Yesterday was my last day of work. Again. Each time I’ve been invited to work at Swarthmore College, the offer has felt like a lifeline. The first time, over ten years ago, I’d been home with my two young boys for four years and was beginning to yearn for the opportunity to use my knowledge and skills in work that didn’t involve dirty diapers or cutting food into very tiny pieces. About six years ago, the writing bug bit me hard. In truth, the bug had been dormant in my system for years. When it finally surfaced, I fell in love with creating stories and characters. Four years ago, I made the difficult decision to leave my fantastic job and embark on the MFA journey at VCFA. Little did I know that I wasn’t finished with my time at Swarthmore.
My second semester at VCFA was challenging. I doubted my ability as a writer and didn’t believe that I was developing the skills needed to complete novels. I considered taking a semester off, but I wanted to graduate with my class. When my boss from Swarthmore called to ask if I’d cover my colleague’s maternity leave, I was grateful for the opportunity to return to the work that gave me confidence and a sense of belonging while struggling through a thesis and developing the story for my novel.
Throughout my third and fourth semesters, my confidence as a writer improved and I’d found a home among my fellow students and our advisors at VCFA. But as graduation loomed in the summer of 2012, I began to feel anxious that I didn’t have a job. It was not a financial worry so much as an existential worry. Who am I? What am I? I couldn’t say I was a novelist because I hadn’t sold a book. And because I hadn’t sold a book, I couldn’t validate being home writing. I’d let go of my perfect job. Serendipitously, my boss needed an extra pair of hands to assist with the counseling load and I jumped at the opportunity.
Working just two days per week, these past two years at Swarthmore provided me a needed connection to the my comfortable work world while also affording me time to tinker with my stories and be available for my kids.
As I made my way to work on my last day, the universe sent me signs that I was okay to let go. The traffic was mind-numbingly awful, reminding me of the one aspect of the job that I never did like. When I arrived at work, there was an email informing me that a senior I’d been working with for months had a job offer. A freshman I’d met with since early September had an internship and an alum who I’d corresponded with over the last year, sent a lovely email to my boss about the ways that I helped him. And all of that was before the gang took me to lunch and presented me with a super-awesome running shirt emblazoned with the Swarthmore logo.
Speaking of running, about a month ago I met with a trainer to analyze my gait. At one point, he held me by the shoulders and told me to lean forward as if I might fall. After a moment, he shook my shoulders gently. “Loosen up,” he said. “I’m not going to drop you.”
That’s how I feel today. Like I’m leaning forward, just about to fall and the universe is telling me that all will be okay. I will be held.
(Image from degreesearch.org)