I have a really beautiful and rather extensive personal collection of rocks and minerals on the mantel over the fireplace, and I very rarely ever look at it, except when I’m dusting, which happens approximately never. I have tiny samples of about 75 minerals, most of the basic rock types (granite, schist, basalt, limestone, etc.) and some pretty nifty fossils, too. I also have a top-notch pair of hiking boots that are now several years old, but I hardly ever scale mountains or hills in them, either.
Ever wonder how I got the name Rock Grrrl?
I was once a geologist. A geologist-in-training. I went to grad school for paleontology, and man, did I live for that shit. Plotting out field trips, hunting down fossils, collecting topo maps of the Canadian Rockies and the Alps, being the geeky TA in Rocks for Jocks who really got her rocks off by making stupid geology puns (orogeny leads to subduction which leads to relief! Ha! Get it?!)
That was me. And a friend of mine that I knew from the coffee shop I spent too much of my time in named me rock grrrl. And then my funding dried up, I got fed up with the politics of academia and depressed by the spectre of slaving for tenure for the next ten to fifteen years, if I was lucky enough to get a tenure-track job, and also my funding dried up. So I left the department, pretty much without a fight, and kind of in the middle of the night, without a word to anyone.
I had a vague notion to train to work in a science museum, or teach high school earth science, but never did either. Restaurant work was too easy and lucrative, and high school teachers rarely get a free dinner after work. At least, not that I’m aware of.
I’ve always had a hard time letting possible futures go, and I’ve been quietly grieving this one for about ten years. I’ve flirted with the idea of going back and finishing my degree, but anyone who has been around academia long enough to know anything knows that they don’t really let you back into their enchanted circle once you leave. And anyway, my misgivings about the job still remain. But man, was I one hell of a geology teacher. (Ask Donovan McNabb. I taught him Rocks for Jocks, and look at what a jock he turned out to be! Damn, I was good.)
And something about the pain of having failed in that career path, in having abandoned it midstream, caused me to shy away from anything having to do with it. My topo maps are all packed away in my mother’s house, my boots collect dust, I have no idea what happened to my compass and hand lens. I don’t even like to watch paleontology shows on cable. It’s like I’m not really allowed to enjoy those things any more. But I did keep my rock collection, for some unknown reason.
Recently, I’ve had a spate of dreams at night about going back to grad school. I always wake up with the certainty that I honestly don’t want to any more. It’s like I’m flushing out the last of those fantasies. And, kind of without noticing, I’ve started hiking again, seeking out hidden paths and rocky terrain to explore for myself. I didn’t think about this at all until just now, when I was reading in the living room and happened to look up and see this beautiful piece of lepidolite, bigger than my fist, that I’ve always loved, and my immediate reaction was a rush of affection for this rock. Not regret. Not shame.
Maybe I’ve crossed over.