So, I got this new job. And I left California and the entire life I'd built up there over the last thirteen years. And I had to leave my dogs behind, which is, frankly, so heart wrenching that I'm pretty certain it hasn't even sunk in yet. It just doesn't feel real. I'm just on vacation, or simply in the part of the week when their other parent has them--it's not possible that they're an entire continent away from me, and that I won't get to see them this week, this month, this year maybe.
They have a good life, tons of love and doggie field trips and the best possible medical care imaginable. And I had an incredible opportunity to come back to a place that I love almost beyond my power to describe it. And my life in California had been winding down for a while. I was really only staying put for Annie and Tigger. And if they were human children, that might have made sense, and if they were mine alone, I wouldn't have thought twice--they'd have come with me.
But I didn't sit down here to write about them, though I think I'll leave it up there.
The job: I'm working at Bryn Mawr College, in the theater, where I spent pretty much all my time as a college student in the late '80s. I haven't worked in theater since the late '90s. And I never imagined I'd return to Bryn Mawr this way. But here I am, polishing up the technical theater skills I abandoned a while back. Remembering how I love the sawdusty smell of a theater, the oddball problems that crop up, the challenge of learning a new technical skill (uber-advanced lighting and sound systems, anyone?). Remembering how much I like working as part of a real team--in person, on a day-to-day basis. It's different from the solitary work I've been doing, writing and editing and only communicating by email. Or putting together a cooking class in my kitchen or making jewelry all by myself. And it's delightfully different from working in an office--a fact I keep realizing every time I find myself climbing something or carrying something or running around the building at the last minute to make sure there are enough chairs on the stage for the event that's beginning in seconds.
But setting aside the theater work, this job is going to be a lot about working with the students--helping, advising, training, mentoring. Giving back and sharing, in a very real way, something that absolutely was given to me in this place. Helping them, I hope, to develop their senses of self, their capabilities, their solidity. Their ability to solve hard problems--fast, on the fly. Their ability to climb tall ladders and carry heavy things and to use power tools. Their ability to make something beautiful. Their ability to plunge into spaces where they know nothing at all and to teach themselves exactly what they need to know to occupy those spaces comfortably--to own them.
Yesterday, the freshman arrived, and at the end of the day, they were all piled onto the main stage in the theater, their families and friends in the audience, as they were officially welcomed by the president of the college and a number of other folks. I sat at the back of the house, watching that sea of 380 young women who don't yet know one another, and all I could imagine was the sea of young women with whom I entered the college 25 years ago. I remember on one of the first nights of orientation (or Customs Week, as we call it), being gathered in the gymnasium to fill out some form or other. We sprawled all over the gym floor, and the lighting was fluorescent and yellow over all the unfamiliar faces, and I felt both a bit lost and so eager to know these people and be known by them. And then I thought about all the ways that this place helped shape me.