I had moved to Chicago on a whim, and then seven years later fled the city in what I now know was a way-too-early mid-life crisis. I left a pre-bust 1990s tech job and went to the desert to run a hotel, and write, and figure out what to do with my life. But, I had barely arrived in the middle of nowhere when I was called back to Chicago to interview for what I was sure was my dream job, becoming the editor of a magazine for which I freelanced.
On the way to my interview the strap on my black high-heeled Mary Janes broke. The closest and quickest place to go was Nordstroms. The boots were ridiculously expensive. Although my Chicago salary had been impressive, I was currently living off $1,000 and two free massages a month. I knew my shoe could be fixed so I could not stomach buying another pair of black heels, especially since I was living in a place where no shoes were allowed. I justified buying the black boots because I needed something on my feet and, I figured, black boots are always useful and in style.
I did not get the job and I returned to the desert and in due time to Chicago. I did not plan to stay in Chicago. I knew I could get a job easily in Chicago, and I had one within a month of returning. I thought I would figure out my next step from there, it would involve moving again, possibly to Arizona. Then, I met my husband. So I continued in Chicago, without a plan.
I wore my boots often over the years, but had pretty much retired them until yesterday. I am attending the MLA conference this week. For me, attending MLA is a throwback to a previous semi-plan, a glimpse at a life I might have had. The first career I seriously considered was English Professor. Earning my Master’s Degree was enough to show me that, despite it being the family business, academia was not for me. But, one of my clients is part of academia, and the conference is in Chicago, and so I’m attending for my client.
Of course, the Polar Vortex hit Chicago this week and it is cold and slushy and disgusting. I could not walk around the conference in my snow boots, but I also did not want to ruin my good black boots. So I broke out the old standbys. The last professional conference I went to was in the wedding industry and I could not have worn old, beat up boots there, but I was pretty sure no one at MLA would notice, or care.
In the first panel I attended I met a woman from California. She was, at most, ten years older than me, a newly-minted dean. Pretty and confident with no make-up. When she spoke about her job I could imagine her twenty or thirty years earlier, purposefully moving to California to become a professor. I envied her purpose, her surety, her dedication. I envied her having a plan and living her plan.
I wanted to jump out of my seat and run home and make a plan. I wanted to go back and start over. I wanted to get a doctorate, or maybe just move some place warm, the kind of place you could wear a Bohemian skirt and ugly black boots without irony or shame.
Today, I again brought out the old boots. But as I was walking the conference floor I felt something weird. I looked down and saw that black thing coming off the tip of the boot. When I walked outside for lunch, I could feel a small hole in the bottom of the boots. After fourteen years (or maybe 100) the salt and snow and city sidewalks have finally destroyed the boots.
After fourteen years, or maybe 100, I have many more pairs of new heels and a nicer pair of black boots. After fourteen years, or maybe 100, I still do not have a plan.