Blogger’s Note: The is the story of how I became a librarian. You can read Part One here.
Neither President Reagan nor any political figure in the state of Michigan were beating a path to my door as I graduated from college. In spite of my degree in political science, it didn’t seem apparent that a career in politics was in the offing. Just as I had been warned when I switched my major from broadcasting, my degree would mean nothing unless I pursued something in a post-graduate academic program.
I took the LSAT just prior to graduation because of peer and family pressure. Everyone was telling me that I had to go to law school. I purposely sabotaged my chances the night before the exam by going to a bar with friends for “study preparation.” My scores predictably ended up being so low that even third and fourth-tier law schools weren’t interested in me. I had achieved my own version of success: I prevented myself from becoming something I knew I did not wish to be. I would not become a lawyer.
It was then with a dash of both irony and charade that the first concrete plan I made after graduation was to enlist in a four-month paralegal program in Philadelphia. I had always dreamed of going east, and this finally gave me the opportunity to do so. However, at that point in my life, I still needed a legitimate front to offer my parents. They were after all my only source of funding. That I was also undertaking this venture along with my college girlfriend, was irrespective of what my true intentions actually were about working in the legal profession (Hi, T). In truth, it was really just all about getting away for a little while and having some fun. I went to Philadelphia, fell in love with the east coast, and finished the paralegal program still determined never to set foot in any law office. The only person I was ultimately fooling was myself, but I was having a damn good time all the same.
Still, I was floundering. And in time, pretty much everyone in my life knew it. Most of my friends were now graduated from college and going into their chosen careers or were enrolled in post-graduate studies. The college girlfriend and I broke up, and I was back in my parents’ home sitting in my old room typing letters of application for wholly inappropriate job announcements I discovered while perusing academic journals. For example, an Assistant Dean of Admissions position for which I had submitted an application I thought was well within my set of qualifications. I had already been accepted to and graduated from a college, for God sakes. How complicated could a job like that be? In those innocent, pre-computer days, one generally still received a typed or hand-written response to a job application. Some of the rejection letters I received were priceless. They mocked my boundless audacity in a not-so veiled tone. I wish I had kept a few of them.
The paralegal school set up interviews for me at local law firms, but I was finding every reason to either find fault with the opportunities (too far, too big, too small, too salty, too sweet) or I would make sure to somehow derail an interview. I was establishing amazing interviewing skills, only in the wrong direction.
At some point, either because I got tired of my mother’s overeager queries about my daily activities (“Anything today, dear?”), or maybe it was the look on my dad’s face after my third helping at dinner, I realized that I needed to get out of Dodge. And quick.
With a tiny bit of savings I had managed to squirrel away, plus an ample infusion from my parents, I decided to go where I had always dreamed of living and working: Washington, DC. My love of government and politics had never dissipated. Even if I wasn’t going to be Michigan’s next senator, it might be fun to at least live and work in that environment. Along with my oldest friend Doug, who offered to help, we drove to DC on a quick scouting visit to secure housing and find a job for me. I managed to do both quickly.
I saw on a bulletin board a listing for a very low-level clerical position at a federal agency law library. With my degree in political science and a paralegal certificate to boot, I was apparently a shoo-in. I was finally applying for something for which I had most impeccable qualifications: menial grunt work devoid of any glamour or prestige. After one brief interview I was offered the job, and I made arrangements to return within a month. I went back home to pack up my few belongings and left town with a U-Haul trailer attached to my tiny Plymouth Arrow. To mark the moment, my parents hired a painter and wallpaper specialist to help transform my old bedroom into a den within a week of my leaving. Although my literary awareness was still somewhat anemic, I swiftly became metaphorically intimate with Thomas Wolf.
I was out on my own. Living in DC and actually earning a living — albeit a small one — agreed with me immediately. With no one around to make judgments, I didn’t have to worry about feeling insecure regarding my lack of a career standing anymore. I felt as free as a bird. During my first few months there, I explored all of the history, sights, and sounds of the nation’s capitol. There was, of course, the small matter of mastering my job and learning how libraries actually worked. I knew very little about call numbers, and then there were all these strange-looking lawbooks that were in loose-leaf form. In time, though, I did grasp the essentials of my entry-level position.
But the light bulb still hadn’t yet switched on that I had entered what would eventually be my chosen field. My days were all about meeting new friends, discovering new places, and enjoying being a young adult in a world-class city. No gene or chromosome that resembled ambition had yet to come alive in my nervous system. I was perfectly content being a temporary government employee and making a salary that still forced me to live like a student.
At the one-year mark nearly to the actual date of my arrival, just as my tenure was about to lapse, management called me into a meeting to discuss the terms of my employment. I was told that they were happy with my performance, and that they were going to seek authority from HR to transfer me into a permanent position. They also asked if I might be interested in pursuing a career in librarianship. If so, they would look for funding to help pay for a few classes in a graduate program for it. Very much like the Harry Pulham character in John P. Marquand’s H.M. Pulham, Esq, I went along with the idea in the most obsequious of manners. To me, I wasn’t starting a career yet; I was just doing that which was required to keep my job. Others were still determining my ambition.
In spite of myself, though, I was inching towards a real occupation.
To be continued in a future post…