Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The cost of my ambition

Easter Monday found me alone in my apartment in My City editing a zombie manuscript, with no internet. It found Epsilon and my partner travelling to the US for a visit with grandparents. The solitude has me thinking about the price we've paid for our ambition. It is easy at times like these to slip into feeling sorry for myself, from the sheer loneliness and boredom of the day. I will try to keep this post from drowning in my self pity.

I have a running daydream of I life I could have lead if I were a slightly different person. I could have become a trailing spouse. If work was not a calling, but something to do to fill the empty hours of the day, if my mothering instict was stronger, I could be satisfied with a job whose primary purpose was to keep a roof over our heads. If I were to step deeper into fantasy, I'd be in a position to quit my job after my partner had tenure, to be the mother I wanted to be, and to dive deeply into a local social issue that interested me.

At this point in my daydream, I've completely lost touch with the economic realities I live in. There is very little for which I would trade the financial security that my partner and I enjoy. There are other jobs where we could find this security, but in this great recession, very few have the flexibility required by the previous paragraph.

Still, I see friends from highschool find jobs as nurses and journalists, in the publishing business or the non-profit sector. I see them lead comfortable lives in large cities with shimmering night life and a deep circle of friends. Or I see them raise kids near their parents. The distance I keep from my family that I call independence and breathing space, looked at in another light, serves to deprive Epsilon of valuable time with grandparents.

If I'm honest with myself, I recognize that my friends from highschool grew up with well off parents. Living near parents has the additional advantage of getting financial support, directly or indirectly, from them. Friends who do not come from the same econimic background as I, but hold the same jobs as my friends struggle more, or they live with a much smaller savings buffer than my fiscally risk avering psyche can deal with.

At this point in the discussion, my partner usually points out that many of our friends have chosen free time over job satisfaction. He's right, but I think there's more to it than that. As much as I complain about this job, I am aware that no one is pinning me here. What I hate most about this job (and this reveals that I am not mired in comittee work and other requirements of a tenure track professor) is the payoff structure. There is an intense period of misery in the early career, that one gets through by keeping one's eye on the holy grail of the permanent position. I am gambling everything on the story that life gets easier with tenure.

How much am I putting on the table? I do not even explore industry jobs when the opportunities present themselves in the wrong city. "Short of making me independently wealthy, money cannot solve my unhappiness" I tell people surprised at my disinterest. Stability in the wrong part of the world is not worth a 20% pay increase. Put it that way, I can't actually be all that unhappy with my position.

We will never see Epsilon look up at a plane and say "no money, no money", because he wants to, but can't visit his grandparents. On the contrary, in the three years he has had it, he has filled 6 passport pages with stamps.

It remains to be seen whether we will be turn out to be a contorted stereotype of the parent(s) in high power careers. Not ever quite around or available as much as we need to be, electing instead to buy off the time we are unavailble, through trips, toys or camps. Time and Epsilon's inevitable therapy sessions will tell.

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