The Changing of the Leaves

Within the pages of The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald writes, “life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” I firmly believe this to be true. At least for the last two falls in a row, I have encountered moments that have altered my life path to various degrees.

Around this time last year, I was attending a series of workshops to prepare for graduate school applications. At the time, I was still convinced that I was applying to MFA programs with an emphasis in fiction.  I wanted to be a prolific novel writer, and, if that failed, work in publishing as a back-up. I didn’t want to be a professor or do research; I just wanted to write. I came into those workshops with these firm convictions.

One of my professors had become a really important mentor to me my senior year of undergrad, and he was the one leading the workshops. After one of the first workshop meetings, he and I were hanging around and chatting. I can’t really remember how it occurred, but we somehow started talking about my newfound passion for writing centers. He recommended that I look at a couple of graduate programs with a specific focus in writing center studies…PhD programs in rhetoric and composition. He recommended that I apply to a couple of each type of program, and I told him I would consider it.

I went home that night and did some research on the programs he had mentioned. The programs and their classes sounded awesome! After I looked at those two programs, I googled some more in the area. Every single one sounded interesting and exciting. I was utterly convinced that he was right. I needed to apply to MFA programs in fiction AND a couple of PhD programs in rhet/comp.

The only problem was, when I started to write personal statements for these programs as required by the workshops, I found myself utterly consumed by the statements for the rhet/comp programs. The more I read about programs, looked at courses of study, and thought about the work I would do, the more PhD programs appealed to me. I found myself not struggling to fill the page like with my MFA personal statements; instead, the words and ideas were overflowing. I had many clear-cut reasons for pursuing a PhD in rhet/comp., while I was barely scraping by on genuine reasons why I wanted to get an MFA.

Of course, it wasn’t long after this that I completely surrendered myself to rhetoric and composition. I felt guilty about it, of course. Creative writing had always been my thing, and I felt like I was betraying myself by thinking otherwise. I wasn’t betraying myself though; I was meeting myself for the first time. I could think of plenty of questions I wanted to answer and problems I wanted to solve in the field. I could not only imagine doing research on these topics, but actually enjoying the research and writing about it. And I really, really liked the idea of teaching and studying composition and writing center stuff for the rest of my life. At that point, the transformation was complete.

Around this same time, Halloween brought changes to my personal life. Last Halloween marked a crucial point in my relationship with my current boyfriend. We had been coworkers and classmates during my first year of grad school. When he graduated in May, we stayed in contact and ended up becoming good friends over the summer. While family, friends, and strangers alike assumed we were going to start dating, he was adamant that we would not. However, on Halloween, he finally ended up making a move on me that shattered the illusion that we did not have feelings for each other. Even though we wouldn’t actively acknowledge those feelings again until Christmastime, that night was a definite game-changer.

Now, autumn is here again, and I find myself in a similar state of change and renewal.

After having a near panic attack a few days ago over the sudden realization of the time and money immediately required to take the GRE and apply to my full list of PhD programs, I had to think long and hard about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. After some brainstorming, number-crunching, soul-searching, and confiding in my mother, I finally came to a conclusion: kick ass on my application to the only PhD program on my list that doesn’t require the GRE and, assuming I don’t get in, work really, really hard on my materials over the next year. This allows me to save more money, study for and take the GRE over the summer when I have more time, and work on some additional publications in the meantime.

Immediately after making this decision, I felt a certain sense of peace wash over me. I’m going to have great materials for one program that is an excellent fit for me and my research. If I don’t get in, I’ll have another year to prepare my materials and make myself the best possible candidate I can be. It’ll be another year staying here with my family, my friends, and my boyfriend. It’ll be another year to grow up. I can’t lose either way.

So, autumn is and always will be my favorite time of the year, especially October.  I love the weather, the activities, the scents, the food, the clothes, all of it. But, perhaps what I love this most is how it always offers a chance to begin again. Like the changing leaves, in autumn we can detach ourselves from what isn’t working, showing off our brilliant colors as we open the way for something new to grow.


Dangerous Daydreams

Whenever I am faced with a new possibility or an important decision, thinking about it extensively tends to bring about more harm than good. I either obsess over everything that could potentially go wrong, or I obsess over everything that could potentially go right. Surprisingly, the latter is the more dangerous of the two.

Take this recent job application, for example. As soon as I hit the “submit” button on the electronic application, my mind immediately started to sprint through every possible bad outcome: Am I even qualified for this job? Are they going to just look at my application and laugh? They’re probably going to just throw my application away. What if they already hired someone and just forgot to take the posting down? Did I even apply for the right position, or did I accidentally complete the application for another job? This is not a realistic possibility at all, so I shouldn’t have even bothered to apply. The list could go on and on.

In order to talk myself off the ledge of self-doubt, so to speak, I had to do a little bit of confidence boosting: Of course I’m qualified for this job. I meet all of the minimum requirements and the majority of the preferred requirements. This is work that I know and love. They’re not going to laugh at my application. The email notification from HR confirms that I applied for the right position. Since I am well-qualified, this is a realistic possibility. If I don’t get a callback, then I’ll know that this just wasn’t the right job at the right time. After all, I could never get the job if I didn’t take the risk and apply for it in the first place!  

This strategy works well…for a minute or two. Then, instead of reversing back into denial, my mind suddenly does an illegal u-turn into the “what if” scenarios: Well, if I get this job, I won’t have to apply to PhD programs this year. I might not have to apply to programs ever. I won’t have to move away from my family, my friends, or my boyfriend. I would be making good money with good benefits. I could still live at home a year, pay off my car, make good headway on my student loans, and then move anywhere I wanted to in the area. I would have an office all to myself. I could hang my diplomas in my office! What kind of frames would I put them? And so the madness continues, ranging from considering the sense of security and fulfillment a full-time job would bring, clear down to what kinds of forms I would use. The more out-of-control my thoughts run, the more dangerous they become. After all, the more excited I get, the more I can visualize myself in that position, the more disappointed I will be if it doesn’t work out.

I guess if I’ve learned anything from this, it’s that life requires a healthy balance of self-confidence and self-doubt. We need to believe in ourselves, our knowledge, and our talents. At the same time, though, we need to recognize that there is a right time and a right place for everything. We are exactly where we need to be, even if it doesn’t always seem to be where we want to be.

So, is this new job where I’m meant to be? Only time will tell.

Uncertain Certainties

At this moment, my hands are trembling, my heart is racing, and I vaguely feel like I might vomit at any moment.

No, I didn’t get into a car accident, or find out I’m pregnant, or violently wake up from a dream in which I’m falling into a deep abyss. All I did was apply for a job.

Not just any job, though…my dream job. Or, more specifically, the most realistic manifestation of my dream job that I could possibly obtain at my age and level of experience. The real kicker? It’s at a university right here in my hometown. I wouldn’t even have to move. It is truly the perfect job: a true career directly in my desired field, where I don’t have to leave my family, friends, and boyfriend behind or go to school for several more years, with the economic stability a full-time job with benefits brings. Except for in my wanderlust-fueled fantasies, I couldn’t imagine a better situation.

Honestly, it’s all my fault. I shouldn’t have even been looking at job postings. I don’t need a job right now. I’m more than sufficiently employed for this semester, and I am basically guaranteed the same level of employment next semester. I’m supposed to be applying to PhD programs in the coming months, after all, and a “real” job was only to be a consideration next spring if I found out I wasn’t accepted anywhere. I had no business prowling university job postings yesterday.

Yet, I did, and I can entirely blame my tendency to eavesdrop in public spaces.

Allow me to explain. Since I am an adjunct professor, my office spaces are all open, shared environments. I was in one of these said spaces prior to a class I was teaching, just minding my own business (mostly) and polishing my PowerPoint for the day’s lesson, when I overheard two separate, but equally important, conversations: a telephone conversation in which an adjunct was telling his mother that another adjunct had gotten hired full-time at a library, and a conversation between two other instructors about how applications for tenure-track positions were due soon.

Hearing these two conversations, especially within mere moments of each other in the same room, really made me stop and think. Should I already be looking at job listings? Was I missing out on full-time positions?

I can’t stand to be left out, so I decided I would go ahead and take a look. Just for shits and giggles, you see. I knew for a fact that my home institution wasn’t hiring full-time employees in my field, and wouldn’t be until summer (if at all). I was also pretty sure that the community college I’ve been working at wouldn’t have anything either. So, I decided I would look at the public four-year university’s postings. Again, just for shits and giggles.

Imagine my surprise when one of the first listings on the site is not only relevant to my degree, but my damn dream job. Right there, right down the street. And with qualifications I actually meet. I couldn’t believe my eyes, my luck, the chances of this odd encounter with this job posting.

So, today, I updated my CV, wrote a new cover letter, and applied for my dream job right here in my hometown. I, the girl with three jobs, responded to a job posting I never should’ve seen in the first place. It’s been one of those weird, cosmic-aligning instances that my entire career has been based on.

Now, I’m left with bated breath and a nervous heart, waiting to find out what fate holds for me.