Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Blast from the past

If our lives are our stories, do we write the narrative?

I've been thinking about this as I prepare for – and dread – a big college reunion. What was I thinking I would do, back then? Who would I be? I know I wanted to write. But I didn't think, back in the day, that there was a job I could try for that would really let me do that. I could be a journalist, which wasn't exactly what I wanted. Or I could work in publishing, although a summer internship with a very sweet university press had left me bored to tears. I ended up deciding on a career in magazine journalism and, well, look at me now.

I'm happy. I really am. Much happier than I'd have predicted back in the day. But in many ways, I'm also less successful. I work at home, in my sweats, and I earn my living by my pen. (Okay, by my iMac.) But I do a lot of writing for hire that is less than fun and certainly less than glamorous, and 25 years after graduating from a big, old prestigious school, I still worry about the bills.

In the run up to the reunion, I've touched base with some old friends and found that they tend to feel the same way. There's one former running buddy who can't believe she's working part-time as the "low woman on the totem pole." There's another who admitted to feeling embarrassed because she gave up on the sciences (after getting a doctorate and doing serious post-doc work!) to become a lawyer. We've all ended up in different places, along different paths, than we expected.

I was thinking about this while I was driving to my gym (even though it is now too late to lose 20 lbs by the reunion). I was also listening to my favorite guilty pleasure, an all-hits radio station. And then this came on:

You get up every morning
From your alarm clock's warning
Take the 8:15 into the city
There's a whistle up above
And people pushin', people shovin'
And the girls who try to look pretty
And if your train's on time
You can get to work by nine
And start your slaving job to get your pay
If you ever get annoyed
Look at me I'm self-employed
I love to work at nothing all day
And I'll be...
Taking care of business every day
Taking care of business every way
I've been taking care of business, it's all mine
Taking care of business and working overtime

So that's my story, and I'm sticking with it!
Happy reunion, old friends. I look forward to seeing you all.


Linda L. Richards said...

Lovely, thoughtful post. (Yes another one!) And I think it's also a great comment on you and your friends. The choices you've made were about questions of personal value and quality of life. You could have made other choices that led you different places. But you didn't and you're happy with them, even if, as you say, you still occasionally worry about the bills.

Bravo, I say! And I can claim similar choices. (Obviously: it sounds like our work resumes are pretty similar. Magazine writing. Names on books. Great dinner parties with lotsa laffs. Not a lot of the stacking green.)

Some of my friends made the same value-based decisions. Others didn't. I can think of one in particular who made all the "right" choices, who has all the stuff to prove it including a flock of people to worry about her bills on her behalf. She is extremely successful, in all the ways our society tends to count these things. Yet she suffers hypertension, has recently begin to be afflicted by some mysterious illness and hasn't spoken to her daughter in three years.

I'll bet her Lexus looks yummy pulling up in front of her reunion, though.

Clea Simon said...

Thanks, Linda! And, yeah, I can't see doing much different if I had to do it again. Only, maybe, I'd have gotten out of some of those "looks good, wrong for me" situations a little quicker!

Clea Simon said...

By the way, thanks for calling my post "lovely" and "thoughtful." Not what I expected after my Bachman Turner Overdrive revelation. Is that a Canadian thing?

Linda L. Richards said...

My face is red: if I saw the Bachman Turner Overdrive reference, it didn't stick in my head. Sorry. (But then, it wouldn't. I was mostly living in L.A. when they were happening.)

Clea Simon said...

Hey, no shame here! I was singing out loud when "Takin' Care of Business" came on the radio!