I realize only now that this is my “last post of the year,” despite the fact that it comes three days into 2018. A mere technicality.
Today is the final day of my winter vacation, my time off from work. It is the last time off from work that I am likely to ever take in my current position, which I’ve held for four years. It marks the end of an era.
When I started this position, it was on a consultancy basis. I was an academic, an advanced-standing Ph.D. candidate actively teaching at three universities and working feverishly to complete my dissertation. That was my “day job” and my identity.
The position grew over time. While in it, I saw my children grow from toddlers and infants into “big kids” who go to school. I left behind first my dissertation research, by way of completion and graduation as a doctor, then my teaching, after which I transitioned to a full-time employee, then ultimately also my conception of myself as an academic at all (with no small amount of pain and regret). I saw my marriage end and my nuclear family riven by conflict and fear. As part and parcel of this catastrophe, my twenty-year career as an independent contractor and brand in my own right also ended.
Winter 1999, San Francisco. Inflection point #1.
© Aron Hsiao / 1999
Through it all, this work relationship remained. But as of late December, the company that initially sought to work with me has been acquired and no longer exists as-itself. Prior to that, in 2017, the persons with whom I had worked most closely for years left the company. Now, in a few short weeks, my position will end and I will have to find something new to do, and someplace new to do it.
The arrival of 2018 marks, for better or for worse, the final break with all that was for so many years:
- Academic life
- Early childhood and early parenthood life
- Consulting/freelance life
- Employed life
- Married life
All of these things touched each other. By the end of this year, nothing in my identity, day-to-day work, familial roles, or practical goals will touch or overlap with anything that was central to my life or identity prior to 2018, apart from my children themselves. But children change too fast to be your anchors in the world, and it’s not fair to treat them as such anyway.
The particular arc of life that began for me in 2005 when I left Santa Barbara with a car packed full of a few meager possessions—with the vague goal of returning to graduate school to do a Ph.D.—is done. I married, became a parent, became a doctor, became a traditional employee, became a divorcee, became a single parent, and became something other than a the far-left liberal I’d been for my entire previous life. I guess those are the bullets.
I have a list somewhere in my archives of “inflection points and thresholds” over the years. Matters and moments of history at which I became someone new, or rather, ceased to be someone old. December 2017 will be added shortly.
Spring 2003, Salt Lake City. Inflection point #2.
© Aron Hsiao / 2003
This eleven-year period of life-transforming events is done.
How many times over the last several years have I bemoaned the bland oppression of ennui, of “stasis” and “lack of progress” and so on? And yet now, here I am, feeling as though I’d give almost anything for another decade of the dispensation that has been.
It’s not to be.
The future is yet to be written, but it is not the “next chapter” in the work. It is a new volume, with a new title. I’ve had this feeling before. There’s no English word for it. I don’t know if there are international words for it. I’ve had it three times before in my life:
- In 1999, in the early morning, in Golden Gate Park
- In 2003, in the early morning, alone on I-15
- In 2005, in the early morning, in Santa Barbara
And how here we are again.
It is only this time that it becomes clear to me what these moments have in common. Each time, the old me had reached the end of his life, and a new me was yet to be born. The ground had all but disappeared beneath my feet, and mine was to leap across the chasm to try to grab solid ground on the other side—no matter what was to meet me there once I pulled myself up to firmament.
Here I am again—about to leap. Nothing is clear. I pray to the fates to carry me as they have before.
— § —
The few days that I took off during the holiday season were meant to be a time of reflection and speculative work toward whatever comes next.
It didn’t happen that way.
Instead, I spent my time collaborating in veterinary care and spending money that I frankly don’t have on ensuring that my eleven-year-old pit bull received it.
We emerged from that crisis, for the moment, only yesterday.
That’s the way it’s always happened before, too. You don’t get time to “deal with it” consciously. You do your best to adapt and deal with it logistically, as things happen more quickly than you’re able to make sense of them.
Fall 2005, Santa Barbara. Inflection point #3.
© Aron Hsiao / 2005
You follow your nose, even when the idea of success or reprieve on the other side seems preposterous.
I am following my nose.
— § —
Every moment not spent thinking about dog health recently has been wrapped up in reflection on what I am good at, what I know how to do, what sorts of value I can bring to the world—what I might do next.
It’s not at all clear to me that my “next opportunity” sensibly fits in the same category as does my most recent several years of work. A small company hired a decades-long academic and put him in a senior marketing and communications role in the software-as-a-service industry. For some unexplainable reason, it worked. Well.
But I see no reason to believe that it should work anywhere else—or that “anywhere else” should be inclined to believe it either.
But what, then?
A return to academics?
Some sort of entrepreneurship?
Find another small company?
Some new kind of education?
Run away to South America and disappear forever?
I don’t know yet.