A friend of mine, who is more like a little sister, found herself pregnant with someone who she probably wouldn’t have consciously chosen to father her child. Her mom didn’t understand how it happened. She questioned how her daughter could have gotten pregnant, especially considering all of the twenty-something years of sage advice she’d provided. Her friends were disappointed; many of them had planned out their lives, as some of us do when we’re younger. They’d determined this wasn’t the path hers should take. I listened to each judgment and tried my best not to add my own. While everyone attempted to figure out how this happened, the answer seemed so simple to me: today’s choices determine tomorrow’s experiences.
It wasn’t just true for my friend’s unplanned pregnancy; it was part of my story as well. I was trying to figure out how I ended up with a road trip sized commute to work. The answer was the same. Reaping what you sow isn’t a new concept. But it seems every now and then we wake up wondering how did I get here, in this space, with this experience? The reality is whatever you’re focused on today will build future benefits or future challenges. So, it’s best to get in tune with who you are and what you really want so that you’ll be able to make conscious decisions with which you can live.
46,080. That’s how many miles I commuted from Orange Park to Gainesville, where I completed graduate studies at the University of Florida. These miles accumulated over a six-year period.
The drive was do-able back then because it was a little under three hours round trip; I was 31; and I knew it would end. You see, I’ve always believed that you can do anything…temporarily. So, in my mind driving back and forth to complete a degree was definitely a short-term situation. Eventually, I’d graduate.
August 7, 2010, I walked across the stage, and the very next day the girls and I moved to middle-Georgia. I’d obtained a job at a liberal arts college, which was located in Milledgeville. My classes were at a regional center in Macon. However, we lived in Houston County. This county was the best of the surrounding areas. The others were full of failing schools and lacked diversity. My children already had to adjust to a new type of southern culture. I wasn’t about to sacrifice their education as well. But, this meant another two years’ commute.
6,720. That’s how many miles I drove to and from Houston County to the Macon Center and occasionally round trip to Milledgeville for department and program meetings. Because Dwight lived in Jacksonville, there was the bi-weekly commute back there to visit. For my part, that added an extra 9,800 miles.
As ridiculous as this sounds, commuting in this way continued to be manageable because it was my first full-time academic job, so excitement floated me up and down I-75. I was just happy to be making money doing something I’d trained for and loved.
But living away from my husband wasn’t sustainable. So, I attained a job in Florida. Only this time, the commute was 360 miles round trip, door-to-door. I figured my family could stay put, while I drove up and down I-10.
57,600. That’s how many miles I commuted to and from Jacksonville to Tallahassee for three years. This time it was do-able because I was working in my niche with likeminded colleagues. But the physical and mental stress of getting there wasn’t worth it. When the Spring 2015 semester ended, I knew I was done. My soul spoke to me and made it quite clear that day in May was the last drive I’d make to campus.
A June offer at another institution in Gainesville confirmed my intuition. I figured I could do it because the commute was familiar and included fewer miles, 180 compared to 360. Plus, for the first two years, I taught at regional centers, which weren’t very far, and on top of that, the majority of my course load was online. But course loads are unpredictable, and if necessary, I have to be prepared to commute to main campus in Gainesville. That’s what happened this academic year, thus prompting my motivation to finally reflect.
12,160. That’s how many miles I’ve commuted in two and a half years to teach classes. I haven’t added additional miles required for attending bi-weekly and monthly meetings held on three separate days.
My thirteenth year as a commuter feels less enjoyable and more like a hamster wheel. I’m tired y’all. I’m tired of leaving two hours early just so I can arrive on time. I’m tired of buying new tires every 6-8 months because of wear and tear. I’m tired of the additional gas money. Plus, the older I get, the more driving up and down the highway for hours to work seems like a colossal waste of time.
Sometimes change begins with reflection. That’s what this is. I don’t have an answer right now, but I do know that I won’t be spending my remaining career on the road. Life’s too short and time is fleeting*.
Do you or have you had to commute? What was it like?
*Had to borrow from Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life.”
Part I and Part III
It was 2009. I was conducting a study, analyzing data and giving job talks in a few states. The interview process itself was an unexpected stress. One interview lasted three full days. After talking with search committees in five states, I secured a position at a liberal arts college in Georgia. It seemed perfectly aligned with my vow to avoid stress.
There were a few challenges, though.
The institution promised to support my husband in finding a job. They never did. We still had our Florida house to sell. The girls lived with me; Dwight stayed in Florida. It was a three and a half hour drive. So while my job wasn’t stressful, the weekend commutes to have some semblance of normalcy was. For me, this meant packing up the kids and dog, and then trekking up and down I-75 every other weekend. We did this for two years. The cycle was relentless and taxing. I went back on the professor market.
To say I was desperate to move back to Florida is an understatement. My pre-teen daughters were well-behaved, but with the absence of a father, they had gotten a little lippy. We were also sustaining two households. But I didn’t feel as stressed as I had before. I mean there was no chair of a doctoral committee determining the balance of my life. As a matter of fact, I had lost weight and felt more energetic. Still, the situation wasn’t ideal and we needed to move back together, under one roof.
When the next prestigious university called me in 2012 and offered me a visiting professor line, I was overjoyed. However, I had no intentions of moving to Tallahassee. The point was for our family to reunite. I chose to commute.
“Tallahassee is a long way,” Dwight warned.
“I know. I can do it,” I said.
As I type these words, it feels arrogant. I know. I can do it. I can drive 320 miles twice a week. To be fair, droves of people I knew and didn’t know called me crazy. The truth is I really did think I could do it. It’s an innate part of my personality. I truly believe I can do anything I set my mind to. Or am I just an overachiever? The line is fine and sometimes the two collide to blur my judgment. Either way, I did it.
The job was supposed to last only one year. It was visiting. Instead, they were soooooo impressed with me that they found a way to offer a tenure-track line. One year turned into three. Teaching classes, mentoring graduate students, advising a couple of doc students, serving on two committees, running into unexpected microagressions, conducting research, presenting at national conferences, writing, getting published in the “wrong” place, seeking grant funding, and getting rejected publications from the “right” place made for a stressful job. The out of town commute twice a week was just bonus stress. Some days I would cry all the way to the university’s parking lot. Other days I would pray all the way home for answers. In between, I looked for jobs. Nothing surfaced.
It was six years of doctoral work all over again. There was no chalazion or sleep paralysis. But I was ignoring other signs. Although I worked out whenever I wasn’t on the road, it didn’t matter.
“You run with your fists clenched,” a trainer observed. “Are you angry about something? You have to calm down and then work out. Open your fists.”
I hadn’t noticed it before. But now things made more sense. I had run a 5k, consistently practiced yoga and maintained a restricted diet, but gained 20 pounds in three years.
I made time for my family and me: movies, vacations, cookie baking, you name it. Life looked balanced, but it wasn’t. Not really. This was the most imbalanced life I’d ever lived.
But I ignored it.
Only thing about disregarding things is that they don’t really go away. My body had had enough. It was overstressed.
I could tell she was new as soon as she arrived. Late. It’s not that you can’t come to yoga late but we were fifteen minutes in. She had missed all the focus-your-mind, set-an-intention stuff.
Second tip was that she came fully dressed. I watched her through my downward facing dog. She unbuttoned her trench coat. She slipped her salmon colored infinity scarf carefully over her newly relaxed hair. Are those riding boots new girl? Sheesh. It’s 50 degrees today. Now those had to be removed, along with her socks. Finally, she could roll out her mat, which perfectly matched the scarf. She must’ve gotten it from Target cause it had the same lotus flower as mine.
Bend your knees. Jump or move to the front of your mat. Halfway lift. Forward fold.
New girl wasn’t done. She had to lotion her hands and feet. She’s gonna regret that. I thought. I learned the hard way one time how slippery that makes your practice. The lotion was a small brown bottle with ENERGY across the front. Bath and Body Works.
I wonder how that guy keeps his glasses on? He was about 6’2”. Dreadlocks graced his back. Think he comes to the Tuesday morning class too. I sweat so much I’m pretty sure my glasses would fall right on the ground. And then I wouldn’t be able to see a thing. What do I need to see anyway, though?
All the way up. Little back bend. Chair pose. A little lower. Palms together. Now turn to the right.
Noooo dreadlock guy! Your other right. This is awkward. We’re facing each other. Yeah, he does come on Tuesdays, too. Guess I’ll look up at the ceiling until this part is over.
Focus. Focus. Focus.
Back to center. Now turn left. You can open your arms or leave them where they are. Remember, it’s your practice.
Least new girl is facing the right way. That guy next to her looks familiar. Think I recognize that brown spot on his toe. Sean? Stan? Sam? What is his name? He plays tennis and needs to stretch his back. Oh maybe that’s not him. S-name guy is a little older than he is.
Hands plant. Jump or step back. Lower chaturanga. Breathe in. Upward. Breathe out. Downward facing dog. Lift your right leg up. Bring your knee to your chest. Right knee in front of your right hand. Right foot in front of your left thigh. Lower if it’s comfortable.
Finally. A pose that will allow me to focus, free from all these people distracting me.
The other day I saw a woman struggling in the parking lot. I felt bad for her. How was she was going to make it to the Publix door? I thought about offering her some help. But she wasn’t elderly or disabled. She was wearing, what looked to be like some very uncomfortable, four-inch, purple heels.
“What’s wrong with her?” My husband asked.
“She’s having a hard time, huh?” I replied.
But the more I thought about it, it wasn’t that funny. Why was she wearing those heels? Don’t get me wrong. I’m the last person to criticize heel wearers. I used to teach high school in 2-3 inch wedges most days for ten years. As an elementary school instructional coach, the front office staff would often ask, “Where are you going?” because my shoes didn’t match my environment. My closet is now a mausoleum for years of heel choices. However, if I ever thought I was going to be uncomfortable, then either I didn’t buy them, or I packed a pair of flip-flops or flats.
But I guess the culture has changed a bit.
“You know when women are always looking for a man, it causes them to make some uncomfortable choices,” I thought out loud.
“Nope,” my husband answered, “that’s how they dress at work, married women too, sitting at a desk.”
Seems a bit illogical, I thought. Sitting at a desk, wearing four-inch heels that no one will really see. Even Wendy Williams wears flats and then changes before she goes out for a show.
It’s not just shoes though. It’s liquid leggings. It’s skinny jeans, specifically made for certain body types. I mean, it’s in the description, skinny. It’s exposed muffin tops peeking over the tops of shorts. It’s button up shirts with the second button hanging on for dear life. It’s “wait a minute let me suck in before you take that picture,” so I don’t have physical proof of my discomfort.
Some women look uncomfortable.
There’s a lot of contemporary conversation about being yourself and being comfortable with who you are. But I beg to understand: How can women be comfortable in their own skin when they’re not even comfortable in their own clothes?
Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t shoe shaming This is not a sermon about covering up your body. This is just a suggestion. If your jeans feel better off than on, then maybe you should consider a style that fits your body type.
And by all means, if you can’t make it from the grocery store parking lot to the front door, then maybe you should choose a lower heel. Or at least carry some flats.