Friday, February 01, 2008

This Strange Land

I feel as if I have been set down in a strange land where there are no trails, no roads, no one to ask directions, and I have neither map nor compass. It is wide-open country, vast and limitless, virginal and wild, full of danger, yet also full of possibility. There are no rules here, no laws, and no structure to my days except that I must eat and sleep and somehow make my way across this land.

I have retired from a job I held for 25 years, almost half my life. This job did not define my identity. It was a way to make a living while I pursued my creative career on the side, always with the dream that some day I might leave that job and pursue my sideline full time. And now here I am, the day has arrived, and I find myself in a strange land.

As I said, the job did not define my identity, but it did define my days. Day in, day out, week after week, month after month, year after year, I would drive to the campus, park my car, walk to my office, unlock the office, turn on the light, turn on the computer, and do what I had always done. Even on days off, I still felt a connection to my workplace. On weekends, sick days, vacation days, holidays, I always knew that I would shortly return. But today, that structure, that dependable schedule, is no more. Today, I will not return.

It feels like a death, and as I sit here in my studio in the pre-dawn darkness, I realize that I was wrong earlier when I said the job did not define me. It certain ways, it did. I took pride in doing a good job, being dependable, going the extra mile once in a while, and, even though I did not always succeed, always at least trying to be a positive presence in the office, not negative, to make friends, not enemies, and to deal with problems with good grace and patience, and save my cussing for when I got home.

The goodbyes were more wrenching than I expected. They gave me a retirement party, and the kindness and appreciation they showed me was overwhelming. All three deans I worked for over the years were there and presented me with a group reference letter each had signed. There were other gifts, too. My supervisor, for instance, gave me a business card holder with the UT longhorn symbol on it. It fits right in my shirt pocket, right over my heart, the orange longhorn, symbol of the place that has been my home-away-from-home all these years—25 as an employee, five as a student, 30 years total. Three decades, and today I will not return.

Yes, it feels like a death. But as I write these words, I notice the sun is coming up. It shines on this strange land, and fills the room with golden light, and as the day begins, it feels like birth.

But I have no illusions about birth. I know it is not easy, and that’s okay. Birth leads to life, and life is good.