Big changes in 2014

Early last month, the last of my grandparents passed away. I have been extremely fortunate to know all of my grandparents well into my adulthood. I feel so lucky to have known them as people, and I feel their presence in my life in interesting ways as I get older. Grandpa Mackey, the last to pass away, was an incredibly kind and patient man. He could talk to anyone, and could make anyone feel comfortable. He and my grandmother would get to know the life stories of the waitresses in their favorite restaurants, and were very active in their church. Grandpa served in WWII, and later worked in sales at GE. 

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In recent years, as it got harder and harder to have a true phone conversation with Grandpa, our conversations became rather one sided. However, he would always end our talks by saying that he loved me and hoped that I was enjoying my life. This would usually make me cry. I knew he was having a harder and harder time enjoying his own life- his wife and friends had passed away, he wasn’t able to taste food well, wasn’t able to drive, and he wasn’t able to enjoy so many other tasks that had been important to him. It also made me think about my own life, and was I truly enjoying it to the fullest? What would Grandpa be doing if he were in my shoes?
For eleven years I had been teaching music at Southern Illinois University. In some ways, it was a dream job. Tenure, decent pay, a cushy schedule, opportunities to travel and play. But it was also in a small town, far from city life (which I had always enjoyed) and a plane ride away from any member of my family. I enjoyed the work, but found the hours after work harder and harder to fill with things that were important to me.
This summer marked not only my 40th birthday, but also could have been spent preparing a dossier to apply for Full Professor. When I looked around at where I was living, and thought about yet another year lecturing about Organum and Basso Continuo, I decided it was time to go. While quitting a job in other fields is not so unusual, people don’t quit tenured professor jobs very often. This is because they are incredibly hard to get, and getting harder. But I really didn’t want it anymore, especially not living where I was living. I found myself thinking often about my maternal grandmother, who left her job teaching in a one room schoolhouse in rural Minnesota to join the army during WWII. In that context, quitting didn’t seem crazy at all.
Luna sees the Pacific

Luna sees the Pacific

So in June, I left. I packed up my house and my dog, and headed west to the Los Angeles area. My brother and his family live here, and his sons (my nephews) are 5 and 2. Getting to see them many times a week is such a blessing. They are hysterical, and have fallen in love with my dog Luna. I also have witnessed the 2 year old progress from calling me “Choo choo train” to “Aunt Melissa” (it often becomes A-Lissa, but who cares?) I also live on the side of the San Gabriel mountains, which is a lovely change from flat Illinois. My walks with Luna are much more challenging, and the view is incredible on my commute down the mountain.
my hillside backyard

my hillside backyard

I did not have a job lined up when I got here, and that was stressful. But after a few months, I have found work that I find interesting and enjoyable. I teach music lessons at a local music school for 6-12 year olds, which is a big change from college lessons. I teach SAT prep and coach college application essay writing at a school for mostly Korean students. (FYI- 18-year-olds do NOT enjoy describing “the world they come from.”) But my most substantial job is at the Fashion Institute for Design and Merchandising (FIDM), where I work as an “Educational Assistant.” (That was a tricky interview to dress for.) This means I spend time in the tutoring center helping students write and edit papers, help with math homework, and occasionally pretend to know something about accounting, business, or textiles. Their students are from all over the world, and it is not unusual for me to be talking to someone from China one hour, and Ethopia the next. The people in my department are smart and funny, and I am really enjoying my days there. They have hired me as adjunct faculty for next quarter, I’ll be teaching English Composition. (For those of you who attended MSM with me as an undergrad, please stop laughing!) It is also cool to work in DTLA (downtown Los Angeles), which is undergoing a real Renaissance, and is almost unrecognizable from when I was here last in 2003. FIDM, as you might imagine, is a beautifully designed campus. The computer lab includes a “pool” where you can sit with your laptop in a lounge chair, or get in the blue vinyl padded pool for a nap. There are glass cases in the hallways displaying beautiful garments and jewelry. It’s a wonderful working environment, and everyone has been so welcoming to me.
Logan loves selfies

Logan loves selfies

So while it’s only been six months, I feel pretty confident in saying that it was a good decision to move west. Luna and I enjoy our mosquito-free mornings on the patio, even in December, and monthly trips to the ocean. I have really been enjoying working with such a wide array of students on a wide array of topics. I’ve been so touched that some friends from St. Louis found a way to include me via Facetime in one of my favorite activities, our regular Cards Against Humanity game. I found a new pottery studio, with another great teacher named Tom! And spending time with my nephews (and being able to help out their parents) has made me so incredibly happy.
Building LEGOS with Lex

Building LEGOS with Lex

So while I will miss my grandfather and the rest of my grandparents deeply, their presence has been felt strongly in my life this year. I am entering 2015 with a real sense of optimism and adventure. I look forward to whatever challenges and opportunities the future brings. I hope that you and your loved ones are feeling the same, and that 2015 is full of love, surprises, and opportunities for you too. To quote Grandpa Mackey, “I hope that you are enjoying your life.”

 

5 Responses to “Big changes in 2014”

  1. Jeff Katz says:

    Congrats on some wonderful life changes. I feel we are fortunate to travel, earn a living and thrive within a community of people that understand passion. I wish you all the best.

  2. Nina Ferrigno says:

    Melissa,
    What a beautiful post! It takes such courage and conviction to change one’s life. It’s really exciting. I wish you all the best in 2015 & feel glad we got a chance to work together through CPSTL in St. Louis!

  3. Mong Chi says:

    Melissa,
    It was so nice to read the blog. We were very happy to see you in LA in October. We are coming back this October. Maybe another “Dim Sum” date? 🙂

    I am glad that you are enjoying your job teaching at FIDM. Have fun with English writing class. Markus would say that I should take yours. 🙂 He often said that my English writing is not good enough, which is true. But, I still have German to attack. So my English writing will do for now.

    Enjoy your everyday. XOXO

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