Thursday, April 06, 2017

expectations and reality

Driving in to work this morning, the Sirius "Symphonic" channel was playing the "suite of symphonic dances from West Side Story."

(the ONLY non-opera classical music channel I can get in my car any more - I guess Sirius Pops, which was my favorite, still exists, but it's not on the automotive broadcast lineup)

I got to thinking - some years back, TIAA-CREF (the big investment firm that works mainly with professors, researchers, and doctors at teaching hospitals or institutes) used to run an ad showing these people going about their daily work-lives and playing, softly, part of "A Place for Us" in the background.

And at that time I was not familiar with West Side Story, and I confess: at times, it made me almost tear up a little. Because it seemed so NOBLE. and such a CALLING. There'd be this shot of a tired surgeon walking alone down a darkened hall, or a professor in a giant lecture hall erasing one of those huge blackboards-on-tracks (the kind I wish I had).

(Wow. So noble. Much vocation. Very calling...)

I think it didn't help that the ads hit around the time I was going through the tenure process, so there was the added frisson of "If I don't get tenure, this won't be me any more."

But the truth is: it's not really that much like what the ads show. ("You see your own blooper reel and everyone else's highlight reel"). If they were going to be realistic, they'd have the professor dragging in at 7 am on a Thursday morning to a string of e-mails from students that are all one long sentence and that start with "hey" as the greeting. Or a professor sitting in a meeting while someone else talks on and on about their own pet hobby-horse issue. Or the professor mopping up the floor after the roof leaked again.

I WISH my life were about those noble and vocational moments shown in the ads...more often than not, it's about muddling through, making do, and pretending I have it more together than I do.

Then again: now that I know where the song comes from (basically a retelling of Romeo and Juliet, but with mid-century immigrant stereotypes), it does seem slightly ridiculous.

But it does seem one of the great Disappointments of Adulthood is that things are not as you imagined they would be as a child. I suppose that's how the world has to work: if you knew as a child what it really was like, or if you didn't have those high-flung fantasies, you'd probably not consent to grow up. (It is mandatory to grow older; it isn't to grow up. I know people who can't keep an appointment, who are constantly overdrawn in their checking account, etc. etc. The hell of it is, they usually have someone in their life to bail them out, whereas people like me don't even have someone they would feel comfortable asking to run to the drugstore for Imodium when they had bad food poisoning and really need it....)

One of the things I absolutely and genuinely believed as a child was that there existed an instruction manual on "how to be an adult" that you got at 18. I guess in my mind I imagined it was a big secret and kids weren't allowed to see it, which is why my parents never talked about theirs. But I figured: when I hit 18, I'd get the manual, and I'd be able to have everything figured out.

Several days ago, someone posted on Twitter a couple pages was either an old Vogue magazine from the 1930s, or an etiquette book, or something, that showed which type of shoe you wore with each of the "seven basic silhouettes of dresses" (there were things like Town and Country, Soft Silk Dress....)

And I retweeted it, with the comment that because I never received my Manual of Adulthood, I was forever doomed to wear the "wrong" shoes with a dress. I mean, I can kinda sorta figure out what's appropriate, but it would be so much easier to have a CHART.

Someone else brought up that it was very class-and-culture specific information, and I suppose it is - but the thing is, I kind of grew up surrounded by women who would have had that information (we were one of the relatively few "non country club" families in my town, or at least it felt that way). I suspect that maybe in a less "bohemian" family than mine, girls got instructed in that sort of thing.

(Oh, we learned table manners and that kind of thing. But when it came to learning how to "do" makeup, I was kind of on my own there. And also a lot of the "style" stuff - I know what kind of clothes are appropriate for a fancy "do" (not that I have many that would be) and what are okay for an "afternoon wedding" and the like, but mainly that's from the reading I've done and from things like watching movies. A lot of the time I DO feel like a space-alien doing sociology....)

I suppose a lot of this is misplaced desire to "fit in" (as in: why should I CARE?). Except I do care, partly because, I think, so much of my childhood felt like I was on the outside looking in, and I wanted MORE THAN ANYTHING to feel like I was part of a clique, like, a central part, and not someone on the fringes, which is what I was, at best.

(And yes, I know, as well as anyone could: cliques are not very nice things because they are by nature exclusive and being part of a clique would make Princess Celestia cry and all of that. But just like the people who joke about wanting to win the lottery to 'prove' it won't change them, I confess sometimes I'd like to go back and live life as a popular girl. Oh, it probably was at least as miserable as what I experienced, never know until you've experienced it).

But anyway: very little in adulthood has been what I thought it would be like. There seems to be a lot more hard work and a lot less fun. There seems to be - and this is what I find most distressing - an awful lot of disrespect from people in positions where YOU were expected to be respectful when you were there. There's way more "managing" of other people's emotions, way more biting off what you might LIKE to say, way more sighing and going "Yeah, I'll do it" even though you already had plans.

I dunno. I vacillate between sort of bemused acceptance ("This kind of stinks but I guess it is what it is") and frustration and petty annoyance ("When **I** was a kid we were told to wait to go through the reception line until all the adults had gone, and they took all the good food. Now that I'm an adult, people push their kids through first, and the kids take all the good food. Why is my life destined to leave me with broccoli salad but no deviled eggs?")

But yeah, there are a lot of disappointing things about being an adult.

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