Making my bed and lying in it
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Some decisions are easy enough to make: the gym or the track, the ballet or the theatre, red wine or white, cupcake or no cupcake, etc ... Other decisions, however, constitute much more of a struggle: marriage, a change of career, having a child. These choices are difficult because once a decision is made, it signifies that our lives are about to change completely and irrevocably. And subconsciously we know that change, even when it is ostensibly for the better, never comes without a price. As most of you know, I am in school. I believe in the Humanities and in what I do. I believe that actual learning has very little to do with the acquisition of information. I believe that education, a real education, teaches us first and foremost how to think. And the way we think has the potential to impact who we are. For me, personally, learning is not a passive event. Learning primes me for the opportunity to first notice, and then act. And that is what happened to me one afternoon in the library: I caught a sudden glimpse of what was possible for me in terms of my studies. A whole new world opened itself up, and my life as I knew it was transformed. I suddenly wanted something very badly. So badly, in fact, that I was prepared to risk everything to get it.
Prior to this decision-event, my life was comfortable and cozy. I loved my work in the film industry. My employers, who supported my decision to return to academia, were kind enough to give me back my job every summer between semesters, a job for which I was ridiculously over-paid. My studies were progressing extremely well. I pretty much had my pick of excellent doctoral programs. I had won a very fancy scholarship. I had a great network of friends and acquaintances. And to top it all off, I lived in a beautiful rent-controlled apartment with three balconies and French doors overlooking a charming park full of large old trees. Nice, right? Granted I had put many years of work into building this life for myself. But I was very lucky----and I knew it!
A very tiny but very famous school in Jerusalem (in a Monastery, no less) offered the courses I needed. Only this school, out of all the doctoral programs to which I had applied, allowed for the possibility of transitioning from my former field of study to the current one. My choices were limited. I had to act. I had to decide. Everything about making the decision to shift my area of academic focus was terrifying. I had no idea what to expect, and nothing about the future was certain. Keep in mind that I am not 20 years old (even though I sometimes act like it). I am a grown woman for god's sake! I had to decline my hard-won scholarship (I don't come from money so this was a really tough choice). I withdrew my candidacy to various doctoral programs knowing full well that another opportunity might never turn up. I gave up the lease on my beautiful rent-controlled apartment. I put everything I owned in storage in a city I wasn't sure I would ever see again. I was, in fact, homeless. Perhaps most difficult of all, I had to agree to start again, in Jerusalem of all places, as a beginner. I remember emailing my father and asking him "IS THIS CRAZY?" to which he promptly replied "YES!!!" (my father thinks he is funny).
I wish I could tell you all that I made my decision calmly and that I acted with a great deal of confidence and poise. But I would be lying. It wasn't easy, and it sure wasn't pretty. I agonized non-stop. I cried. And I cried. I called my mother. I called my sisters. I called my favorite teacher from Elementary school who I hadn't seen in 30 years. I polled the women who worked at the grocery store down the street for their opinions about my life. I drove myself and everyone around me insane. Dazzlingly self-confident I was not! I was in fact so full of recriminations and so racked with self-doubt that I did not bother to pack until 10 PM the night before the flight------------keep in mind I was going away for more than a year. But, and this is the point, I DID make the decision, I did take the necessary steps, and I did get to Jerusalem (that's definitely a blog for another day).
And now back to the present. If you are looking for 'upbeat,' you aren't going to find it here, not in the way you think. My life now---post-Jerusalem and depending on your perspective---is not particularly wonderful by most standards. On the up-side, I did get accepted into another excellent doctoral program (where I am now, in fact), and I was lucky enough, a year later, to re-win that same fancy scholarship. But I live in a city I don't particularly like (pretentious, expensive, polluted). No one in their right mind would describe my current apartment as beautiful (I think "clean" is about as good as it will ever get). I pay three times the rent for 1/3 the size. I am largely surrounded by strangers. Although partly my fault, the work-load is crazy-----I often spend up to 14 hours a day at my computer. I struggle financially every day. And, finally, the possibility of employment in my field is slim to none. But do I regret my choice to completely disrupt my life in the single-minded (and perhaps insane) pursuit of knowledge? No. I don't. Should I have valued the one bird in the hand at the expense of the two birds in the bush? Absolutely not! There are no guarantees in life. Not ever. The adage "better safe than sorry" applies to some contexts, perhaps, but definitely not to others. While I loved my life prior to the upheaval to which I subjected myself, this step was, for me, necessary. A failure to act as I saw the path open up before me would have been cowardly, short-sighted, and something I would have looked back on with regret for the rest of my days. I miss many thing about my former life, and nothing here is easy, but I would never trade my life now, with all its issues and unpleasantnesses, for my life then. Not for anything in the world. Life is too short for regrets. And I love what I do. And that's about as upbeat as I'll ever get (except when it comes to my cat).
P.S. I absolutely loved your responses to my writers' block blog. Loved!