Saturday, October 27, 2007

On the Margins

I felt the impetus to write this blog several weeks ago, but with busyness etc., I didn't. I'm now glad I waited to let it percolate a bit more. This would have been a very different blog a couple weeks ago. Between then, when I was feeling increasingly and (as is always the case) forcibly marginal-ized and now, when I am feeling very comfortable on the margins, much has changed.

My recognition of marginal living came with a phone call, as I have said, several weeks ago. I was, at the time, at Trinity (College, Deerfield), just finished talking to the bookstore people about course texts for next semester, and was making my way to Chicago (that is, University of Chicago) to work at the coffee shop. With the joys of cell phones, I can be reached, even here in my car--my first intimation of the transitory living that I was only beginning to realize.

I pick up the phone call, from a number I didn't recognize, and hesitantly said "hello." Quickly, the voice on the other end says, "Hi, this is JoAnn, calling from the Dean's office about your application. Are you on campus?" Immediately several questions begin swirling in my head: "what campus? I am on A campus..."; "what dean's office?"; and most importantly, "what application?" The only applications that I was thinking about at the time were those I was planning on writing in a couple months to PhD programs. Did someone in the Dean's office of DePaul have a vision that I was going to apply again and manage to find my new cell phone number just so they can send me the important message to not even bother? You may laugh--but I am telling you, this seriously went through my head in those interminably long seconds of utter confusion and panic. I stammered an apologetic, "I'm sorry, what campus are you talking about?"

It turns out that it was Chicago--where I was heading. Ok, but what application? And what was the problem? I had been working at the Coffee shop for some weeks already, and things were going fine. I thought the application was a mere formality.

It wasn't.

I soon found out that because I wasn't a student at Chicago, it wasn't so easy for me to work at the coffee shop. Turns out I wasn't supposed to be there at all. Thankfully, there seems to be some loophole where if I apply for a temporary position, I may work for a time--no more than 6 months. Whether or not I will be able to fill out another temporary application, I don't know. Actually, 3 weeks later, I still don't know. And incidentally have still not been paid. 8 weeks after my first shift.

Needless to say, I suppose, this entire incident got me thinking about what I was doing. I am
a student (but only non-degree, and for only one class) at Loyola. I am a faculty member (but only adjunct and part time) at Trinity College. I am a barista (but only on a temporary worker permit) at University of Chicago's coffee shop. Making this scatteredness even more, well, scattered, is the reality that all of these places are very far away from each other and 2/3rds are very far from home (hour commutes, at least). No wonder I was feeling a bit threatened on the margins. I am going out of my way to be in all of these VERY good places, but exactly because of my outsider status I was called out and my continued employment was in jeopardy.

Thankfully, the seeming marginalization of earlier this fall has given way to my current contentedness with this marginal existence. I can imagine no better places than Trinity, Loyola and Chicago to meet the best collections of students, professors and staff to meet me exactly where I currently have need. My engagement is, necessarily, limited in all of these places, but it is enough, for now, as I am figuring out my place in several conversations, and preparing to succinctly state what that is, exactly, on PhD applications.

Margin living is good. It gives me an interesting perspective on myself, with various hats (or aprons, as the case may be), and institutions.

Borrowing privileges at three great Chicago-area libraries is pretty good too...