When I last left you, Dear Readers, I was living in a studio apartment that barely had room for an 18-inch tinsel tree. Despite the cramped spaces, I insisted on finding room for that tinsel tree every year. I would set it up on top of my stereo with the 3-CD changer (ah, the good old days of musical appliances!) and decorate it with shiny, tiny plastic ornaments. The tree itself was lime green, and the decorations were shades of pink, purple, white, and black. I never used the black ones, because they made the fluourescent, Target-bought tinsel tree look truly Grinch-y. But pink, purple, and white… those were some cheery colors, and it floated me through many a dark and rainy Berkeley winter.
The apartment was drafty and cold, mostly because half of its walls were windows with no insulation, some of which didn’t even close completely. I had heat, but I had to light a microscopic pilot light at the base of the vertical furnace every time I wanted to be warm, which, after November 1st, was pretty much all the time. I would shove the piles of books out of my way on the cluttered floor of that studio apartment and get down on my belly. With one of those long, tapered candle-lighting instruments that they sell during the holidays, I would push in the knob on the furnace, turning it ever so slightly to the right. There would be a little tick and then, blammo!, I’d pull the trigger on the lighter. It usually only took about four tries to get the timing right. And then I’d lumber up off the floor and flop in my bed, tucked into the nook that was left from where the Murphy bed used to be, and continue avoiding my dissertation.
The warmth of the furnace worked magic on the apartment. It transformed into an infinitely cozy space, with the tiny pilot light and the tinsel tree glowing bright through the dark, damp, winter nights of Northern California. I had about five years of tinsel trees and hanging lights around the corners of the drafty windows as I completed the requirements for my PhD. It was an intense time of impostor syndrome and objective failure: I could not land a job to save my life. Of course, as you all know, I eventually did and that’s part of what killed the original OTvC. Academia killed a lot of things.
So I got out of it. And that is a long story, not a Christmas story, which is what I want this to be.
There is a happy ending to this tale.
I write to you, my beloveds, from a lovely house in San Francisco. I have returned to the Bay after four and a half years of exile in the Mid- and Intermountain West. I am sitting here with my wonderful partner in life, and my sweet six-year-old boy-cat, Mr H, who some of you already know. The mechanics of how I got here can wait for another day.
We—husband, cat, and I—are sitting together in front of a full-sized (albeit artificial) tree, listening to the soundtrack from A Charlie Brown Christmas, and mentally preparing to go back to work in January, when we will both return to our jobs as technical writers. We’ll come home tomorrow night and eat dinner together and sleep in our home that has central heat and a thermostat.
In other words, no more of that grad-school bullshit. Just pure, bourgeois, middle age. I’ve traded syllabi and Moodle courses for the vocabulary of business: “deliverables,” “doc plans,” and “product lifecycles.”
You may be wondering if I’m happy.
Does it show?
Happy Holidays, everyone! And to all a good night!