Thursday, August 05, 2004

New York City Blues

The NYC summer alternates between moody, angry and depressed. This morning's weather reflects my mood well; the restless grey-blue clouds reach longingly towards the sharp edges of the city as they are blown away to an unknown fate, dropping rain like tears along the way.

Time rushes by me with increasing speed -- how does this happen? It seems not so long ago when I started my job search, full of hope and excited anticipation for the next chapter of my life, what I might find and where I might live. But this morning, 370 days later, I woke up, faced with impending unemployment, knowing that seven weeks from today is my first day of ... what? I don't know. I am shocked: How could this happen? After sending out more than 300 application packages for academic and research positions, after applying for countless other jobs, I am confronted with the fact that I have failed miserably. I have not only failed to find a job in my field, I have also failed to find a job in any related fields and I have, in fact, failed to find ANY job, doing ANYTHING at all.

Polite, impersonal rejection letters fill my mailbox and emailboxes. WTF? I worked hard my entire life, working at odd jobs ranging from a nurse's aid, waitress, raspberry picker during the stifling heat of summer, and I was a nanny to fractious race horses worth tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, to a manager of a pet store, owner of my own small business, a science writer, and a research technician at a world-famous cancer research center. I postponed almost every material reward that anyone could reasonably expect as a result for hard work, so much so that in fact, after a lifetime of accumulation, every item I own can be packed into a single moving crate. I worked this varied and unusual hodgpodge of jobs on vacations and holidays and weekends in my relentless pursuit of my educational goals and dreams. Sacrificing real, tangible rewards in favor of my quest for future accomplishments, as if I couldn't do both at the same time. But what do I have to show for all this? Well, nothing, nothing at all, not even the priviledge of a job.

Sometimes I think I am crazy. Not cross-eyed drooling and paranoid crazy, but pie-in-the-sky dreamer crazy. I have sacrificed everything to my vision to be an academic research scientist in my wish to raise the veil of confusion that obscures our understanding of evolution. Where on earth did a white-trash country girl like me ever get such a weird, high falutin' idea like that? And whatever made me believe I could actually succeed? It's no wonder that everyone laughed at me, I must have been crazy!

But the fact is, if I won the lottery today and could do anything, literally anything, with the rest of my life, I would do exactly what I am doing right now. The past two years have been the best of my life, I have lived two years of breathtaking, dizzying joy, knowing that I am alive, truly alive, for the first time in my life as I dig in to the mysteries surrounding the origins of my beloved birds, as I seek answers to questions that whispered to me during the wee hours when I was a child. Where did we come from? Why and how did we become the way we are? What makes us distinct, our own species? What is a species? What makes closely-related species different from each other? What is a subspecies (is there even such a thing)? Because I love birds, I ask these questions about birds, about parrots, specifically. I am just beginning to understand my birds' story of how they came to be and how their particular part of the world came about. This is my life's work, my passion.

Because my love for my career is a rare and beautiful gift that few people on this earth have ever had the pleasure of experiencing, I should find joy in recollections of this, right? Memories of this short happy time should satisfy me as I plod along the downward spiralling path to death, right? Well, I can't live my life like that. In some ways, I am a very selfish person, I worked hard and paid my dues -- in fact, I have paid dues for several other people, too -- so I deserve more! I've worked for it! I deserve more time with my birds, more time with my research, more success, more money, more happiness! I deserve a job in my chosen field of research! But right now, I can't even find a job as a fast food "chef", a waitress, a bartender, a sales clerk, a shelf stocker, a hotel maid, a janitor, not even as an escort, for gawd's sake.

My colleagues say that my CV looks great and my friendly competitors/collaborators agree. Several potential employers claimed that my accomplishments are impressive, that I have a broad base of experiences and skills that would serve any employer well, but if this is true, then where is my job? Why can't I even be assured of a roof over my head and food in my belly and basic health insurance? No one has offered me a job, and in fact, no one has even offered me an interview (well, no one except Princeton Review, and I bombed that rather spectacularly, remember?).

I feel absolutely betrayed by my misplaced faith in the supposed power of a good education, and I am ashamed to know what a complete failure I truly am, ashamed that I reflect so poorly on my advisors and my university, ashamed that I dishonor my birds by failing them, ashamed that so many people invested their time and resources and knowledge in me so I could dishonor them by ending up on the streets, homeless, hungry and an embarassment to all who pass me by on their way to their work or to their cozy Manhattan apartments.


But worst of all, I feel absolutely ridiculous when I realize I sacrificed everything only to discover that this vision that I thought was my calling might really belong to someone else, that I may be an unwelcome interloper on someone else's dream. I feel utterly, incredibly empty to think I will be denied access to my life's work, the very core of my being, to think that my entire life was merely the pursuit of a mirage.

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© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

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