Choosing Lives

Song of Longing, Part #183

Lately I’ve been occupied by daydreaming of two sorts. Two springtimes ago, my sweetheart and I stood at sunset in a park just east of and above Albuquerque, in the Sandia Mountain foothills. We stood awash in this beautiful, clear golden light. The temperature was bathwater. There was a light breeze. We listened as coyotes called to one another, watching the city below us slowly light up. My thoughts keep returning to the Southwest lately. I’m listening to an awful lot of Calexico; my mind is all arid landscapes. All of this is about something else, too, of course: you know how vast everything seems out there? How you can see to the next orange-brown mountain range on the horizon, and it takes you two hours to drive to it, and you realize then, again, that everything is bigger than you thought? This expansiveness is paired in my mind with the airy weightlessness of vacation life. The world wide open.

We were there.
We were there.

For lately, back in reality, I am awash—not in planning, exactly—but in imagining myself into different jobs in wildly diverse places all over the country. I read job descriptions and think, “Could this be me?” In and around the pixellated lines that comprise the online position descriptions, I imagine lives for myself. In the margins and tiny spaces between those words: “Compensation,” “Required Experience,” “Responsibilities,” I picture a daily existence—my imagined daily life in such a job. If I can make the mental leap of seeing myself in that role, in that state and climate, I apply. But then it’s over. The complex short story I’ve written in my mind, starring some variation of me, is closed. And I’m exhausted.

There’s a tacit decision to be made about the balance of one’s private life and one’s professional life. I’m never happy unless I’m happy professionally, so for me, the professional is always officially foregrounded. Some people were raised with romantic visions of a personal relationship that would Make Everything Okay; me, I was raised by an industrial psychologist and the belief that there is a professional life out there that will bring true satisfaction. I still believe in that. It’s about more than how I was nurtured, though; I feel like I’m wired this way: to be happy in my work, or not happy at all.

Only now, I’ve planted this garden.

I’ve gone in with my sweetheart on the rental of a backhoe from Home Despot, and we’ve turned over the tough clay soil and we’ve broken it, and doing so broke our skin—these backhoes are heavy, mean machines, and the Georgia clay is no nicer. It broke us into a sweat, this work. We’ve incorporated healthy black soil into the Georgia clay, and our own compost, and turned it all over and over with a shovel. Now there are seeds living in that earth, and we water it daily with the soaker hose we invested in. This spring, we’ve planted two blueberry trees along one fence in our backyard; two, we were told, would allow them to cross-pollinate so that we’d be able to harvest berries next year. Last week in the front yard, the flowers my mother dug up from her garden in Pittsburgh, that lasted an epic three days bouncing around in the back of my Honda on a roadtrip last summer, have actually started to come back in the little flower box around the lamp post, and Marshall built a second garden patch around the mailbox. There, we planted the rosemary we bought last week.

We’ve painted the bedroom a lovely antique yellow-white, and this weekend or next, we’re going to install an attic fan. We are not yet members of the neighborhood association, but last year we struck up a friendship with our neighbors through the exchange of garden vegetables, and the kids across the street come over in the warm weather months to ask us to pump their bike tires or to see if we have any more of those popsicles we gave them once last summer. We talk about putting twinkly Christmas lights in our screened-in porch. A hammock. Birdfeeders. And yes, we even discuss that largest of steps—a dog.

A future. Here.

I never planned to settle down for the long run in Atlanta, but if the right job came along here in town, I’d take it, because just as part of me demands true happiness in my work, another part of me is getting what it needs right here and now with this life. The trouble is that neither desire trumps the other; once my work with the radio station and the university end for the season next month, I’ll be unhappy; all at loose ends. And if a job takes me away from my good life here with Marshall, I won’t be content either, not for a while, anyway. But since the good life can be rebuilt, though ever so slowly, I’ll take that job, wherever it may be. I’ll go. I’ll start over, tilling the rough earth elsewhere.

One thought on “Choosing Lives”

  1. Solidarity! I suffer from the exact same pulls between work and life, and have made exactly the same judgement call you have. Good luck with getting job and life to align. And a more mundane wish of good luck for the job hunt; if you’re looking in radioland let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.

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