Saturday musings

It is a GORGEOUS day today here in Minneapolis. Sunny, not too hot, a nice breeze – really just a perfect day to be outside. Not that I really know, mind you, since I’m at my regular coffee shop all day, doing the writing thing, hoping that there will be more perfect days once I’m done with the damn diss. Which I now have even more incentive to finish in a timely manner, because that job I interviewed for? I got it. One course in the fall, one in the spring – a perfect load for getting back in the swing of teaching, and hopefully it won’t be too hard to work out the childcare/scheduling thing. I gotta say, I’m excited to get back in the classroom. Teaching is really one of my passions, but unfortunately, it’s not one of those things that you can just get up and do for the asking. It will be good to mix with students again and get back to figuring out how to help them learn how to learn.

I was thinking last night about what I’ll call avocations, for lack of a better word. You know, “callings” – the things that you’re drawn to do no matter what. My senior year in high school when they asked us for quotes for the yearbook (seniors got special pictures and quotes) I eschewed the ever-popular Bowie/Changes quote and chose this one from Robert Frost instead:

But yield who will to their separation
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one
And the work is play for mortal stakes
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

Almost twenty years ago, and I still have that memorized. And though it’s a bit highfalutin’ for a high school senior, in a lot of ways it still defines how I think about work and career. I am, I have discovered, not one of those people who can be satisfied with a “day job” – you know, the place you work to cover the bills, so you can live your “real” life outside work hours. I just can’t do it. Part of it is probably from growing up in an academic family, part of it is being overeducated with an overactive imagination, and part of it is just my nature. But whatever the cause, Frost’s idea of uniting avocation and vocation is pretty much what I’m always after. And I’m lucky, really, because I do have something that I feel “called” to do: theatre’s been my calling since approximately junior high, and teaching got added into that calling somewhere towards the end of college.

Having a calling is a gift, I know – I’ve pretty much always known what I wanted to do and be when I grew up – but of course it can also be a curse, because when you know for certain what you want to do, it’s pretty difficult to accept anything else as a substitute. Tenure track theatre positions aren’t exactly falling into my lap, you know? But I value it, nonetheless, because it’s a very centering thing to have in my life. Even if I can’t get that tenure track job I’d dreamed of – yet – I can get courses here and there, maybe start up a new theatre company, coach auditions, try to publish some articles in dramatic criticism. I mean, I might not know exactly what I’ll be doing ten years from now, but I know the general area I’ll be working in, because I have this avocation – theatre – and I’m the kind of person who has to make that my vocation, my “day job” as well.

Anyway, I was thinking about this because of a conversation I was having with some former students of mine, some of my favorite students, in fact, with whom I was talking about career goals, avocations, vocations. Over the years, I’ve taught a fair number of students, some of whom were interested in theatre, some of whom were not. All in all, out of the hundreds of students I’ve taught, there have been maybe a dozen that I really believed could and would and should make careers in theatre. It’s a demanding discipline, and you have a weird combination of talent, stubbornness, drive and insanity to do it for a career, but there were these few kids that I really thought would go there. And none of them – none! – have ended up doing it. Oh, they’re all doing various worthy activities. Lots of them are in public service jobs, working with underpriveleged kids or teaching in other disciplines or doing related humanities or nonprofit work. But none of them have made that lifetime commitment that I thought they would. In my more cynical moods, this feels like failure on my part. Why couldn’t I inspire them to follow that dream? I’ve found such a wonderful home in theatre – why don’t more of my students want to stick around and play? I know, of course, that this is a silly response. Like a parent, a teacher’s job is to prepare her students to find their OWN way, and as long as they’re happy and productive that’s what counts, right? But still, I wonder: how many of my students are even looking for a combination of avocation and vocation? How many of them will be brave enough, or crazy enough, to hold out for it? Will any of them find it where I have, in theatre? And is it my job to help them find theatrical avocations, or to use theatre to help them find whatever avocations or vocations will be their own? Heady thoughts for a Saturday, dear readers. How about you? Are you of Frost’s mindset? Or are you more contented with a separation between your work and your play?

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