Last weekend, I attended my 10-year college reunion. While my classmates (myself included) have changed in appearance over the last decade, our personalities remained largely the same. Thanks to Facebook, which kept us up to date on the basic biographical facts about each other’s lives (location, job, relationship status, kids, etc.), we had more time to engage in the same types of conversations we’d had a decade ago about politics, relationships, and coursework, including books, from fiction to primary historical sources.
I read many books during my college years, usually because they were assigned, and a few, like Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, left a lasting impression on me. I have fond memories of discussing that book with my classmates, several of whom had hoped to serve populations facing challenges similar to the cultural and economic obstacles the family at the center of that book endured.
Ten years later, my former classmates and I talked about our jobs, rather than classes, and about the books we’re reading for fun, rather than books listed on syllabi. Most of my friends are in the legal, financial, or medical worlds; most are living in Manhattan. Many seemed perfectly content at this juncture of their lives, while others suggested that they hadn’t quite met their professional or personal goals (hopefully, still recognizing how lucky they are to have jobs that meet any of their goals in this economy).
Work-life balance was on many classmates’ minds, with a strong preference for increasing the attention paid to “life.” It was a marked shift from our last reunion five years ago; back then, perhaps due to the anxiety of having minimal professional experience in a deteriorating economy or the belief that a prestigious or high-paying job was worth perpetual misery, many accepted long hours and unsatisfying work. Some had transitioned to better work situations that gave them more time to read, write, or travel, while others said they didn’t mind intense work so long as it was meaningful. Many specifically mentioned wanting more time for their relationships with their partners or (future) children, with the men wanting these lifestyle changes just as much as the women.
“I want grass, a backyard hammock, and a good book”—or some variation of it—was a surprisingly common refrain, reminiscent of Cicero’s famous words: “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”
After three days, my voice was hoarse, and I was far behind on my reading, having read not a word of the books I had downloaded for the trip (I probably won’t have a book review until next week!). It was worth it, though. I’m looking forward to the discussions we’ll have the next time my class meets on our former stomping grounds. I hope that by then my friends will have found an even better work-life balance, one that will allow them to engage in a wide variety of intellectually challenging and personally satisfying pursuits. I’ll have many brightly colored picture books to recommend; I’m sure the subject will come up more than once.
*My husband took the three pictures in this post: The entryway to Saybrook, one of the residential colleges, but not my residential college (top); Sterling Memorial Library, where I spent a lot of time (below); Beinecke Rare Book Library, which I avoided because it triggered my fear of heights (last).