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Friday, 23 November 2007


I ride past this building every night; a Leeds office block. I wonder every single time; what do all these people sitting at all these desks actually do? Are these the people whose telephone system is routed through Ulan Bator? Will the people who work here spend the next thirty years in these Identikit desks, planning Christmas parties? I understand small offices - you would know your neighbours, maybe be part of a community. But I do'nt understand these monoliths. Admittedly, the people working here probably do not understand a work history that either the Red Head Boffin or me have had( my personal record in one job was 2 years, 77 days and 4 hours).

My brother in law has recently celebrated his 25th year working in the local Ford factory(near Liverpool). He is younger than me, and a great guy, but I realized the other day as I rode past this place how strange our life has been. As adults, we have absolutely no idea what it is like to be in one place for more than seven years. We have together lived in Liverpool, Leicester, Halifax, London(Canada) and now Hull. During this time we've worked in Coventry, Birmingham, Leeds, London(UK) and Sarnia. Nel has also lived in Windsor(Canada), Switzerland, Willenhall, Cheshire and Montreal. Between us, we've worked as postmen, telephone directory delivery people, administrative assistants, bar staff, musicians, theatre wardrobe, carpenters, managers, boffins, trench diggers, kitchen installers, au pairs, students, bank workers, shop assistants, Vice Presidents, dole office clerks, carpenters, welders and been on the dole.

I told my relative this history because for a lot of people we know, it's fairly normal - Grasshoppers was a cleaner and is now a top boffin, for example, and has lived in Arkansas, Kansas and Nebraska (not really, but basically quite a few places). My relative was surprised we were all still alive, because to him, we've all lived a life that he associates with vagrants or drifters. Conversely, I am horrified with is life - I equate it with a prison sentence. Personally, I think I am incredibly lucky to have such variation. He thinks we are crazy.

I'd be interested to know what you think - stability vs variation. That is the question.


JoeyMac said...

I've been equally manic, with the time I was stable probably being the most un (that should make sense to those who know me) :)
(the following is an attempt to remember them, not to compete, of course. Grasshopper can tell you how non-competitive i am...)
I have been a burger flipper, a dish washer, a cook, a baker, a caterer, a waiter, a small restaurant manager, a viener shnitzel cook, a parkade attendant, a research assistant, a software consultant, a professor, and a machine learning researcher. All this in Cape Breton, Halifax, Toronto, London (UK), Lahr (West Germany), and Corfu. Somehow I've managed to be the only Cape Bretoner who's never been on the Dole, despite coming very close to being the worlds first PhD on the Dole with his own research grant.
Credentials established... I would of course have to vote on the side of variation. I'm annoyed at the inconvenience of having to find all of the little things every time I move, and i'm damn sick of seeing so many amazing people pass out of my life (present company gleefully included). But of all the good points I could mention about an life of drifting, the only one that matters is that none of those amazing people would have drifted into my life in the first place if we were not all who we are.

MJN said...

Great post. Very close to my own thoughts.
The reason I posted this question (apart from being drunk), is that I'm just beginning to feel settled here - life is beginning to fall into a pattern of relatively stable finances, steady jobs, knowing where to get stuff, understanding the language - that kind of thing.
This lack of uncertainty makes me feel uneasy. I fully expect Nel to announce within a couple of months that she wants to embark on a new career as a high-wire performer.

Grasshopper said...

Well, Martin, as you know, I experienced a great deal of "oh my god, I can't stay here" angst when I started my current position. There were certainly external factors at work to make me feel that way - many of which have largely been cleared up. But, in retrospect, I think that much of my overwhelming need to leave was based on overwhelming anxiety at the thought of staying. I hated the thought that 'this is it. this is my life now. this is the job I will retire from. this is the city I will likely die in."

I dislike short-distance moving but love long-distance moving. I love the planning, the organizing, the putting stuff in boxes and packing them on a truck. I love the adventure of not knowing what lies ahead. I love being able to re-create my life in any variation when I arrive in a new place.

Now that I'm tenured faculty in a job where I many of my young colleagues are also my friends, I've accepted the fact that I am likely settled for good. It's likely that my last big move was my last big move.

Every once in awhile I scour the job ads and have a flash of excitement about applying for another position. But then I realize that in the kind of position I have, life will just go back to being settled. Being a professor doesn't lend itself to a lot of moving around. It's certainly possible to change locations. But it's not reasonable to do this more than once or twice in a career.

Although I still suffer bouts of "AAAAACK!!!! I'm going to be doing *THIS* for the next 27 years??!!!", I think that I've been able to mitigate much of this feeling through traveling. We've been fortunate to have a few "big" trips. And we intend to take many more as our financial situation becomes more and more stable. Although people like my brother would argue that it's better to put the money in the bank or to buy something tangible, Carl and I both value the chance to travel to a new place and have made that a priority in our "life planning."

Moving around a lot leads one to "stability anxiety." But at the same time, I think it teaches us to appreciate the people that we meet along the way. And it teaches us the value of experiences. I don't think there is one among us who would rather surround themselves in a humungous house filled with lots of "stuff", rather than continue to have fun adventures. And none of us feels like we need to throw up because we're 4 hours from home and fear running out of Tim Horton's and Petro Canada stations...