So I’m involved in this grant project to create a “reader’s map of Arkansas,” an educational resource to teach students and the general public about Arkansas writers and their books. I don’t quite recall how I got involved in this—I think someone recommended me. Lots of people from various institutions are mixed into the deal, and we even have our own student intern, thanks to the professor heading up this project. Anyhow, a while back, said intern asked me if I could sit down for a private chat, as she had to interview someone “in her chosen field” in order to get course credit for the internship. I’m still a little nebulous as to exactly what field I represent, if any, but I agreed. And, of course, her main question was: “How did you choose to enter this field?”
Believing firmly that the virtues of honesty are rather underrated, I let her have it. I told her that my “choice” for undergraduate education defaulted to the local state university on account of them offering me the best scholarship. I told her that my first literary publication was not something I sought out but rather something my creative writing professor thought would work in this journal he had just undertaken to edit. I told her that I only ended up in a master’s program because I was working some menial job on campus and, the first day of class, one of the graduate assistants in my former department had dropped out, leaving a hole in the schedule and an opportunity for me, if I wanted. I told her that my first steady freelancing gig only happened because someone handed me a newsletter with a note advertising it within. I told her that I only ended up a Ph.D. because a former professor of mine, with whom I had worked on some editing projects as an MA student, asked me to apply for a new Ph.D. program the same university had just recently started offering, as he was in need of a capable editor for a large publishing project he was undertaking. I told her that I only ended up in my current job because said Ph.D. program required an internship, and so I had applied at this place, and the first day of my internship was the last day of one of the actual staff members, so when my first day as intern ended, the woman who was then in charge down here took me into her office and asked me, “How would you like a job?”
“I’m sorry,” I told this intern. “I don’t really have anything to offer you in terms of recommendations on how to get a job like this.” “It’s okay,” she said. “It’s actually really inspiring to know that even if you don’t know what you’re doing with your life, you can end up in an okay place.”
Which makes me a role model now.
Recently, I’ve had this hankering to go back to school. I mean, I have five degrees already, and I like my job well enough. But I’ve been reading a lot of popular biology texts these days and thinking how fun it could be to go back and take a degree in biology (something completely unrelated to the subject of my other degrees), to undertake for credit some research project that entailed trekking through the woods rather than sitting in front of yet another microfilm reader scanning the newspaper headlines of yesteryear. I romanticize, I know, but I keep coming back to this notion of going back to school, of starting all over. I tell my wife (my best actual choice) that she is lucky—most men at the thirty-nine-year mark facing existential crises are trying to solve them with affairs or new cars, while all I fantasize about are classes in vascular plants or the like.
But I had some time to contemplate this yearning today while working out in the yard, and I wonder if perhaps it’s not more an expression of the desire to claim something, to choose something deliberately, as if going back to that time when the future was wide open, but this time being a somewhat more active participant in my fate. Not to say that this has all been a mistake, for I have enjoyed myself, and I’ve been very lucky indeed. But success and happiness can occur without great will or intention (remember, I’m a role model for this sort of thing), and this leads me to wonder—what, exactly, might the next forty years of my life look like if I stake out a vision for myself and actively pursue it?