I don’t feel I gave up much. I would like a little more time for hobbies, but my interests outside of work are not passions, not things I need to have central in my life. I don’t want to give the impression that I work all the time, because I don’t—I aim at 40 hours a week, on average—but work is what shapes my life.
Perhaps the work/job distinction should be explored. I certainly count research as work, not as something I’d do anyway—I mean, it is, but since it’s an expected part of my job, research is work in the daily sense. But then there’s The Work, what to some extent I chose over The Life, because I felt the need for work that was a vocation, work that helped make life meaningful. At one point when I was in graduate school, some of my non-academic friends, and their academic mother, were reading Mary Catherine Bateson’s Composing a Life; they found the idea that women were likely to put together a series of lives consoling. It was what the mother had done, and my friends, unsure of what they wanted to do, hoped form would emerge out of patchwork for them. I saw myself with a more traditionally masculine trajectory, and that is (so far) what has happened. I didn’t seem to have the experience of being broken down and re-formed in grad school that some of you report, perhaps because I wasn’t firmly formed when I started. I got to grow into the identity I had long desired, rather than losing pieces of myself.
And though I chose The Work, I have A Life. I have a really good job. Most of my colleagues are sane, most of my students are nice, smart people who work hard, the library is decent, the location is acceptable. My house, which I can afford and which is in a good neighborhood, is filled with books and cats and sunlight. I am very happily married. I have access to the cultural amenities of a big city and to the intellectual life of my campus, both of which get some of my time. I have friends, and some of them aren’t even academics.
I don’t have everything I want. But if, when I was 20, a fairy godmother had said, “Look, you can have work and love but you’ll have to live your life in exile; or else you can live in a place you love and take your chances on the rest,” I would have thought that was a no-brainer. In fact, I’d make the same choice now.
A tiled patio over whose white walls tumble jasmine and bougainvillea, shaded by a pepper tree, whispers the fairy godmother. Geraniums that grow into hedges, lantana that grows tree-sized. Plumeria. Wisteria. Mountains. La la la not listening, I say. La la la love my work.
It’s hard to know what matters to you till you lose it. And if you lost something else, that might be the thing you truly can’t live without. The path not taken doesn’t exist. The only path is the one you’re on.
What I have is what I wanted most.