This is a repost of an essay I wrote back in April, then took down when I thought better of it. Although I no longer work in the place that made me feel this way, maybe some of you will recognize yourselves in these words.
The last thing I ever thought I would be is a registrar. I say that because, until I was hired to work in a registrar’s office the first time, I had no idea that such a career existed. Even as an undergraduate student, the word “registrar” wasn’t in my vocabulary; when it was time to turn in course registration forms or my degree application, I was bringing it to “that place.” I am one of the people in “that place” now. You know the class numbers you’re so familiar with? History 101 and English 250 and so on? I’m the guy who programs those numbers in so that they show up correctly on your transcript. I spent three hours doing that last Wednesday.
But unlike your registrar’s office, which was a model of nondescript efficiency, my registrar’s office has one problem: me. See, if you’re a student at my school, there’s a chance that when you look at your transcript, your grade might be missing, or the class number might be wrong. That’s because I’m entering that data, and I’m not very good at it. I’ve had six months to get better at it, and I’ve managed some incremental improvements, but you’re still going to want to double check what’s on your transcript.
The work is not interesting. I’m the one that programs the numbers into the computer, but I don’t get to decide what those numbers are. The academic department makes that decision. I don’t get to approve the numbers which are submitted to me. The academic deans do that. All I do is record the number when others are ready for me to do so. There’s no creativity or thought that goes into it, just good old fashioned data entry. My mind wanders constantly at work, and a 2 becomes a 3 or the Tuesday class meeting checkbox gets selected instead of the Wednesday one. I’d rather be writing, or reading, or watching television than repeating the rote actions which consume my days. I have to be responsible though. I drag my mind back to the task at hand, and diligently continue my data entry. Incorrectly, but diligently.
So here I am at 5:00 in the morning, smoking weed and listening to a Japanese song that serves as the intro to an anime series I secretly love, and writing. This is the only time of the day where I can lead the life that I really want to- the life where I allow myself to be the person that I’ve always been. Shame might be too strong of a term to describe the level of self-denial I’ve experienced, but I’ve always been afraid of being rejected. Everyone is, true, but there are elements of my fear which seem more acute than other people.
It wasn’t until I was in community college that I began to become comfortable with myself. I was playing spades with the cool kids, the kids who seemed to know everyone on campus, who were always throwing parties or going to them every weekend, that hung out with the prettiest girls and laughed the hardest in the cafeteria. I had class with a couple of them, and they needed a fourth for spades, and I was it. In between throwing off and cursing each other out, we talked a little. I made a self-deprecating joke about my obsession with anime, and chuckled nervously. Without looking up from his hand, one of the guys at the table said, “But that’s why we like you, Jamil. You’re a nerd, but that’s you, and you don’t hide it.”
If you’ve never had a moment (or a lifetime) of self-doubt, then you might not understand how important it was for me to hear those words. I don’t know if it’s pathetic or not to receive validation for the core of your being from people you barely know, but fuck it. I thought I’d done well at hiding myself from other people. Instead, here was a group of people saying to me, “No, we know who you are, and we like you because of it.” That was a message I felt I’d been missing.
I’m bad at my job. It’s how I care for my son and buy my weed. I need to at least be proficient in it so that I can continue to do those things without being terminated, so I have to work at it. But it’s nowhere close to who I am. I watch Star Trek clips on my bus ride and put on the Legend of Zelda when I get home because it feeds the creative energy that gets crushed out of me by forty hours a week of unimaginative monotony. I smoke weed to set my mind on fire, to make it even more real when I place myself in Natsu Dragneel’s shoes.
I never wanted to become an adult. Adults are people who have let novelty drain out of their lives, who have allowed the hardships we all experience to make them cynical, who use their responsibilities as an excuse for a lack of imagination. I wanted to grow up, but I didn’t want to lose the sense of love that defines childhood. The magic of children is their ability to express emotion without shame. Children don’t have a sense of casual detachment or “playing it cool” or any of the ways we attempt to obscure the full depths of our emotions. Their love and joy is unhindered by concerns about perception. Their sadness is unmitigated by fear of judgment. Yes, I want to be a big kid, because I want to share the things in my heart that can only be communicated through a smile.
That’s why I love writing, because the best writing is completely devoid of cynicism. You can be a good writer and be cynical, but you cannot be a great writer without unabashed love in your heart for your characters, for your audience, and for the world. You have to believe that you have something to say, and that other people want to hear it. The only way to achieve that is to reveal some truth- some insight into the core of what makes our lives worth living. It can be a corny trope like protecting your friends in anime, or some basic and fundamental statement about our humanity. But I love the corny trope and the fundamental statement equally because they both say something.
I live my life in the dark hours of the day. I’m myself on the weekends. I keep that part of me under the surface when I have to go into the Adult World, where arbitrary deadlines and overly serious people imbue everything with a false sense of urgency and purpose. It bubbles up to the surface though when I read about NASA or I like a silly meme my friend shared on Facebook while I’m on the clock. It’s the part of me that doesn’t care about being bad at data entry, because there’s an entire universe stories to tell and hear someday, and I’m just biding my time until the clock in my office hits 5:00 PM.