When I Change My Life

“When I Change My Life” — The Pretenders

Probably the most brilliant idea I ever had was the discovery that I could run away. When I was a miserable little kid, I fantasized about death because I couldn’t imagine my way out of my situation. I was eight, and I told people what I needed, and they either couldn’t or wouldn’t give it to me. There’s nothing we can do, they said, so toughen up or lighten up. Ugh!

But once I learned how to drive, all that changed. I could get to work and school by myself, and if I wanted to head out of town to smoke cigarettes and drink coffee in the college town an hour away, I could do that. If I wanted to put all my belongings in my car and never come back, I could do that.

Of course, realizing I could do it meant I didn’t have to do it. I felt a lot better. This is not the only life possible, but now that I’ve thought about the other options, it really does seem to be a decent existence. I got along better with my parents, started making friends, and began to enjoy going to school. I had three jobs, choir, and theater to keep me busy. After a while I stopped fantasizing about disappearing.

There have been a few other times in my life when I avoided suicidal thoughts by writing out my escape plan. My first year of college, I printed out transfer applications to far-away schools, but didn’t send them. When my MA thesis failed, I only thought about jumping off a bridge for a few hours before fantasizing about driving to New York with my guitar and presenting myself on a friend’s doorstep.

Things tend to work out eventually for adult-me, and I’m used to plans ganging aft agley. I freak out less than I could. But right now when my life is supposed to be changing in major ways that are both thrilling and terrifying, and all those life-changing fantasies seem to have run aground, where is the fantasist to turn?

Like most Brooklynites, I have considered raising chickens or bees. Goats are a common think-about. I am pretty good at gardening. If I were younger, prettier, and an orphan I’d consider porn. (It’s my fantasy life, so I get to be all those things.) If I left my career I could get a lot of tattoos or join a band. I’d probably open a soup place, or create a lunch-subscription service. I know hard-up bike messengers; it might work. Maybe I’d move to China and teach. People do that. Or I could go somewhere really cold and isolated and get a bunch of retired huskies to loll around with me.

If I weren’t so busy trying to write a book, I could write a book, you know? I could pick a place to live and live there. I could apply for a job, the kind with health insurance, and go to that job every day and then come home. I could try to get my “reading to grumpy loners” service off the ground. (Wouldn’t that be great? You’re in a foul mood and the last thing you want is conversation, but if someone would just come over and make you a cup of tea and read a shitty book to you for an hour, maybe it will pass?) There has got to be some way to live on being 31, single, and clever without being obedient, fashionable, or good at intimacy.

A friend and I were discussing what we’d do if we left academia. My hope is that it just gets better. I’ve always had faith that there has got to be a place for people with ideas who aren’t into competition or corporations. We talked about the yoga studio she wants to open, and how I’d get a massage license and set up a table in the back, and how people would love it because we wouldn’t be annoying about it.

But all of these fantasies eventually come back to the fact that I love what I do. I just wish it were easier to live this way.

6 responses to “When I Change My Life”

  1. Tim says:

    AWB, I too once struggled with what you are going through. It was, indeed, a miserable time in my life. Eventually, I made the decision to leave academia and simply live where I wanted to live, rather than continuing to surrender my self-worth and whereabouts to the whims of the academic marketplace.

    Once I declined the opportunity to take another one-year position and stay where I was, life got better. There were still tears and a great deal of upset, but I consoled myself with the fact that I could move wherever I wanted, find work, and not worry about how it all would look on my c.v. to some future hiring committee.

    Eventually, I found a job with health insurance, etc. It’s not a perfect existence, but I’m happier now.

    I’m glad I changed my life, but I’m also glad that I gave myself a good few years on the market before I pulled up stakes and lit out for the territories. I still occasionally have regrets about leaving academia, but they are mitigated by my feeling that I really gave it a proper go. Don’t leave before you do that.

    P.S. Thanks for the Robert Burns allusion! Very enjoyable.

  2. Mister Smearcase says:

    Escape fantasies were totally important to me, too. Well ok, “were” is the wrong word. One version of them I find useful now is the city I could be living in where everything would be better. Most of the time this is Austin, but when that isn’t doing the trick, sometimes it involves googling things like “uncontacted people” and “most remote island” and “how to disappear.” (Tristan de Cunha is probably not the answer to my woes but some days it gets me through.)

    There has got to be some way to live on being 31, single, and clever without being obedient, fashionable, or good at intimacy.

    I have always despaired of the fact that, once you get to the little item about obedience, the options dwindle almost to nothing.

    And if you open that massage business, I will be your customer!!

  3. AWB says:

    I’ve been writing a lot of downer posts recently. Sorry everybody! Someday I will cheer up or get used to it, I promise. Or I will get some chickens, at least.

  4. LP says:

    Sorry to hear your plans are running aground, AWB. And we welcome your posts on whatever, whenever – TGW doesn’t have a happy-post ratio.

    I kind of hate academia, for the pain it has caused so many of my good friends. But remember, too, a certain professor who was rather crushed to have lost out on a job in South Carolina one year, only to land one at NYU the next year. It seemed like agony at the time, but in retrospect it was the greatest thing that could have happened for him.

  5. AWB says:

    I bet Seychelles is lovely. I bet someone in Seychelles needs my services.

  6. F. P. Smearcase says:

    You’ve just put me onto Mauritius, today’s I CAN’T STAND THE COLD ONE MINUTE LONGER escape fantasy.