Saturday, July 01, 2006

Identity Crisis

Am I an Airman? a photographer? a teacher? a student? a housewife? I don't know. When someone asks me, "What do you do for a living?" Inevitably, I always stutter as I search for a response. I've become a big kid who doesn't know what she wants to be, and suddenly adulthood has crept up on me. I enjoy so many things, but a typical 9-to-5 isn't one of them.
I left active duty two and a half years ago after a fun but stressful stint at Dover Air Force Base. The grand plan SuperHusband and I hatched, (actually, I'm usually guilty of the "hatching" -- especially when the ideas that go awry), involved a move to Florida where he would take the next step in his active duty career while I went back to school. I intended to go back and get a masters in vocal performance or musical theater -- to finally pursue something I'd always been passionate about, but never actually got "educated" in. Turns out, I couldn't get a masters in either, because a) most masters programs require a bachelors in a music or theater field and b) University of West Florida, the closest full-blown college in the area, only offered a bachelors -- no masters -- in musical theater. My options? Go back to school for a second BA to the tune of about $30,000 or pursue a masters (using the GI Bill) in some other field.
So I started working more as a reservist and put off making a decision about school. Before I knew it, two and a half years slipped by and here I sit, still without a masters. Don't get me wrong, it's been a great couple of years -- being a reservist is a hell of a lot more fun than active duty, at least, for me. I've worked in so many places, learned so many new missions, and all with none of the long-term pressure of a permanent position. And I'm still working my tail off. I recently added up the days, and I spent around 260 days in uniform out of the last 365. It's kind of like being on active duty with the cumulative time off of a school teacher.
The only drag about the constant reserve gig is simultaneously its biggest plus: I almost always work out of town. Pros: lots of travel, lots of new experiences. I absolutely thrive in that environment. I feed off the challenges and being part of a new team. Cons: I miss SuperHusband. Notice I didn't say I miss being home. It's not because I don't like Florida. Actually, I love living here. But he's the reason I come home -- not the sun, or the beach, or our beautiful house. Him.
See, the disadvantage to working out of town as much as I do, is that I can't maintain any semblance of a normal life in Florida. I'm forever going from this 90-mph Air Force existence back to Days of Our Lives, Discovery Times and Dr. Phil. For someone who has been neurotically "type-A," the life of a housewife isn't all that sexy. My mom says it's unhealthy for me to travel and work so much. "The more you go, the more you want to," she always says. There's some truth to her assessment.
Here's the other problem. When you work out of town, that's where your friends are. When you don't work in town, it's a lot harder to make friends. For SuperHusband and I, just leading somewhat separate lives has proven challenging. At Dover, we knew each other's coworkers really well. When one of us told a story about work, the other was intimately familiar with the office politics and personalities at play. Now, we don't know each others professional contemporaries and friends at all. We have to work harder to find things to share between us. On the upside, it makes the reunions wonderful. It can be very romantic in a way, because he's my complete focus when I'm here. We don't ever get tired of one another. How could we?
But I digress.
So, when I come home, I sink into a vegetative state. Not depression really, but definitely a decompression period (anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks) in which I accomplish almost nothing. At least when he's in town and working, there's an evening deadline when he'll get home and I, the dutiful wife, want to have something to show for my day of leisure. That helps motivate me to something, but when he's deployed, it's even worse.
When I come home from a trip to a lifeless house, devoid of his fantastic sense of humor and our quirky chemistry, the feeling of loneliness engulfs me. I find only one way to get around this overwhelming desire to languish away on the couch when I'm home alone: I completely overschedule myself.
First off, if SuperHusband deploys for several weeks or months, I make it my business to either be a) deployed myself or b) work out of town as much as humanly possible. Anywhere will do. I spent more than a month straight in Wash, D.C. working at the Pentagon recently. And the work didn't stop there. During the weeks in-between duty when I'm in town, I find other ways to occupy my mind in an effort not to go crazy. This past week and earlier in June, I taught "kids camp" sewing classes at the Pensacola Joann's. One more of those to go this summer.
The big passion lately is entrepreneurship. I'm going to be a portrait photographer. Another hefty list of things to do and piles of paperwork come along with starting a small business, but I'm already becoming addicted to the feeling that I can have an identity associated with something other than the Air Force, and something that defines this place as one where I can thrive.
Then there's school. Why do three things when you could do four? I just enrolled in a masters program for International Affairs -- you military readers will recognize that as a degree tailor-made for aspiring officers desiring promotion past the rank of major, and yes, it's being taught on-base -- and as always, I'm taking the most ambitious route possible. Barring any major stumbling blocks, I'll have my degree finished in little more than a year. It's not the degree program I wanted, but there comes a time when you finally just have to knock it out.
So, when people ask what I do, I sometimes say "I'm a Jill of all trades, and a mistress of none," but mostly, I just go back to that catch-all, "I'm in the Air Force." No funny looks, no long explanations, and occasionally a pat on the arm and a "Thank you for your service." I suppose it will always be hard for any other role to compete...