I am sitting in Kool Beanz, a cafe in the downtown area of my hometown, Granite City. The radio is playing music of the late ’90s, a time when I was a painfully hyperaware teenager who was always shaping my identity (I actually decided at one point I was Angela from My-So-Called-Life and sat in classes with my head in my hand, looking far off as if contemplating great things). The fact that there is a hip cafe in this steel worker city is bizarre in of itself, but what is stranger still is the way in which being here–at this particular place & at this particular moment in my life–creates an intersection of the past and present, who I was fifteen years ago and who I am today.
Across from me is the library where I devoured books and wrote my senior term paper (a rite of passage). To the right of the library sits the church where I grew up. Not far from me is the rollerskating rink where I would get butterflies just sitting in the parking lot, never knowing what might happen that night but also anticipating great things (and cute boys. All mid-schoolers have intense hormones, but mine were legendary).
I came to Kool Beanz today to enjoy some free (and hopefully productive) “me” time while my father watches my energetic 4-year-old for a few hours. I wanted to use this time well, so rather than driving to a nearby city to work at Starbucks or Panera, I headed down well-known streets to come to a new place in a very old area of Granite. The fact that I am here on a Wednesday morning is telling of this chapter of my life, as I am “off” for the summer as I transition between graduate school, which was not even part of my vocabulary 15 years ago, and university teaching.
Growing up in Granite, I had always planned on teaching high school English for my entire career. In fact, when a supportive (and forceful) professor in college strongly recommended I attend graduate school rather than go into secondary teaching after graduation, I politely insisted that teaching high school was what I was meant to do, what I had come to college to be able to do, and graduate school was not even on my radar.
After three years of teaching high school and hating every. single. minute., I went to graduate school full time and recently graduated with my Ph.D. in English. I am still drawn to (*university*) teaching and now enjoy every minute of it, but would rather shovel shit than work in a high school again.
It took me years to come to terms with my misguided and failed career dreams (let’s just say high schoolers and their parents felt as happy with me as I did with them), but as I sit here, typing this post, I accept my past mistakes and am overjoyed to have both my Ph.D. and a promising future of teaching at the university. If I were to block those three years of hell, I would miss the important lesson they taught me about being open to other ideas and other paths. Because of course I will not always be on the path I am on now; indeed, I may end up in another town in another 15 years, writing about how life threw me another curve ball and set me on a different journey. My prayer and goal is to be more accepting of the changes that will certainly come while still embracing who I have been, where I have been, and how my past continues to shape my present reality and identity.