Then came 9/11. I was at home when the attacks occurred but went back into an evacuated building to keep vital systems running so the government could continue to operate. I wasn’t in any danger, but I didn’t know that at the time. The guards took my name as I went into work and told me that if there was another attack my office was “a tomb.” For the next 16 hours I sat with a handful of coworkers keeping essential systems running and watching the towers fall again and again on the BBC. I drove home past fire engines and ambulances with a plume of smoke in the sky above us. The events of that day caught my attention and made me think "what is it I am doing with my life?" My wife and I talked and talked about what we wanted to do. Her career was (and is) going well and she loved what she was doing. We knew we couldn’t leave the area, but I wanted to teach college--to do what I love before I was too old to enjoy it.
So when my position tenure expired the next year I reentered the workforce, looking for a door into academia. We knew it could be a long haul, but I worked for years on my doctorate; working fulltime, researching on weekends, and writing at night. My wife and I knew I had the patience to grind it out. I spent the next few years scrambling to find work. I did museum exhibits and websites, swept floors and cleaned out old garages and basements for historic sites. I tracked down photographs for authors at the archives, and sold stuff on eBay. Running a small online book store that specialized in academic titles made money for awhile. My wife got used to having the housework done and dinner ready when she got home.
When not working I spent my days at the library doing research and writing and began to add to my thin CV. When I found a temporary position we put some money away and paid off what debts we had accumulated. “Vacations” were quick trips to conferences to give papers and make contacts. At one point I was promised that a short-term grant-supported position would be made a fulltime job and, since my car was on its last legs, splurged to buy a new one. It wasn’t fancy, but it was new and it would run. The day after I signed the loan, my boss announced that he had changed his mind and my job would disappear at the end of the week. Still, while things were tight, we were never poor, never missed a meal, never had to skip any medical treatments, and I was never late paying a bill. Nonetheless, we always knew we were one serious illness or accident away from the financial edge.
Five years ago I applied for a teaching position at a small university and was hired as an adjunct. I enjoyed teaching and liked my coworkers and the vast majority of my students. Unfortunately the pay was low, even for adjuncting. When a TT position opened I applied, but they wanted someone with a different specialty and I was passed over. Still, I taught what they asked me to teach, at the hours they asked, and did work outside of my official responsibilities. I mentored senior projects, worked on faculty committees, advised a university club, and acted as the unofficial IT person for my coworkers (my old skills came in handy). Even better, the job gave me access to a library so I could continue writing.
Not long ago my department chair told me they had the money for an additional fulltime spot. It’s not TT yet, but will be, and they asked me to apply. Last night she emailed me and told me that I have the job. My contract will be ready this week and I can pick up a key for my own private office Monday. My boss also began discussing what types of future projects will look good to a tenure committee. Tomorrow I am going to walk into “my office” for the first time in a decade. I already know the first thing I am hanging on my wall--an award I received at my previous career that I had been given for sticking with a long-term project when most of the others bailed out.