Advancement Though Life

It’s time to come face to face with that scary word. Career. Careers freak me out. Just think about the most common definition of the word.

career: (1) one’s advancement through life, esp. profession.

I don’t know about you, but I have no desire to advance through life, because that implies a means to an end. When you choose or settle on a career, it turns around and consumes you. So answer me this riddle: if your career is your advancement through life, but then your career eats you for breakfast every morning, where does that leave your life?

I grew up watching my parents come home from work so relieved to be out of the daily grind that even the endless obligations of parenting seemed like vacation. Two of my post-college jobs have been with career-centric companies, where everyone on the bottom rung is always thinking higher and willing to do anything and everything to get there. Since both were in the entertainment industry, the kissing to ass ratio was off the charts, without a whole lot of love. I don’t know whether it was the freaky idea of career finality or the overtime overachieving industry norm, but I became a notorious careless underachiever at both jobs because (1) after I had learned everything there was to learn, I didn’t really care anymore and (2) there is an art to doing the expected amount of work in the least amount of time, and perfecting that art was way more interesting to me than a promotion (3) (It may also be noted that I was fired from both of these jobs).

Well, the time has come to say goodbye to my notorious careless underachieving ways, say hello to Delia the Librarian, and meet what will eventually become, technically speaking, my career, my advancement through life, the inevitable big fade into finality. But unlike the potential professions that have slapped me around ever since I was a little kid, the one I’ve chosen gives me no excuse to digress to careless underachieving. In fact, I don’t even consider it to be a career at all.

I think I first realized this my junior year of college, when I was caught in the usual one-track research trance, hunched over furious note taking on the third floor of the library, my headphones blasting nonsense house music into my ears. Suddenly, I stopped in dead sentence and looked up, looked around. Books. Words. Ideas. Above and below. Beyond the library. It wasn’t a moment of clarity but a comforting moment of confusion. I was struck by how much I don’t know and how much I have the potential to know with each moment that passes.

To me, becoming a librarian is the antithesis of a career because instead of advancing through life, I’ll be utilizing my own potential to know while helping everybody from retired spelling bee champs to retired sailors find whatever it is they want to know. It may be strangely geeky, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

Self-critical editorial time…that last sentence is such a conclusion cop-out. “I’m looking forward to finding out.” What is the point of even saying that? And I don’t know why I’m getting all over-giddy about libraries…their impact on society is not always positive, but the consequent interplay with the freedom of speech is what makes them so fascinating to me. One time I was watching a bio on John Lennon’s murderer on TV, and apparently, he spent a lot of time in the library being all delusional obsessed with the Beatles, honing in on poor John. You don’t need to hang out in a library (at least one in a city) very long before you see some real outliers (conventionally speaking = crazies, maniacs) who apparently sleep in the chair around the corner and lose themselves in books. I always wonder…what are they reading and why?

I saw some hardcore intellectual zealots today when I visited the rare book and manuscript division of the Huntington Library. While this area is closed off to the general public (might I recommend the botanical gardens, lovely this time of year), a young simpleton like me was lucky enough to get in for a tour given by a woman named Mary Robinson. Just watching Mary talk was a thrill. As she rambled on and on about the Fifth Quattro of Hamlet and earthquake precautions and old Huntington’s vision of Southern California, as she happened upon random tangents like gold mines every step of the way, I stood there, actively listening but passively in utter awe of the sheer size of her brain. I tend to tune out condescending know-it-alls, so-called experts, and ignorant people, but Mary wasn’t that way at all. She was truly, unapologetically passionate. She wanted us to know everything that she knows. That woman’s brain is a limitless library unto itself, and not only does she know where to find everything, but she’s also aware that, like everything else, her mind is always open and changing.

Good old Mary didn’t show us any rare manuscripts (and to think I had my hopes up for the Dead Sea Scrolls), but we got to see the scholars delicately flipping the pages, their eyes deftly scanning. I could see their brains expanding, running out of memory, saving repeatedly, replacing hard drives, every once in awhile doing something human like coughing or scratching their heads. I was scratching my head just observing their behavior from behind the glass, as if they were zoo animals. This was learning addiction at its most extreme. Examples of the resident study topics Mary mentioned were “the development of civil engineering during the industrial revolution” and “Gender, Race and Music in the settlement of Southern California,” explored within truckloads of material, all day, every day.

So I thought about it. Career overdrive on one hand, strict intellectual regimen on the other. If you concentrate on one or the other, you’ll miss out. World news. Books to read. Music to hear. Movies to see. Places to go. People to care about. Conversations to continue into the twilight. And if I miss out, my advancement through life will be empty and boring, no matter how much money I make or how much information I accumulate. I now come full circle to the beginning. Careers freak me out because they assume you know exactly where you’re going, advance to the top of the heap—good money, good life. I prefer to look around, find myself and get lost, make mistakes and discoveries, and aspire to a passionate brain that resembles a dilapidated library always open to the public and always under construction.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home