Re-visions and Returns 

More than ten years ago, I worked at a factory that made printed circuit boards. The quick summary on that long story is I hated it, but didn't think that I had much opportunity to do anything else. I now consider it my first introduction to how the class system works in this country, but back then I saw it as a certain type of fate. The one good memory that I have of the place is when me and few of my coworkers, also working-class grunts, went out in the parking lot at two a.m. to get a good look at comet hyakutake. It was bright, the tail was long, the break from the horrendous work we were doing was refreshing, and the fact that the comet shone against the stars over a darkened field of tall grasses and weeds made the experience memorable.

But, as I mentioned before, the work was terrible. Twelve hour days, low pay, and frequent exposure to harsh chemicals and the occasional x-ray, which is above and beyond the petty office politics that must occur in every job, was an angle grinder on my soul. The prospect of it continuing felt like a condemnation. To adopt the discourse of recovery, I "had a moment of clarity" when I was hanging half out of chemical etcher scraping out the organic residue that grew like a grimy ring in a bathtub. The hydrochloric acid seeped into my gloves and stung my skin, the gas mask made it hot and difficult to breath and also cut into my neck. And being on my knees for about an hour, half bent over the lip of the machine made my back stiff. My earlier fantasies of going to college returned with the force of determination. Consequently, I enrolled at a local community college and began the path to where I currently am, a grad student with the goal of one day teaching college English and Literature courses.

The community college experience was almost one of religious conversion. Not only was it a tremendous contrast from the factory, but I soon found that it was truly something that I enjoyed doing. I discovered that my most enjoyable classes were the English and Writing courses. Going to the small buildings in the shade at the edge of the campus to take those courses was a genuine pleasure. I first read Hamlet, discovered my love of writing, and was able to approach language from the new perspective of having a voice, something to say. At work, no-one cared what I thought because I was hired to either be told what to do or tell others what to do. There was hardly a thing that I did not enjoy learning at the community college.

Several years later, I am a graduate student who may soon teach college writing courses rather than take them. But today--May 7th--I am actually back on the same campus. I walked around looking at how some things have changed and think about the past upon seeing the old rooms and buildings. Perhaps one day in the future, I may have the opportunity to teach here. I think it would be wonderful to give that back to the spirit of life, to be able to help other students who may be stuck in jobs or life circumstances that they hate, and help them discover their own talents, and somehow find within themselves an ability to pull themselves out of the compressing circles of misery.

I even happened to meet a friend and former classmate from my undergraduate university, G----. (I think I am going to adopt the 19th century Victorian mode of referring to people's names by the first letter.) G---- took a job here as a counselor, helping middle school and high school students see college as an option for them by taking them on tours of local unversity campuses. G---- and I caught each other up on what we had been doing since the year we last saw each other. In a weird way, G---- was impressed that I had gone to graduate school, and I was impressed that he had a job in an academic setting, especially a college that may want to teach at myself. I had always admired G---- for what I considered to be his moral integrity. Although much more has happened today, I suppose the lesson that I am going to take from it is that presents you with opportunities, and you, somehow, begin the process of sorting them out. Perhaps I still believe in fate, but I also believe that if you live your life with good intentions and effort at having some purity of heart, life will bless you in ways you don't expect. So while there may be fate, there are no "real" curses--not for those intentionally trying to do their best to be a good person.

07 May 2004
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