Friday, April 16, 2010

The Overexamined Life

Socrates famously said that the unexamined life is not worth living, but today I learned firsthand just how unnerving an intensely scrutinized life can be.

I think years from now, I will remember this Thursday (tax day, natch) forever because this was my breaking point. This was the moment where I not only felt like my world changed again, but I know it did physically and though it was tearful, and saddened me to say it to everyone else, it was a decision I knew was inevitable.

At noon today, I was brought into the office at work where for the next ten minutes, my boss proceeded to list off each and every fault she and her other coworkers had with me. They began with the first gripe, that I was an hour late to work yesterday, as she termed it "blatantly late."

The reality of this was that I was not late. I work Wednesday afternoons 3-5 because I'm at my other job prior to arriving to this one. At my school there are rules about the hours you can work without a break in between. This was recorded on their V drive file and they had the old schedule that they were using to determine this. So this was their fault, not mine.

The infuriating aspect of this was that they emailed me frantically that one hour before I was set to arrive, asking where I was, if I planned to come in, etc. The immediate work on the agenda was to copy newspaper articles. That's all, but the way it was sent to me was as though the building was burning and only I could put it out.

Then other details came out such as this personal call I made (admittedly, I was in the wrong with this one, but only two other people were in the office so I have a very good idea of who ratted me out).

Oh, and my personal favorite one? When my friend Julia came up from her school on St. Patrick's Day and I wanted to take the afternoon off to spend time with her since I see her very rarely (twice so far this year and prior to that, I hadn't seen her since May of 2009). Yes, I knew there was an important breakfast that next morning, but I did come in and help out for it. I didn't leave anyone hanging. But the moment I requested to have that day off, everyone behaved like I stuck a knife in their hearts.

The worst part was that this was written down somewhere and kept on a file. What, a tickler file for my behavior?! I do my job well and dress nicely and smile as much as I can, but to have somebody sit there and tell you every single tiny detail about was nitpicking at its finest. I nearly anticipated some sort of comment on my skirt length.

I was almost in tears when she did that. How hideous is it to tell a senior, buried in homework and stressed out to her limit, that she doesn't do well in the one area that she thought she did?

I actually wanted to work there this summer too. In my mind, I began to decide to change my behavior to fit better for the office (important, because what she said next changed everything).

Then she wrapped it up, semi nicely, by mentioning this was normal for seniors and that if I wanted any job recommendations, these itty bitty actions would determine whether or not I received any.

My only thought was: I didn't plan on asking you for one. Not even once.

BOOM!!! Lightbulbs flashed everywhere in my brain.

I went back to my desk, did my assignment for them, all the while cooking up a thought in my head.

After work, I went and sat on the swingset by my dorm. Too much nervous energy resided in me and I swung to rid some of it. While I was on my swing, with that sun shining down on my face, my iPod blaring, and waving to my friends passing by, I thought about my best friend Melissa back home and how we used to sit and swing together on the swings at the neighborhood park, listening to Aerosmith and competing to see who could go the highest. I thought about my brothers too, how we all went to parks together and played together and chased one another down the slides and on the swing set together, pushing each other.

I thought about the infamous 6th grade parent-teacher conference at my school that I wasn't allowed to attend, but my Mom did. I sat outside of the room, waiting.

"What did you guys say about me?" I asked my Mom once she got out.

She sighed, "Heather, your grades are great and your uniform is always so nice."

"And?" I pressed.

"Your teacher told me you would be forever content to sit underneath a tree, reading a book." She smiled at me, a sad little smile I won't ever forget.

When I was in grade/middle/high school, everyone thought I read too much. Today, I read too little.

Back in reality, I got off the swing and thought about simplicity all the way to my next class. What do I really want? What would make me passionate?

I want to read again, voraciously with my eyeballs delighting in their wordy feast. I want to attend a community college (not a grad school, I'm too burned out for all that competition) and learn French and Russian. Maybe take another art history course, I loved my first one very much.

Mostly I want to travel and go overseas. Saint Petersberg, Paris, Amsterdam, Wales, Italy, Prague, the islands, and write what I see, how I feel there. Maybe even live over there.

My thought process was ruined in class when some heinous girl referred to me as "hey you, over there." I almost, in a Rory Gilmore-esque way, screamed that, "My name is Heather!! How can you not know this? You live with one of my best friends on campus and I am constantly in your room!!!"

Luckily time saved me from my inevitable battle cry. At 3pm, I went to my Departmental Honors professor's office to have some photos taken for Festival of Scholars. I got to his room and all it took was for him to just look at me once, and my entire shoddy day came tumbling out of my mouth for him to hear.

By the time I got done explaining it, I was so drained that I was slumped in my chair, my head in my arms, frustrated and tired.

"I can't do it Don. I can't sell my soul for some corporation. I don't want to live for money. I can't do that competition and be happy. I want to move to SF for some time, work some side jobs, take a French course, get a passport, and travel overseas."

Don is one of those rare souls who gets how things work in my head. He looked at me and simply said, "Heather, you need to do that. You need to travel and do it while you're young. You'll regret it if you don't when you're older."

Again, I wanted to cry, but this time from relief. Because he understood it. It was like that book I read, High School Confidential, where the author described his college career day as everyone else in suits with resumes, looking for networking and how he took his resume, made a paper airplane out of it, and got into his school's water fountain and goofed off.

"It's like me!" I told Don, "I'm going to be that person in the water fountain, goofing off and splashing people!"

He smiled at me and laughed, "Oh dear."

I went back to my room and napped. Told my roommates who were, as always, supportive as ever. Best girls in the world.

At the play tonight, something incredibly interesting happened as well. The ex and I had a full-fledged whispersation (conversation in whispers) where he told me that what set me apart from other people was that I was passionate in what I wrote and he could tell when he read my column in the paper (this made me so happy to know he still read it). He was very sweet and I told him about my bad day and he was sympathetic and kind. We've even agreed to spend some time together next week, just to hang out.

I missed talking with him. I missed him.

It is very important that I let it be known that despite my best efforts (and God, there have been many of them) I cannot deny that he is just someone I will always genuinely love and care about. Unconditionally. I can't ever wish or want bad things to happen to him because that just isn't my nature. I'm pretty much his personal cheerleader, all things considered.

I really need to tell him this. Because this entire campus knows and it's crazy to me that he doesn't.

And that was the story of how April 15th, 2010, changed everything for me. My dreams, I'm putting into action. I am so fortunate to be surrounded by such lovely friends and mentors who really care. And one day, I think my path will cross with that boy again, when we're older and somewhere wiser.

Love to you all,


Rosie said...

God, I wish I could be as honest as you. Your outlook on life is endearing. Keep writing.

jenn said...

Wow - a rough day for you, huh? But...lightbulb moments are the best! And, I understand the boy situation completely. And after a few well-spent years apart in college/after college, we grew up. And we were married last year. :)

Caroline said...

Loved this post! I too remember swinging with my best friend...we would go for hours and hours. How simple life was as a child. Just live for today...and find some good books and read until your eyeballs fall out ;)


Indigo said...

((Hugs)) Sometimes that's all there is of worth in this world the simple things. I'm glad you came to this crossroads so early in your life. Why?

Let's just say I was one of those 'don't break the rules and keep your nose to the grind'. I worked 60-70 hours weeks, kept my home and raised my daughter. And I lost me in the drift.

It literally too me losing me going deaf and ending up alone to get the message. I don't miss the little details anymore, I take time to see all the little pieces of life most ignore.

I guess what I'm trying to say is -
"You only live once." (Hugs)Indigo

Kristin Quinn said...

It often seems rough days spark up an initiative to take action to improve our journey in life. And for those days I am grateful. Thank you for the reminder!

Liya said...

aw man, sounds awful! but you're such an amazing writer girlie!!

Mademoiselle Frou-Frou said...

what an incredible post! i thoroughly enjoyed reading it...and love how your negative experience led to a breakthrough. it's funny how life works...
xoxo alison

p.s. thank you for your sweet comment on my blog today!

Margaret said...

I couldn't stop reading!!
your write so beautifully and I'm so glad your day turned out the way it did!
love your blog too
great posts
stop by some time xx

natalie said...

Oh my god, it's crazy how much one day can completely change your entire life. It sounds like it was definitely an extremely tough, stressful, and draining day for you, so choosing to get away from it all and go off and travel to all of these exotic places sounds absolutely fantastic! I really hope that I can do that someday. Good luck with everything (:

Amber said...

I'm really, really sorry that you had such a horrible day but this was a fantastic post, Heather. I think it's important to reflect on these sorts of experiences, like you've done here. I think that's what blogging is all about.

English Rose ♥ said...

Heather I am SO SO SO SO SO proud of you. It sounds like one of those things that sucks at the time but actually was the moment your life changed for the better. I wish you all the luck in the world with following your heart. You are so talented - you'll be okay.

To be really cheesy and steal a line from the rolling stones "you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need..."

Merci beaucoup for stopping by darling - your wonderful comments are always very much appreciated =]

Stay safe and chic ma chérie,
English Rose x

drollgirl said...

ohmy. what a difficult day, and what a fabulous ending! your realization of what you don't want and what you DO want is your ticket out! the work place is where we spend so much of our lives, and it can often times be SOUL CRUSHING. i hope you find a way to escape, pursue your dreams, and make your life what it should be. and i wish i could come along for the adventure. :)

Sadako said...

Love to see you write about just about anything. Great post, great examination of life. I feel the same way--I was one of those "read too much" kids. And I tend to obsess over what ppl think about me, like am I good enough, etc., same as in the teacher's conference with you!

Dancing Branflake said...

You have such a beautiful writing style. And the fact that you threw in the Mary/Rory comment made me just love you to pieces.

BTW, your profile pic is absolutely stunning.