by Radio Somewhere

I think I’ve spent much of this life under one spell or another. While I was in graduate school, I fell under a spell that lasted many years and was finally broken while I was in my tenure-track faculty position; but I was almost immediately captured by a rather different spell under which I resigned my position, left academia, moved to Seattle, and ended up working in retail for several years. I never saw that spell coming!

The thing with spells is that they actually make sense while you are captured by them, although the circumstances of them might seem crazy to those around you. When the spell eventually breaks, you are able to view things more objectively. Sometimes, you end up wondering how on Earth you could have been so deliriously happy. But some spells are truly happy ones — and you’d give anything to be captured again.

The spell under which I lived my life as a retail worker was very powerful and hard to resist — and I do remember being incredibly happy almost all the time, despite leading such a humdrum life. There was something magical about riding one bus to get off at a Starbucks and get a venti latte before transferring to another bus to go downtown. I enjoyed being part of the bus-riding subculture of Seattle. At my job in a toy store, I had great fun with my co-workers and customers, even though I probably wasn’t well-suited to the work. I remember the sense of living a very, very full life in which the tiniest of details mattered immensely. And then, after a few years, the spell was lifted over a very short space of time — and I felt a terrible sense of loss. I remember that time, as the spell dissipated, as one of the saddest times of my life.

Other spells have come and gone since — and the happiest ones seem to involve writing. The first half of 2009 saw me working a 32-hour week on account of the weak economy. I had Wednesday off and it made the work week feel very easy. Once I realized I could just make it on the smaller paycheck, if I were careful, I relaxed and allowed myself to enjoy the extra free time. I hand-wrote a draft of a story that is very dear to me; I drank lots of cheap wine; and, I was inspired by penguins! Then in June, I got my 40-hour week back and had more breathing room financially — but the charming spell was lifted in return — and it almost didn’t seem worth the extra money.

The latest spell broke on November 30 of last year. I think it started sometime in August. A novel I had been trying to write for more than ten years finally started taking shape in my mind, and I started to work on it. But then I found out about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month – November) and decided to save the real writing for that month. Instead, I did background research and worked on an outline. Then the college football season started. I have no interest in college sports, but as my Buckeyes-fanatic boss was helping me one Friday afternoon, he told me all about the Ohio State-U. Michigan rivalry — and it inspired an idea that ended up being written into my novel. NaNoWriMo ended on November 30, the day of the OSU-Michigan game — and I wrote some of the happenings into my novel, including Marcus Hall reminding everyone what those middle fingers are for! That was quite a game!
Then in December, I got seriously to work with a career coach and it has been worthwhile in that my resume is vastly improved; I’ve learned all kinds of things about how to, and how not to, go about networking; and, I know I will do much better with interviews from now on. I have also identified a line of work that seems to suit me and am getting some experience at it right now as a volunteer. But, I can’t say that I’ve been happy since the last spell was lifted. Career-coaching goal-setting strategies just don’t have the same charm. Spells and goals don’t mix.

I feel a new spell being conjured up, but it’s still too weak to have staying power. I feel it come and go throughout the day — and I’m trying to encourage it. The beauty of living under a spell is that, no matter how unpromising life might seem on paper, you wake up each morning full of passion for whatever it is you are doing — no matter how lame it is; and you can’t wait to get out and happen to something.

Instead, I feel a bit like Scheherezade from the Arabian Nights each night when I get into bed — as though I managed to pull another story from my head to buy me some time until the following morning — when I will have to keep the king entertained for yet another day.