Friday, February 27, 2009

On Humility

An extraordinary thing happened to me today. 

The day began with lots and lots of pain. I have some respiratory disease I can't shake that makes me cough until I feel like all of those little bronchial tubes in my chest are on fire. As a teacher, I haven't been able to rest my voice, which only irritated this feeling, so I finally decided I couldn't take the burning anymore and called the doctor.

"Sorry, we're booked," said the woman on the phone, who really didn't sound sorry.  "I can transfer you to Dr. Smith's office." So she did.

"Sorry, we're booked," said the woman at Dr. Smith's office.  If possible, she sounded less contrite than the first. "You can try Dr. Jones's office." And so I did. 

"We might be able to work you in," she said doubtfully. "Just come down here and sign in."  

I trudge to the doctor's office with my books and my laptop, prepared to wait and work, this being my only day to plan lectures besides the weekend. I feel like sludge.  They take $115 dollars from me, and I remember that I now have state insurance with no copay, and I feel even sludgier.  They send me to Dr. Jones's office with my chart. Thirty minutes of my life have passed during this process. 

I hand my chart to the receptionist and she glares at me. "Who are you?" she asks. I cannot understand the hostility. I should be angry at her for stealing $115 out of my paycheck, which isn't even hours old today.  I tell her my name, which is clearly printed on the front of my chart, and it makes her more angry. "I JUST talked to you on the phone and said we had NO ROOM."  I open and close my mouth. I have nothing to say. She's lying. And she's making me feel like dirt in front of a hallway full of people.  She rolls her eyes at me and huffs a big breath, blowing at the papers clipped on the clipboard.  "I guess you'll just have to wait for two hours and see if you get lucky."  

I return to where she gestured -- a large germ-infested waiting room -- and then decide I'm wasting my time. I tell the attendant at the front I must've misunderstood, that this doctor couldn't work me in after all, and I ask for my money back, which they grant to me.  I am quite distressed at this point, feeling, as I do, on fire, now aware that I will continue to feel on fire for some time, untreated. I am not indignant or angry. I just want to disappear into the floor, where maybe I won't feel sick or exhausted or upset for being yelled at for no reason at all.

I leave.

I go home and pity myself for a while.  I get a phone call, unexpectedly. 

"Is this Kacy?"

It is.

"I think I was rude to you today, and I wanted to say I was sorry."

No one ever tells me they are sorry.  I stumble around for a response.

"I was short with you and I realize that now, and I think I'm why you left, and, knowing that, I couldn't even eat my lunch. So I just wanted to tell you I apologize, and that if you come at 2, I'll make sure you see a doctor."

This was a remarkable thing for her to do.  That room was full of patients; that business did not need my money.  She doesn't know me at all.  She had no reason to track me down and apologize, and she did it anyway, even though dialing my phone number must have been uncomfortable.  So today I'm thankful for her humility, which restores a bit of my faith in humanity.  

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mandatory Maternity

So here's what happened. I have an old friend who doesn't like to hear news second-hand, so I called her to tell her I was moving to Florida. She said, "Oh," rather deflated.  "What's wrong? You and I haven't lived near each other in years, " I asked, misinterpreting the disappointment in her voice.  "Oh, it's nothing," she said sheepishly; "I just thought you were calling to tell me you were having a baby."  

I actually don't blame her for this reaction. This post isn't about her, at all; if I've heard this once, I've heard it 1,000 times. Many of my friends are on child #2. To many people, I am "behind."  

Recently, at my father's 60th birthday, I saw several former teachers who guided me through elementary, junior high, and high school. My mother told them (and everyone) that I'd gotten my PhD, and these teachers said, "We're so glad for you. Do you have any children yet?"  

This has been an unusual reaction for me. I'm not sure what I expected -- I've been too busy to wonder what other people would think -- but I find it odd that my identity, while for me has been defined as academic, scholar, teacher, wife, friend, and daughter, is not complete to other people unless I adopt the persona of mother.  People are often quickly apologetic after they point out what they see as an omission in my life.  They say, "Oh, I know I never liked it when people asked me."  "It's none of my business of course." "You don't have to tell me."  

Isn't it odd that, while I've finally achieved self-sufficiency, while I've gone to college for 10 years, searched for the right job for almost as long,  own my own house, have a successful marriage, and am involved in my community,  because I'm a woman, it isn't enough? 

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The End

Well it's not the end, not really; it's the beginning -- but I've gotten a job, finally, and that signifies the end of a lot of things. For one, my insides are no longer tied in a knot. I can listen to people when they talk to me, and I don't feel tired from worry anymore. I don't have to wonder if I'm going to stay here in the fall or not, and I have at least a decent idea of what life will be like in the 2nd part of 2009.  I can focus on my teaching instead of seeing my students in a blur since I stayed up all night packing, grading, scrambling to teach someone else's class at an unfamiliar university, acquiring books I haven't read or don't own.  

I have a lot of people to thank. Since I've told friends and family the news, they've said things like, "We're proud of your accomplishments" and "You worked hard for that" but the truth is that there were so many people and so many factors that helped me get the job that I can hardly take credit. Maybe I got the PhD, and maybe I tried my best to be an appealing candidate, but that's not enough to get a job. 

First of all, I had friends who stayed friends with me even though I have been glassy-eyed with anxiety for about 6 months (ok probably a year).  My husband didn't leave me, even though I brought up these anxieties to him day in and day out for what has seemed like an eternity.  The people I worked with got me a temporary job so I didn't starve during all of this, which would've pushed me over the edge most likely.  My writing group kept telling me to keep my head up; my religious friends continued to pray for me; my mom and dad remained positive even though all of my options took me far from them.  And Tampa gave me a chance, even though I probably wasn't the smartest person they could've hired.  I'm really still not clear on why I've been smiled upon in this way.  I certainly haven't served in enough soup kitchens or stayed up with enough sick friends to earn the karma for it.  I feel indebted.  To everyone.  

I also owe the people who rejected me.  That sounds weird, so let me explain. I applied for 55 positions.  I interviewed with 8 schools (which I can now name):  Longwood, Corpus Christi, Wofford, Simpson, Kutztown, Edgewood, Ball State, and Tampa.  I received offers for campus visits from Longwood, Wofford, Simpson, Kutztown, Edgewood, and Tampa. I accepted 5 of those invitations but only ended up making it to 3 campuses.  I got offers from two schools, and accepted one.  I am indebted to Wofford, particularly, who rejected me. 

What I mean by that is that Wofford called me the day after I returned from San Francisco and asked me to visit on 1/5.  I loved everyone there -- still do, really -- and loved South Carolina and decided if they offered me the position, I'd take it without visiting the others. This would have been stupid, but I didn't know that at the time.  They chose someone else. I yelled at God.  I was pretty angry with him; why show me a great place and give it to another person? Everyone told me things work out for a reason but you couldn't tell me that. I was angry and, naturally, insulted. I'm human.  

But their rejection made me visit Edgewood and Tampa, where I met remarkable people.  And I ended up taking a job where it's always warm, where the department is a great size, where there are more people near my age and with my interests, where there is more travel money, a larger salary, time off for writing my book, and something they call "relocation assistance." They're helping me move.  I'll be working in a building that was a former hotel -- a magnificent building called Plant Hall where all of the offices have giant windows and a fireplace  -- and I'll most likely buy a house on or near Davis Island, where, if you take your dog for a walk in the afternoon, you're likely to see dolphins. It's less than an hour from Disney, Andrew's favorite place in the world, which is also the home to a dear childhood friend who has been homesick for her friends for quite some time.  And if I'd been offered the SC position, I would've worked every Christmas as part of a wintersession program -- which means when Andrew and I have children, we wouldn't have been able to let them visit their grandparents several states away. 

Needless to say, I apologized to God for all the yelling. But really, I think he's used to it.  

People are quick to point out the hard parts are just beginning. I have to sell my house in a market where no one has money, and I have to buy a house from far away. Andrew has to find a job, and we have to make all new friends and learn a new city.  These things used to frighten me, but not anymore. If we can make it through the job process, we can make it through anything.  And anyway, I'm slowly becoming resigned to the fact that someone's looking out for me.  Maybe it won't be easy, but it'll be OK.