Samain (last day for this year) Long Nights Moon
I’m having a crisis of sorts, it will pass and life will return to normal, probably later today, but right now I’m having an identity crisis. Remember those?
Here’s a Psychology Today article about identity. As I took the short quiz at the bottom, I had two achieved statuses, politics and gender roles, one moratorium status, career choice, and a difficult to assess religious status. This latter status, religion, is perhaps more achieved than my current feelings suggest since I’m deep into a context which challenges my commitment regularly.
I’ll bracket the religious question for this post since I do have a position, one I’ve established over many years of thought and with which I’m comfortable. I think the oscillation, tension there is reasonable to expect given my current immersion in Judaism.
The other moratorium status, career choice, is a different matter. It may seem odd to have a career choice moratorium* at 70, but it is so. Unlikely to change now, too. Having this realization again, (it’s not new) is the emotional side of this crisis.
I thought I had my life direction nailed down. College, graduate school. Some sort of professional career, perhaps lawyer, perhaps professor, perhaps something not visible from within the boundaries of an Alexandria, Indiana horizon. Then, my mom died. That threw my final year of high school into turmoil. God, this hurts just writing about it.
No one’s fault. A random event, but one with devastating emotional consequences for me. I hit my first year of college, just about a year after her death, with high hopes, probably even fantasies. I’d gone through GQ issues over the summer and picked out a navy blue blazer, charcoal pants, oxblood shoes and a madras sport coat. I had a vested herringbone suit from my junior year. These clothing choices symbolized my desire to become someone new at Wabash.
Most kids heading off for college, especially in the fifties and mid-1960’s, had a similar desire. Shape that adult self. Live into an adult role. The expectation was that college would provide room for exploration, trying on this and that persona, in effect researching skills and passions, until something coalesced. Then, earning money and work would merge into an expression of who you were. That’s why college was called then, the moratorium years. College was explicitly a time to be low on commitment, but high on exploration.
Didn’t happen for me, in terms of career. At Wabash I picked up three bad habits: drinking, smoking and self-doubt. The first two were fraternity based, lots of drinking and smoking. This was 1965, just before the emergence of the drug scene, so I was conventional in those choices. But, I was also an addictive personality so drinking and smoking would require much time and energy later to overcome.
Self-doubt happened in a way not uncommon, I imagine, for small town valedictorians. Wabash, at the time, was highly selective, only 200 in each class, all male and each bright, accomplished. I was not only not the smartest person in the room, I wasn’t even in the middle. Over time I imagine this would have sorted itself out, but I was too emotionally fragile, still grieving. My dad tried to understand, tried to be supportive, but I didn’t let him into my agony.
And so began a pattern. I left Wabash the next year, putatively over financial issues though I had a partial scholarship, but really it was the combination of drinking and feeling overwhelmed by the academic demands. I did well enough, mostly A’s, except for German, which almost resulted in my first D or F until I dropped it, but my nights were spent in anxious dreams, waking up with sweaty palms. I didn’t fit in. I hated the fraternity, but had no choice except to be in one due to odd Wabash rules for freshmen.
In 1966, a time of tumultuous change in the country, especially for college students and especially male, draft eligible college students, I chose, for reasons I don’t recall, to go to Ball State. It was close to home. That may have been the reason.
In another odd circumstance my love affair with philosophy, begun at Wabash, found me only a few credits shy of a major after four semester long philosophy courses I took in my freshmen year. That meant I could take a couple of philosophy classes, secure my major and move onto something else. Anthropology.
I loved anthropology, too. Enough, it seemed, to make it a career. I combined my interest in philosophy and decided to enter the narrow field of theoretical anthropology, thinking about how anthropology works, how it could work, how it should work. That turned out to be a mistake and one I didn’t recover from. I applied to, and was accepted, at Brandeis and Rice, for graduate programs. But because my field was theoretical anthropology, I got no financial awards. That meant I needed a fellowship and I was nominated for a Danforth. In the end though, the end of college and of a political career based on radical politics at Ball State, I chose to do nothing. Just. Nothing.
Judy came into my life right at that point. A someone. Another mistake. For both of us. I did end up in Appleton, Wisconsin with her, moving there after a disastrous few months as a manager trainee for W.T. Grant and Company. What was I thinking?
This question, relevant to career, would become synonymous with my choices, one after the other. Seminary. I stayed in and got ordained. WWIT? I worked as an administrator. WWIT? I became a church executive. WWIT? I left the church to write. In this case I knew what I was thinking, but never got all the way there as a writer so, WWIT? For a moment I went back to the ministry as a UU. I was serious enough to intern at a UU church in St. Paul where I agreed to be the development minister. In this case, a really, really big WWIT?
And so, here I am at 70, no career I really chose except writing and that one I couldn’t have sustained had it not been for the grace and love of Kate. There’s my identity crisis. Who have I been? What have I wanted to do with my life? Late in the game to ask these questions though to be honest they’ve surfaced right along since Wabash.
I could use help reframing all this. It’s not like I’ve drifted through life, doing nothing at all. I just never wrapped it up in a social role to which I felt like I truly belonged. Don’t know what that makes me at this point in my life. In a sense the third phase is the point when this question ceases to matter. That particular race finished a while ago and I’ve come into the pits. No more laps. Yet. What does, what did it all mean? I really don’t know at this point.
In yet another sense, and one I fully support with most of my being (ha), the answer doesn’t matter. I’ve lived. I’ve loved. I’m still doing both. The essentials. And, enough. I know. I know.
Yet the question lingers. What did I do?
“People high on exploration but low on commitment are in a category that Marcia called “moratorium.” This means that they have placed a hold on making the major decisions in their lives. They’re thinking hard about what they want to do but aren’t ready to commit.” from the article linked to above.