In which I return to school at a grand old age and attend my first ABC (Anything But Clothes) party
The toga keeps slipping. Here I am, a much older woman at a party full of twenty-somethings, and I’m wearing a toga that is not only bright yellow, but won’t stay up regardless of how firmly I tug on it. What the heck am I doing?
Let’s take the toga first. At 6:50pm that Saturday I looked at my watch and discovered I had to leave for the party in 10 minutes. I didn’t have anything to wear: yes, I had a closet full of clothes, but this was an ABC party = Anything But Clothes, my first. I am not creative and I don’t do crafts (I recoil with physical horror when confronted with any craft project), so I was in a quandary. When in doubt, depend on the boundless wisdom of pop culture: I go toga. After all, my university is famous for its association with a certain movie in which the immortal words “Toga, toga” are repeatedly chanted. So, a toga it is—now, how do you make a toga? Standing in my tiny bathroom, repeatedly sticking safety pins into my soft pink sides as I try to secure the bedsheet around my body, I once again confront my cluelessness.
Such a feeling is not new; when I graduated from high school at the age of 17 I was so clueless that I had absolutely no idea how clueless I was (this statement will make perfect sense to anyone over 17). At the time, I was eager to escape my home state of Alaska—well,I was more than eager, I plunged straight away into college in a state conveniently about as far away from Alaska as I could find without actually leaving the country (that would come later). It proved to be a rough ride thanks to an unpleasant roommate, a loud and chaotic freshman dorm, and demanding classes: particularly my French class taught entirely in French, who knew? I did manage to survive that first year and then hang on for all 4. I came out of college stuffed full, I thought, of Important (cap I!) knowledge, confident in my ability to discuss Shakespeare’s sonnets and delve into the deeper meaning of Milton’s Paradise Lost. It was obvious to everyone but me that I was unfit for anything at all.
I would like to claim that I quickly got some practical street smarts and learned to navigate the “real world,” professionally, socially, and economically. I didn’t; instead, I went to summer school in England, where I dreamed amidst the spires and amused the local deer by singing Elizabethan rounds as I walked through the verdant meadows: proving that I was not only sadly clueless, but quite pitchy, though the deer never let on. At the end of that summer, however, my dreaming ended. My first post-college job, which I was scheduled to begin after my rain-soaked sojourn discussing the bloody, nasty time that is Jacobean Drama evaporated, and I found myself with little money and no plans. I stayed in England and worked as a temporary secretary, work, for which I was woefully unprepared and at which I was truly, at least at first, inadequate (asked to send a fax in one office, I stared at it for a very long time, hoping that by some sort of mental osmosis I could figure out how to send something from London to Singapore). I did get better, though I must say that the only areas in which I really excelled was food runs (going to the café (pronounced caf) for tea and buns) and typing up press releases on the computer (I’m a fast, if inaccurate, typist, and for one brief moment I was actually ahead of the tech knowledge gap, only to fall into and behind it in the ensuing years).
From this promising beginning I went running back to school, receiving my Master’s two years later. After years of failed starts at a number of career paths – nonprofit worker, actor, production assistant, etc. – I found work as a community college adjunct. Teaching was, on the whole, great, but adjuncting not so much—how can one beat the thrillride of no health insurance or job security –and I had unfinished business: my graduate degree.
So that’s how I found myself, pushing some big numbers on the birthday timeline, trying to keep my toga—impressively molded out of one of my summer bedsheets—on my less-than-stunning figure. As my twenty-something colleagues flirted, drank, and talked theory in a manner that indicated they actually knew what they were talking about, I wondered, what to do: immediately, what to do about the fact that I could shortly find myself naked at any moment in a room of near-strangers; less immediately, how was I going to wrap my brain around such challenging figures from the world of theory such as Derrida, Kristeva, Foucault, and Freud and, casting ahead to the future, would I ever have a job?
Sadly, I can report that after all that studying and all that work that I’m still looking, though I do have a good interim job. I’m a doctor now—of literature, before you get too impressed—and I’m pretty much back where I was after my dreaming in Oxford, though with many more wrinkles, dodgy knees, and quite a few embarrassing stories to tell. Yes, I did finally figure out how a fax works, but people barely seem to send these anymore anyhow (thanks alot Internet) so once again what knowledge I have is pretty useless and I am clueless once again. So, what to do? Potential career paths outside of academia include raising cats (I’m quite good at this: see later stories), baking (though I don’t like following recipes, which means my results are inconsistent, to put it kindly), and….well….I don’t have anything.