Sometimes — and I realize I’m using the word “sometimes” here in a way that incorrectly implies I’ve been in Arrowtown longer than four days — sometimes I’ll be standing behind the window of the bakery, looking out at the hills and willing the tour buses passing by not to stop and dump 50 new customers on us all at once, and wonder how I got here. A few months ago, I could see the Chrysler Building from my 29th-floor office window. And now, this is my office:
I used to get direct deposit each month along with a very official-looking summary of my earnings from the French government. Now, let’s just say, it’s somewhat less official.
For the last six years and then some, I lived in a string of tiny shoebox apartments that shouldn’t legally be big enough for their actual number of occupants. And tonight, I moved in here:
So really, I guess that part hasn’t changed much.
The thing is, even though I knew the jig was pretty much up on my whole “sensible life choices” act the second I bought my ticket to New Zealand, settling down somewhere for a bit makes it feel incredibly real. It’s not a bad feeling, really, not the kind of low-down regret that that would drive the plot of a CCR song about mistakes made and fortunes and friends lost. It’s just… odd. Knowing that I’ve got America’s most expensive college education and a carefully cultivated résumé under my belt but am currently slinging custard squares feels a bit illicit, like the real-life police are going to come one day and beat me over the head with all the advantages and knowledge that have been so benevolently bestowed upon me for so many years.
“I just want you to know… and I want you to tell grandma… that this isn’t a life choice,” I told my parents the other day on Skype, sitting in Arrowtown’s town green and using the half-hour of free daily wifi the city provides each day. “It’s more, just, well, you know… something I’m trying out right now. Just to do something different for a little while.” If I was having all of this weird guilt over suddenly working a cash register, I reasoned, surely all of my long-time educational benefactors would be equally apprehensive.
Luckily, mom and dad seemed less shocked than I’d imagined.
“Jess, we think it’s great,” my mom cut me off. “You’re doing what you came there to do.”
“I didn’t exactly come here to work in a bakery…”
“No, you came there to float. And working in a bakery and living in a caravan? Well, I think you’re doing what you set out to do. Hey, you’ve got hippie in your blood.”
I’m not sure if here she was referring to the fact that her descendents once hailed from Bohemia or the fact that my parents were once certifiable hippies whom I suspect only gave up their lifestyle because this little mullet-haired butterball came along
In any case, I’ve known this whole time that I didn’t come here to move my career forward or get a leg up on some imaginary competition. But it’s nice to be reminded that that’s an OK decision. And for now, it’s sort of refreshing to be doing something different, even if it is a bit taxing at times. (Let me tell you: I can curse at lines of jibberish HTML coding, re-conjugate French verbs endlessly while Microsoft Word continues to tell me they’re wrong, or rub my temples over a tricky article lede until the cows come home, but nothing compares to having a job where things – ice cream cones, pastries, pies – literally fall apart in your hands for no apparent reason). Meeting actual kiwis instead of mingling with European backpackers on the Stray bus has been wonderful, and it’s fun to hear the words “sweet as” and “cheers” and “good on ya” unconsciously coming out of my mouth when I talk to customers. It’s gratifying seeing the dessert cases empty and the register fill up and being able to quantify exactly what I’ve done all day. And Lord knows I don’t mind ending each day dusted in powdered sugar and smelling of pastry.
So maybe this is just something I’m trying on for now. Floating on a cloud of butter and half-forced casualness and just trying to see how long I can, or want to, make it last. And then – as I’m getting so good at doing – moving on.