(Editor’s note: Another post from commenter K. while I’m on vacation.)
I’m going back to school this fall.
I started college when I was twenty, but for reasons that took several years of counseling to clarify, I dropped out. I’ve been working hard most of the last thirty-five years, and I figure I can go through school and be broke just as well as I can not go to school and be broke. In the meantime, I’ve learned some things that will help.
I’ve been a short-order cook in a coffee shop in a small town. I’ve been a clerk at a convenience store, more than once. My brother was one, too, for a while.
I did the census thing, knocked on people’s doors. Most people would open the door and talk to you, even though you could almost smell the fear coming off them, wondering what awful secret I was going to demand they reveal. When you stand there in front of them and talk to them, when you hand them a plate of food or a pack of cigarettes and wish them well, you stop being a cipher or a statistic, and become a human. Most people are scared and lonely, some, and are waiting to make that human connection, to shake your hand or invite you in to sit down, to tell you their story. Most people aren’t sitting around waiting for you to fall flat on your face, either; instead, they’re hoping you walk onstage and sing like an angel.
I was a janitor on a college campus. I cleaned offices and classrooms, and got to know people and let them get to know me, a little. I learned that most teachers actually want you to get some of that stuff they are shoveling into your brain, that their sense of self-worth is tied up with students learning, so that if you act like you are trying to learn, they will more than meet you half-way. And that there is really very little glamour or prestige tied up with being a college professor, so treat them like they are actual people, instead of freakishly confused aliens with ray guns. (Although a friend of mine who is a college professor told me I need to remember: some of them are crazy.)
Almost everybody I’ve talked to is convinced I can do this, and are envious of this adventure, and think I’m brave, and neither listen to nor believe the little voice in me that decides I’m out of my mind at least five times before breakfast. Except for the two people who said “You can’t make much money with an art degree, can you,” with no question mark at the end. I can’t make much money without one, so, whatever.
This one has been hard to learn. I am okay. Being the kind of person who picks up bits and pieces like a crow picking up shiny objects is okay. That being the kind of person who picks up bits and pieces and puts them into place like pieces in a puzzle is a good thing when one up and decides to go back to college. That having these little shiny bits and pieces on hand, and to be willing to give them to whoever might have a need, is a good thing. That I am okay, and that I will be okay, that my daughter will survive, that we will both grow.
That the future isn’t written yet. Everything is up in the air even more than usual, and that I might actually succeed. Maybe something good will happen. That maybe I should start thinking about what the future might look like. My future. Maybe.