends are missing out because their professions demand absolute focus and dedication. I don't know. Life is short and it seems a very bad thing to spend the entire thing trapped in the archives squinting under artificial light.

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