Apologies in advance. I’m going to be serious. I promise to be especially funny next month to make up for it.
I returned home yesterday after spending the past five days in New Orleans (my “real” hometown) and coming to a jarring revelation about myself and my life.
See, the thing that took me back to NOLA was a conference related to my day job. I make a lot of jokes about my day job, but in reality, it has never been a “job,” per se. It has been my career for the past 35 years. (Yeah, here’s where you make jokes about how I must have begun this career when I was an infant, right? Because I’m not really older than dirt, right? Right?)
I mean, you don’t spend 35 years doing something unless you love it. I guess there’s also the argument that you could stay because you aren’t fit to do anything else, but for argument’s sake, let’s say I’ve been a magazine editor in higher ed for that long because I love it.
It has, on the whole, treated me well. It’s taken me around the country to live in Illinois, Texas, California and Louisiana, as well as Alabama. It has afforded me the chance to travel to Europe, Mexico, Central America, Canada, the Caribbean, and quite a few of the U.S. states. (You haven’t lived until you’ve accompanied a bunch of elderly university alumni to Austria in the dead of winter.) I’ve gotten to meet two presidents and broadcaster Brian Williams, with whose producer I shared a picnic lunch, as well as assorted minor celebrities. I’ve covered a G8 summit, been privileged to be on the front lines in helping a fine university and a city I love rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, and spent several glorious summer days in Americus, Georgia, with the big-hearted, inspirational founder of Habitat for Humanity, the late Millard Fuller.
So here I am this past week, sitting among more than 300 university editors, listening to great speakers like the president/CEO of the Atlantic Monthly talk about the value of what we do. Talking shop with folks from other parts of the country I’ve known as colleagues for, in some cases, decades. Trading war stories about crazy administrators past and present.
Sometime during the third day of the conference, I realized something that almost knocked me off my feet: the reason why I’d been restless and dissatisfied all week.
This isn’t my world anymore. Unlike years past when I’d attend these annual conferences, I didn’t feel as if I were coming home or attending a family reunion. These are no longer the people who are my peers, except in a superficial sense, because we no longer share a passion. They haven’t changed; I have. My day job has become just that—a day job. Do I still care about it? Sure. You don’t do something for 35 years and suddenly stop caring altogether. But my passion has shifted in a way, and to a degree, I hadn’t realized.
When I head back to NOLA in three or four weeks for the RT Booklovers Convention, there I will see my new peers. I will share five amazing days in my favorite city in the world, talking about my passion: books, and writing, and publishing, and meeting readers.
It’s still a new and exciting world for me, this writing and publishing life. I didn’t realize until I spent a week immersed in the best of my old life that I had embraced this new one so thoroughly.
In his Dark Tower series, Stephen King talks about the passage of time in a way I couldn’t help but think about this week, not just the line I used in the title of this blog post, but this one: “The world has moved on.”
Or, in this case, maybe, it’s not the world that moved on, but me.