Obviously there are loads of people I’m not. For starters, I’m neither Ralph nor Tony. I’m thinking more about people I might have been, people I went to school with, where I don’t quite see how I turned out to be me and not them. I already found that a college friend of mine teaches third grade; Lady Maud told me that my childhood best friend is a teacher in the school one of her kids attended last year. And that a junior-high and high school sort of friend, sort of rival, earned a Ph.D. but never found a job and is now changing careers.

I don’t know why this makes me wonder . . . not exactly about paths not taken, but about luck, I guess, escape by the skin of my teeth. I had one job offer, and I took it. I refused to limit my search geographically. I did something “right.” Who knows what? Lady Maud pointed out that I never wanted to work with children. Yeah, but assorted people in my immediate family were elementary school teachers, and my mother wanted me to stay near her, and teaching school was a very suitable job for a young woman (more suitable than graduate school), and why didn’t I succumb to social and familial expectations?

Maud laughed at me. To other people, I guess I look(ed) like a determined go-getter who was not going to let anyone else’s expectations define me.

I’m glad it looked good. It felt totally terrifying. I went abroad, I went to grad school, because I had to get out of where I was. But I did not act out of a cheerful spirit of adventure. It looked like determination and felt like desperation, and it was surely through some undeserved act of grace that graduate school suited me so well. And my rival-friend had so much more cultural capital than I did, back in high school . . . time has probably erased many of the differences I saw then, but in our teens, they were real. I know what she wrote on, and that she finished (maybe started?) later than I did; I don’t know what her geographical or other constraints may have been. She could have been me. I could have been her. And I wonder what similar ghosts haunt other academics. Do we all carry around the albatrosses of the people we avoided becoming? Maybe some of us wish we’d been them, instead of being where and what we are.

4 thoughts on “People I’m not

  1. What helped me with this was going to a high school reunion, my first and last. (It wasn't bad, but now I never have to do it again.) Some were running family businesses, some were lawyers, some were high school teachers, and some were running the town I grew up in. None of them cared what I did now or were in any way curious about it.

  2. A couple of friends who went to law school when I didn't are doing exactly the kind of work I would have done.I'm curious about that and about the academic me that got lost in "Reeducation" (which includes the weirdness of my first job). Oddly, I've become the kind of academic that first job wanted me to, although I resisted and still resist.

  3. "Albatross" was probably the wrong word. I have no desire to see any of these people, though I like hearing about them. I like thinking about what the forces are (internal and external) that got me to where I am, which is a good place for me. I'm not lamenting things I didn't do; teaching third grade would be miserable for me. I'm wondering how I got lucky, and asking "what made me, me?" Okay, what made me so self-absorbed? Also a fair question.

  4. Oh, this – I know exactly what the things are that escaped me from worse fates or tendencies or that just shaped me or revealed a shape in me.1. Parents kept saying don't get married or have kids, it's bad. They meant, don't do it in high school and ideally, finish college to make the best match and be the happiest in marriage. I heard, don't do the family thing, and I didn't.2. Aunt left college money so I got to choose my college with no input. So I went to very intellectually oriented R1 for college, and lived in a dorm full of driven foreign PhD candidates. I was doing all of this to be internationally oriented and nerdy/geeky, and I got that, but I also ended up with a super high powered professional orientation and discovered I liked that.3. Every academic job I've actually gotten has been one I almost didn't apply for because I wasn't sure I wanted it. Result: I have stayed employed and in profession, and had unexpected adventures; I know things many people like me don't and have had experiences they haven't.There are a lot of other things I could list — stuff I've ended up doing and that have become big parts of my life, and that I don't regret at all, that started out as chance encounters or what at the time I took for passing whims or did as experiments.

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