My Life Thus Far by the Decade: A Memoir

Warning: If you are part of the SFWH, this post has nothing to do with that. Click away and go back The Happening. Nothing you will read here is half as interesting as what’s going there.

Before I get to the brainy work I can’t wait to do, I have to write about something I started to think about last night when I woke up to the sound of the train. Sometimes when the wind is just right, the whistle of the train seems very close. There’s something Pavlovian about that sound; I always think of the past. Then I got to thinking about how lately I’ve been told by several people that I’m too honest and it’s not a skill that is going to get me very far as an administrator.

When I listen to such advice, all I can think about is the recurring motif of “the game” used throughout The Wire. This time last year, we were binge watching The Wire (2nd place to Twin Peaks for favorite series), and I fell in love with the character of Omar. Michael K. Williams and Wendell Pierce are amazing actors to watch. If you are unfamiliar with this show, get off the internets and watch it. Here’s clip of Omar mentioning “The Game, yo.”

Write The BS & Get On With It: A Memoir

1984: Thirty years ago this month, my 33 yr. old father drove away from my 31 yr, old mother and the 10 yr. old me to move to Atlanta, Georgia. Having been unemployed for over two years from Westinghouse Steel in east Pittsburgh, he accepted the invitation from some friends to stay with them so he could find a job. They showed him the Sunday edition of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, which was four inches thick, bulging mostly with the classifieds. The non-union-friendly South was booming. By comparison, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette was barely an inch wide.

Had newspapers not been in print like they are today–if there were online job boards instead–I’m not sure my dad would have taken the chance.

Later when I was in an American history course at the Santa Rosa Junior College, I listened to my teacher lecture about The Rust Belt to Sun Belt Migration. It was an abstract history lesson, but that moment was the beginning of the impostor syndrome for me. This history was not an abstraction of facts to memorize, this was my life. Tears ran down my face as I took notes; my father’s bravery and desperation combined with the dedication to improve his family’s chances is a debt I’ll never be able to repay.

1994: Twenty years ago, I learned what a real community is for the first time in my life. Having worked for the national park system for two summers, I landed a job at The Big Mountain Ski Resort now called Whitefish Mountain. Back then, they had a tradition that once the snow was deep enough, they’d open one chairlift–free for all locals. If you were an employee, they closed the facilities (except for the Hellroaring Saloon, how rad). Everyone in town, and I mean everyone, came up to the mountain. Elderly people who didn’t ski tailgated and made food. Retired railroad workers and loggers would done their aged ski gear and got after it. Women and men with newborns took turns babysitting so that all of the parents could ski. The punky snowboarder kids tolerated their proud parents taking photos.

Hearing people “yooooooowwwllll” down a blue run on the first descent of the season was, to this day, one of the best experiences of my life. In that moment, the city-suburb college dropout girl found an inner mountain woman determined keep this spirit for the rest of her days. Only she lost her way for a bit.

2004: Ten years ago, I was having some success piecing together a living in Seattle working the I-5 circuit teaching composition courses. My credit was a mess, I was deeply in debt from earning my BA and MA, and my beloved VW GTI was breaking down constantly. My then boyfriend/future husband had been accepted to UW—without funding—and he was up to ears in work trying to impress all the right people (all the game, yo). Working as bike mechanic while being in graduate school was so hard; I’m endlessly impressed that he was able to do it as well as he did.

Living in Seattle was our great experiment. As West Coast cities go, Seattle felt livable then. It was close to the ocean, the mountains weren’t that far away. I threw myself into taking full advantage of the city offerings such as cool theatres, cheap restaurants, public libraries, art galleries, coffee shops, and university culture. Looking back, I was so optimistic. As we walked the streets in our Ballard neighborhood, a hip part of Seattle, we were astonished by the pace of real estate growth. If we were ever to be home-owners, we accepted that we’d have to leave Seattle. Watching faux-Bauhaus-cookie-cutter-condos replacing the turn of the century craftsman homes slowly demolished my optimism about Seattle.

When Ballard failed to protect the Denny’s on 15th and 45th, a lovely example of Googie style architecture, it signified the start of people using words like “foodie,” “gentrification,” “bubble,” and “recession.” I began to fret about the future.

 2014: I have made it through the (ongoing) recession because quite frankly, I didn’t own anything to lose. In two months, I will have lived in Bellingham for six years. When I went back to graduate school in 2009, the plan was to be here for a year or two; and as we’ve told many friends, Bellingham is a beautiful place to be trapped. Scott has now been semi-employed for four years, and I took a chance on a new position not because I dreamed of being an administrator but because we really need the money (oh, there’s that honesty thing again).

Now that I’ve graduated The Man is coming for his pound of flesh and it leaves us with just enough to get by. People think we are kidding when we joke about selling a kidney on eBay or that the only way we’ll see our way out student loan debt is by going on Jeopardy.

Jeopardy Clue: A movement that could help students avoid soul-crushing debt that suddenly gives somebody hope for the future.

Trebec: Yes, Alyson!

Alyson: “What is open education, Alex?”

Trebec: “Well done. How right you are!”

Alyson: “I’ll take Women In Cycling for $2000.”

As I listened to the train roll its way towards Canada, I reflected on my new recurring motif: “It could be worse.” I say it all the time, and I really mean it. There are people living through horrors way worse than mine. I’ve been lucky. I’m in debt with the feds not with the private loan sharks who feed on the life blood of The People. And I’m a happy person.

My 20 year old self would want to be friends with me; dare I say, she’d see me as a mentor. I’d buy her a beer and tell her that she should buy a snowboard instead of skis in 1995. I’d tell her to quit feeling bad about being still being a waitress when it’s 1999. I’d tell her that she will be become a teacher someday, and that she should be a bit more patient. I’d tell her to work harder to keep some of the friends she won’t want to lose. I’d tell her that her body is much better than what she thinks she sees in the mirror, and that she should get a haircut.

I’d advise her to avoid the dazzlingly beautiful men and pay more attention to the charming sweet dorks. And then I’d ask her to remind me what she likes to read and we’d get on with it.

About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, professional development, adult education, and writing.
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