Song & Story
By: Sara Strozk
I work in a map library, an irony not lost on me in my current situation.
I don't lack direction, mind you. It just takes me a long time to figure
out where I want to be, and I tend to take the road less traveled in
order to get there.
I took this job after returning from about four years of traveling
overseas with my husband. We worked whatever non-career-type jobs we could
find --pub work, apricot picking, a stint with a military hotel - in order to
earn enough to continue our transient lifestyle. Eventually though, we
realized we needed to choose: we could try to become citizens of Europe, or
we could go home, and start a new phase of our lives - the "home/career/kids"
phase. So now I'm working another non-career-type job, this time in order to
support the stable lifestyle I'd started craving. But -- my map library
job is the same job I had right after college, and we're living in an
apartment about five blocks from the first place I lived in on my own. More
than one of my friends has pointed out that I didn't need to travel around
the world to accomplish this feat.
While coming full circle like this may make a great plot device for a
short story, in real life, it made the prospect of my 10th college reunion at
the hippie-liberal, yet academically rigorous school I attended a little
intimidating. I spent hours mentally rehearsing the spiel I'd use on my
former classmates; polishing the humorous highlights, throwing in a few
pearls of multicultural wisdom, and practicing self-deprecating remarks
about my lack of career, in order to forestall any criticism from my
conventionally successful peers. Sure enough, the first person I ran
into on campus was Alex, who had always intimidated me with her cool
"So," said Alex, smiling over her plate of soggy picnic food. "What have
you been up to for the last ten years?"
I launched into my routine, covering my abortive stint in graduate
school, my marriage and our decision to wander around and observe the world,
tossed in a few funny stories and wound up breezily:
"So, I'm working at the University libraries, but I'm looking into doing
something a bit more professional. How about you?"
Alex hesitated for a moment, looking uncomfortable, then said, "Well,
it's kind of a long story. I guess you'd say I'm 'in transition.'"
"Damn," I said. "I wish I'd thought of that one."
Alex and I gravitated toward a crowd of fellow travelers who weren't
founding software companies or starting soil conservation programs in
Gambia. We all liked the trendy, millennial idea of being "in
transition," and spent the rest of the evening explaining what we had been
doing that made us want to define ourselves that way. What struck me, as we
joked around and shared stories about where we were on our journeys, was how
relieved we all were to have found this easy label. We were so
uncomfortable with not being able to categorize ourselves in a couple of
words! Perhaps it was because we'd all spent the day talking with folks
who had decided upon simple definitions for where they were, or how they
wanted to present themselves to others: successful "corporate
executives," committed "activists," slightly defiant "stay-at-home moms."
"In transition" pithily described the point we'd reached, not clueless or
unmotivated, but caught in the uncertain process of moving from one phase
Some of our uneasiness stemmed from the knowledge that our culture is
focused on the end product and instant gratification, uncomfortable with
the in-between time we need to get from one place to another, let alone
the idea that we may end up changing paths along the way. And while my
friends and I were intelligent and enlightened enough to know that we
shouldn't care what other people think, we're also honest enough to admit to
ourselves that we do care. Saying that we're "in transition" lets us
sound far more self-confident than saying "I'm in the middle of making a big
leap from where I am to where I think I want to be, and there's no guarantee
that I'll make it, or that I'll even like it when I get there."
One of my friends has a relative everyone calls "crazy Aunt Katie,"
probably because she does things like sending my friend refrigerator
magnets with mottoes like "Don't Congeal!" Goofy, to be sure, but she
has a point. It's when we think we've figured out just which category we fit
into, which box will contain us, that we're most likely to abandon the
uncomfortable process of growth and change. So, despite the fact that
the phrase was born of the insecurity we were feeling about where we've found
ourselves at this point, I'd like to keep on defining myself as "in
transition." The phrase suits me; it doesn't limit my mental picture of
myself to a career or relational status; instead it tells people I'm
still in the process of creating myself on every level. And, as it did the
night of my reunion, it raises questions, starts people talking, and invites
them to share the stories of the journey we're all on together.
Sara Strozk lives and works in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she and
her husband recently settled after years of wandering the planet. She's
looking forward to charting and chronicling future domestic