listening

I ran three miles and then attended a Bikram class today in an effort to detox from a recent trip to Louisville where I ate and drank all of the things, including a “Hot Brown Sandwich,” which is better than it sounds and about one million calories. The trip was pretty low key. I’ve always been great at flying, but lately I’ve noticed some anxiety that accompanies my travel. I had a few anxious thoughts before I left. In fact, the night before, my homepage kept featuring a “How Passengers Experience a Plane Crash” article, which I had to hide a few times before closing down my computer entirely.

The trip was nice. There was a good mix of being alone (and even feeling lonely) coupled with unexpected and very intense (but good!) exchanges with near strangers. A couple, together for nearly 30 years, drank wine at the hotel bar and gave me unsolicited romance advice. They were still very much in love, or at least doing that thing of where you mythologize and maintain an over the top story about your relationship. They were giggly as they explained that they enjoyed watching baseball together. They met when she was a bartender  and he had some kind of miserable dead end job. They both still seemed surprised to find themselves working as academics in Ohio. Needless to say, I was smitten with them and their story. Oh, also, their scholarship takes them to places like Jamaica and the Dominican Republic every few years. I could live with that.

Next, there is an academic with whom I am smitten. I feel like we are on the same energetic level, and we often coincidentally bump into each other. During this trip, we ate lunch together. She gave me some ideas and esoteric Native American mythology. At one point during lunch, she unexpected grabbed my arm, looked at me with fiery green eyes, and said, “Have children while you still can.” It might seem strange to some people, but I have actually heard this with some frequency from my female mentors. I think this also happens because women who don’t or can’t have children have the time and energy to pursue more advanced careers, and so childbearing is a part of the conversation. It comes up also, I think, because women with successful careers are still relatively few in numbers and a generation ago women were told to pursue careers first and have children later (much later). Those women then found out that they had missed their window. We know a lot more now than we did 20 years ago. We know that the 30s are a safer window than the 40s, and we know that there is more legal support now than ever before for working women to get maternity leave, etc. I love these candid conversations with amazingly smart and generous women. I love that they’re willing to share. The jury is still out on my own reproduction. While I know I want to experience the process physically, I have some ethical reservations about the rest of it, and so on and so forth and I’ll let you know if, in five years, I am pregnant.

After that, I sat by a man, also from my field, on a short, hour-long flight. After easy chatting about the field and ideas and stuff, we started to talk about more intimate things, and he opened up about his own questions and unhappiness in relationships. As I returned home I realized that, while my presentation was better than my average, what meant most to me was that two scholars whom I admire told me that I was an excellent listener, a kind soul, and someone who would have something important to say in this field in the coming years. What nice things to say.

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