28 January 2012

On Not Getting the Job (aka On Why I Can't Go Home Again)

For the past 7 months, I've been living with my sister in Kentucky. I got a nice professional position at a local university about two hours from the town where I grew up. I am closer to my family. I should be happy, right?

Wrong. I'm miserable.

Well, maybe that's overstating it. I'm not miserable. I'm uncomfortable. I'm uneasy here. And the reason for this generalized ajada? I feel oppressed. I feel this intense pressure that I haven't felt since I was 17 and bursting at the seams to get the hell out.

I had reservations about accepting this job. Not because of the job itself. It represented a great opportunity for me. It has been a great opportunity for me. I had reservations about moving back to Kentucky. Who are we kidding? For years now, I've had reservations about visiting Kentucky.

Forget for the moment that I moved in with my sister with whom I have an uneasy relationship. Despite our major differences, we have managed fairly well living together.

So what really is the problem? People know me here. People who haven't seen me in 30 years. People who remember me only from how I was in high school. People, most often, who never moved away. People who haven't had the same breadth of life experiences that I have. People who never lived outside the box they were born into. They haven't tried new things. They settled into predictable patterns. They found no need to explore themselves, to examine their beliefs, or to even just try something new for the sheer enjoyment of it. When I look at some of those lives, I think how grossly inappropriate it would have been for me to have settled for that.

If there is a truth in my life it is this: I was not meant for the ordinary.

And because I didn't settle and I braved the world outside Kentucky, I have grown into the adult I am today. And I'm not a damn thing like I was back in high school. I can't even remember who that girl was. The most unfortunate part about it is this. Even if you managed to break free, the vision that your family and friends had of you remains intact. They still have these expectations. They still think they maintain this power to shape me. They think, quite honestly, that by trying to shame me, I'll behave in a manner they find acceptable. It seems harsh to say that, but that is how families work. At least, that is how my family works. My family wasn't there to see me grow and they refuse to acknowledge my growth. They are stuck with this vision of someone who doesn't exist.

I'm not going to argue this point, really, because while some might disagree, what I have just described is a truth in my life. Your's may be different. But my family exerted a lot of pressure to conform to their ideals, and those ideals were involved avoiding risk in any aspect of life. Whether it was socially speaking, financially speaking. Hell, as a family, we didn't even try new recipes. My family taught me strict adherence to community standards. In a word, that environment was oppressive. It was perhaps even more oppressive than high school, where the pressure to conform is intense.

So my family continues to attempt to apply guilt, shame, and overt pressure to force me to be someone I'm not. Do they do it maliciously? Of course not. But they do it. To the rest of the world in my home town, I'm still that high school person. They liked that person. They want that person back. I have lived in distant contact with those friends and my family for 30 years. We talk on the phone. We've seen each other 2-3 times a year. At holidays. On the occasional trip home. But for the most part, my adult life has been lived independent of my early influences and their influence waned long ago.

I think one of the reasons that being young is so hard is that we are awakening to the possibilities that life offers, but living in a situation where other people have more power over what we are, what we do, what ideas we feel comfortable expressing, what things we see, who we are exposed to than we do ourselves. When like to say that the young are discovering themselves, but they are doing so cloaked in the morality of their families. What kid hasn't heard that standard parental phrase, "Not while you're living under my roof"? Who we become is shaped, to a large extent, by the expectations of our families. If we remain in close contact with our families, that vision of who we are becomes ingrained. And that was true for me, right up until the moment that my ex-husband tried to kill me.

All bets were off after that. I decided that every day was a gift, and I was living for me and no one else.

I celebrate the day of my divorce each year. I call it my Independence Day. It was a day that changed my life forever.

I think I am extraordinarily lucky then to have moved away from my family early. I think had I not moved away early, I might have sought my refuge in them. I might have found comfort in becoming that person they expected. Thankfully, I didn't. Instead, I questioned everything that my life had become. I asked myself whether or not it fit my vision of myself. Did it fit the way I wanted to live my life?

Those were questions that were extraordinarily foreign to me at the time, and I became drunk with the possibilities. If I was really free, then the whole world was open to me. Since I was 39 years old, I began to put my own mark on my life.

And I will not look back. I will not allow others to influence who I am and who I want to become.

If Kentucky makes me uneasy, I will not live in Kentucky.

They will not offer me a permanent position here. They may have done me one of the greatest favors of my life.

1 comment:

  1. On behalf of Liv.

    "Good for you liz. That last sentence was so optimistic! Very inspiring!

    I think stepping outside of the box you grew up in has to be one of the toughest but most rewarding things that a person can do--it takes a bit of courage most of us don't even possess... and a way of thinking that feels unnatural.

    I don't know who you were when you first lived in Kentucky, but you've made me curious to know which 'roots' you've hung on to...
    The person you have chosen to become has to have in some way emerged from the person you were, no? Your lust for adventure and experience... is that from your dad? Your upbringing? Your community? What about your intuition for how to make food taste good? Your sense of humor?
    My vote for your next post: You suggest that who you are now is a result of rejecting all that you were then... But my gut tells me that if I met you 25 years ago, there would be elements of the same Liz that I see now... What HASN'T changed (other than your wonderful accent)? That's my question."