I found myself in a position today, outside of the blogosphere, in a real-world setting, to identify myself not as a waitress, not as a Candy Crush player of some renown, not even as a woman teetering on the verge of complete home organization, but as a writer. It was, to put it mildly, a banner day.
It was the kind of day that happens so infrequently that it not only bears mentioning, but also required at least some small celebratory measure. I had some chocolate chip cookies. That’s how I choose to celebrate these days. I thought of putting them in a champagne flute, but, really who needs to fish out crumbled cookies from the bottom of a glass during an impromptu celebration? Not this writer, that’s for sure. (Also, I’m pretty sure that I got rid of all the fancy stemware when I stopped drinking.)
I took a break today from the five Granny square-a-day schedule that I’ve been trying my best to adhere to — the one I put myself on in an attempt to finish the “Creeper” blanket in time for Christmas. What did I do with my Granny square-free day? Did I do a little power shopping? No. I did not. Sadly, there are still no presents under my tree. Did I take a backhoe to my bedroom — the last stop on the “hovel purge” express? Nope. Didn’t do that, either.
What, then, did I do? Fang and I took the lovely Fangette to “Immediate Decision Day” at a local college. I should mention that it wasn’t any old, local college. It was, in fact, the college from which I graduated in 1995. Life, as it happens, does, indeed, come full circle.
When Fangette announced that she was interested in exploring the possibility of attending its School of Nursing, I was happy. It’s close. It’s affordable. But, most importantly, I was happy to hear that she had some interest in attending Ramapo because, well, I just loved it there.
Whenever I’ve found myself in a position to offer either solicited or unsolicited advice to the young people, usually the latter, I encourage them to take a look at Ramapo. Over the years, some of them have listened. To a one, they always thank me. Mostly they tell me how much they love it there, too — the bucolic setting, the small class sizes, and the relationships that they are able to forge with their professors — professors who are invested in their success almost as much as they, themselves, are.
As the day approached, I toyed with the idea of contacting the professor who had the biggest impact on my academic success while I was a student there. I was hesitant, though. Not because I didn’t want to see her or because I didn’t think she’d want to see me, but because I worried that she would think — as some do, as even I sometimes do — that I had wasted my education, that I had squandered the opportunities that I had been given.
I hadn’t, after all, pursued, as I had planned, an advanced degree. (Not a decision that I have ever regretted, by the way.) At the very least it would have been nice to tell her that I had obtained my teaching certification, but I haven’t even done that. (That’s a decision that I sometimes do regret — particularly when my teacher friends are hanging out by the pool on a hot summer day or when they get to spend a “snow day” in their pajamas while I’m out slinging hash in the sweltering heat or the frigid cold. I don’t really think twice about it when the weather is temperate, though.)
How would I tell her that I was still a waitress? As the day of our scheduled visit approached, I grew more and more reluctant to contact her. Finally, and with little time to spare, I decided to just go ahead and let her know that I would be on campus and to ask her if she would be there too. As I hit the “send” button on the email — the one that I had deliberately constructed to sound breezy and as if it had just occurred to me to dash it off — I adopted the old “if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be” attitude for which I am semi-famous.
It was, as it turned out, meant to be. She responded quickly and enthusiastically to my email.
At the appointed time I made my way easily and with something akin to “muscle memory” through the maze of labyrinthine corridors and found her in her office. She looked much the same, even after fifteen years. The years, in the famous words of Dan Fogelberg, had been “a friend to her.” I hope that she thought the same of me.
I braced for the inevitable query — the one that always arises when old friends meet — “So, what are you up to?” What, indeed.
Without apology, I told her that I was still in the “waitressing game”. She seemed neither disappointed nor distressed by this information. On some level I knew that she wouldn’t be — she’s just not that kind of person. And then, I revealed to her what I was really “up to”. I told her about my blog, I discussed my writing, I explained how I’d finally found that creative outlet that I’ve always craved.
Believe me, no one is more familiar with my “flowery language” and/or my “verbosity” than she. No one. I was never the sort of student who had to be asked to “elaborate” — while my contemporaries often received the dreaded red ink comment of “more?!?”, I was likely to see “less?!” scribbled in the margins of my research papers. Come examination time, my classmates were often supplied with a couple of blue books, I was always given a stack — and, sometimes, I needed more. A ten-page paper on some minor figure from “The Gilded Age”? Puh-leese, people! I could write that in my sleep!
She remembered things about me that, quite frankly, even I had forgotten — or swept under the carpet. She wasn’t, as I sometimes am, at all surprised to discover that I am still married to the same man. (I wasn’t shocked to discover that she, too, has rolled into middle age with the same life partner.) We fell into easy conversation about our children — both of our daughters will be college-bound in the Fall. We talked about the seemingly endless, but necessary, campus construction and the staff changes that have occurred in my almost twenty-year absence as a result of retirement and, sadly, death.
I’m glad that I mustered up the courage to hit the “send” button on that email — and not just because we had a delightful visit. (We did!) More significant, however, than the mere delightfulness of our visit and, as was so often the case whenever I had the pleasure to be in her company, was that I learned something. In our time together today she taught me an accidental lesson, one wholly unrelated to knowledge that she had previously imparted to me — things like the importance of the contributions made by Charles Grandison Finney and the other evangelicals who set the stage for the abolitionist movement in 1830’s America, for example. No. Today’s lesson was far more personal. And, I daresay, more valuable.
For the first time, as I sat upon the teetering chair in her office, I felt like a writer. Not because I chose to define myself as such, possibly to steer the conversation away from the fact that I was still a waitress, but because I found myself taking note of my physical surroundings and paying careful attention not just to the unbalanced chair that I had chosen, but of how I felt emotionally in this setting. Even as we were chit-chatting, I realized that part of my brain was engaged in not just the simple and deliberate act of observing, but that I was engaged in a more refined and instinctive way — the way that writers are. I was recording and preserving information. Up to now, I had only heard of or read about this phenomenon — I never thought it would happen to me. After all, I’m just a waitress.
Except that I’m not. Just a waitress, that is. I am, as we all are, more than the sum of my parts. I can choose to define myself in a negative way, to be embarrassed by a life spent in service to people who can’t manage to suss out the proper pronunciation of something as simple as “sirloin” (note the spelling, people, it’s not Sir Lion!) or I can choose to hold my head high and call myself what I always knew that I could be and what I finally feel like I’ve become — a writer!
NOTE: Fangette enjoyed a successful day as well — she was accepted to the Nursing program AND she received an actual banner — unlike her mother’s metaphorical one! They even offered her a nice scholarship package. And, it is here, at this juncture, that I’d like you to imagine the angels singing, okay? She liked it — the school, the program, the surroundings. Hallelujah! As for Fang? He found the campus Starbuck’s. It was a banner day for the lot of us.
photo credit: me