Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The simple life

The pace of work has slowed down precipitously from its end-of-semester peak. Although I've still got deadlines and major projects, I've had time to participate in a speed-knitting competition (I'll beat my personal best, but no one else's), write a couple of book reviews, and go to the gym three or four times a week. On the last score, I matched the number of gym visits I made all semester during finals week -- that's the kind of semester it's been.

There's time to contemplate big doin's, and even to initiate a few of them. I'm mulling over a Pixar primer to coincide with the release of Wall-E. I've read more books in the last month than I had read the entire rest of the year. We got off our duffs and made arrangements to have the floor redone in the guest bathroom, finally ending the era of the ancient linoleum that was uncovered when the carpet got ruined during a plumbing crisis.

The weather is still cool and spring-like -- highs in the seventies most days. Usually in May we're already well into the first days of oppressive heat. Graduation is often a trial in high humidity and heavy robes, but this year I happily wore my gown over normal clothes on my walk to and from the arena, and arrived without breaking a sweat.

My boss is out of town this week, and while that means I've borne the brunt of a few minor crises in the office, it also means that my relaxed, low-key days are rarely interrupted by supervisory attention. Once again I've felt the joy of adulthood, of autonomy; unhurried lunches at restaurants of my choosing, impromptu shopping excursions, sophisticated chatter with friends online, the luxury of self-directed activity.

While running a few errands on the way to work this morning, I waited on a side street to make a left turn across traffic on a busy main road. I was in no hurry, and no one was behind me who might have been more impatient. At a certain point, the steady stream of cars crossing in front of me right to left was joined by a few cars waiting in the center lane to turn left onto my street. A minivan in the lead of the queue hung back, and when there was a break in the traffic, the ponytailed soccer mom at the wheel vivaciously waved me out in front of her.

As I was giving my usual animated acknowledgement of her generosity (a wave and a mouthed "Thanks!"), I suddenly wondered how I looked to her. Was I, in her eyes, the middle-aged mother dressed in professional clothes (there was a student interview today) -- something close to her own status and social position? Or was I the near-child I usually feel like inside, far too irresponsible to be let out on the streets alone? The gulf between how I'm perceived and how I feel -- a gap that sometimes leaves me feeling like an imposter playing dress-up in the adult world -- suddenly felt liberating. I fooled at least one kind-hearted driver into treating me like an equal. I can play this game, I thought, while never giving my my inner pigtails and skinned knees.

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