Lately I've been thinking a lot about self.
This was my last year teaching. For the better part of 4 1/2 years this defined me in multiple ways. I was a teacher, but also an adjunct. I was paid little better than minimum wage. Making less than $2000 a month. I had other jobs. In the years I taught I also packaged items for online sale, made coffee, worked at a pizza place, wrote food reviews, worked at Publisher's Weekly on book reviews, and freelance edited. I still made less than $40k a year.
As a result my identity was one of not having. More importantly, of over-working only to not have.
I grew up ok. Not poor. My father was in the US Air Force. The buffer of not paying rent hides a lot of the discomfort of low wages for our military. Ultimately, I had a comfortably lower-middle class childhood. I never went hungry. We went on vacation. I had a Nintendo. My childhood identity was one of not thinking about identity and class.
I am now 37.
My adult life has sat firmly in the lower class. I only recently crossed the $30k marker. And I often think about how my identity, while not tied to income, is definitely tied to my relationship to $$$. Mostly, this comes out as a comfort in not ever having it. In spending it when I do.
This feels like a common response in the lower rungs of America in 2018. You use what you have when you have it. Because tomorrow you will have nothing.
For the time I was a teacher I spent most of my hours working at one of the various jobs I listed above. My identity shifting slightly with each. But in the background I was still a teacher. A writer. A person doing "good" work.
One year ago the school I worked at until this passed week announced its closure. It wasn't really a surprise, but it was a blow to both the city I live in and to myself personally.
I have never felt like the kind of person who would move for a job. And the idea of finding a teaching gig out of New Mexico actively made me anxious.
Without the background umbrella of "teacher", who was I. Was I ready to go back to being coffee shop employee, or waiter, or anything else.
It was a blow to my self.
The school officially closes June 1 but my job there is over May 16th when grades are due. At that moment I will no longer be a teacher.
Part of this shift has been trying to find a new job.
I spent 6 months last year applying to academic jobs across New Mexico and the country. Most were low-paying or only part time. Many of the out of state jobs were offering less than I was already making. The concept of moving across the country for $2000 a month is ridiculous. But I know people who took those offers. This breaks my heart. I decided I couldn't do this. That teaching, despite it being what I did, couldn't be this huge of a thing in my life that I would take a wage that couldn't even support me.
Shedding identities is not easy.
I spent most of 2017 in a literal haze. Auto pilot became pretty normal. As this final school year started I looked up for the first time in a long time and realized I had lost myself in the grind to feed myself.
I always told myself I was a writer first. Everything else was meant to be paychecks.
Somewhere along the way I convinced myself that it was ok to erode the identity of writer to the point where it became hard to say that in response to "what do you do".
How does one reclaim land washed away?
I suppose the answer has something to do with throwing the garbage in the water until you can build on top of it.
The more honest one, the healthier one, is that you don't reclaim it. You move. You build somewhere else. You don't repeat the mistakes you made. You don't allow the river in.
A new self will find purchase on the new rock.