Freeing Sisyphus: Jo goes to New York and gets worn out…..Part I
Jo goes to New York and gets worn out….
So, last week I explained to you folks a little bit about Sisyphus (see Freeing Sisyphus tab). This week I want to tell you how I went from being Jo from Little Women as my sister described me yesterday (and whatever Braxton sister I am – don’t really watch reality TV) to Sisyphus – which then will lead us to the story about the first time I tried to free Sisyphus from the grind and drudgery of the American dream.
Well, like Jo, I went to New York City in the late 90s to find myself. I definitely considered myself an independent, free spirit who could not be held down. The thought of being married and relegated to a small Southern town scared me senseless. I was an adventuress who wanted to discover the world and write my story. So, I went to one of the most expensive schools possible to study literature and get my Masters (people explained to me this is how I would later get a fellowship). Unlike Jo, I didn’t find a kindly, but bearish professor to fall in love with to change my independent ways.
Like Jo, my family was most important to me, and there are many stories there that will come later, but that was part of the reason I left New York the first time and ended up in a Phd program in the midwest for two years (with a fellowship) where I decided that wanting to be a good college teacher was completely counter to what was expected of me. I was expected to write boring articles that no one would read and present them to narcissists around the world who only cared about their articles that no one would read, drink a lot of wine and be depressed. I was writing scholarly articles about injustice and doing a lot of complaining, but I kept asking my colleagues what are we really doing about it. Drink more, they said.
So, I ran back to New York to get a job, or as many saw it, go over to the other side: the business world. Well at that point I realized any job I would get as an adjunct professor would pay about $2000 a class per semester and wouldn’t be nearly enough to feed the ever-hungry beast: Sallie Mae.
I arrived back in New York one month before September 11th. After the towers and New York’s economy collapsed, getting a job was hard for a while. But, I got really lucky (sort of) and for the next four years I worked first for an ex politician and then a wealthy heiress. My life was lived interacting daily with politicians, movie stars, famous thinkers and some of the most influential business people of our time while sharing a 600 square foot apartment with a roommate in Brooklyn. In my last year I was working about 100 hours a week, driving back and forth from the Hamptons and sleeping about 3 hours a night. I did do some cool things like teach writing in a program in Harlem on the weekends and helped start a charter school, but I had two cell phones and was on call 24 hours a day. I looked in the mirror one day and didn’t see Jo or me anymore. All I could see were chains. Like Sydney from Season 1 of Alias (huge Alias fan), I wanted to throw BOTH cell phones into the Atlantic (she threw her pager into the Pacific). I had been disabused of my illusions about grand-scale change, and my idealistic beliefs in the power of politics, education and life in general were D-E-A-D. And, like New York after September 11th, I was beat down and scared.
I knew it was time to leave New York and radically re-think my life. So, I decided to get my TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) certificate and move to another country for a little while to get my head on straight. Sounds pretty romantic, huh? Well, instead of some romantic city like Prague, I picked Taiwan because they paid the most (again, those loans weren’t really going to let me take a real sabbatical from my life) –my salary was a whopping $1000 a month. So with $0 dollars saved, what amounted to a mortgage in student loans and no idea of what my future would hold, I took a huge leap of faith, left a pretty lucrative field as a bonded slave, packed my bags and left New York determined to re-ground myself…….in Taiwan.
You’ll have to wait to hear about those exciting adventures in part deux, but in the meantime, please feel free to share a similar experience or leap of faith. If you are a private person like me, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Private, you laugh – I’m sharing details of my life on the web – how could I be private? Well you must not understand what it is like to have a persistent sister like Karin/Amy/Tamar. I don’t even really use Facebook (go on once every 2 months –she tricked me into creating a profile there as well). So, this was all the sis’ idea….but I think she’s on to something.
Stay tuned to hear about the exciting stories of Taiwan – air pollution so thick you came home dirty every day, near death experiences of being runover with scooters carrying families of six, Kung Fu and Mandarin lessons and how I started to see myself again.