"It's a record about looking for some kind of transcendence as well as trash."
-- Bono, on Pop
Like A Song: Zoo Station
September 12, 2013
[Ed. note: This is the 80th in a series of personal essays by the @U2 staff about songs and/or albums that have had great meaning or impact in our lives.]
For the past three years -- and the past 18 months in particular -- my life has been a whirlwind. Just crazy. Here's the short version: I am a college music theory professor who was lucky to land a tenure-track job right out of graduate school. Unfortunately, due to a variety of circumstances, my contract was not renewed, so I was out of a job just four years into my career.
Luckily, I had time to work out a backup plan. Although working retail full-time while applying for jobs, researching music and taking care of a family was not the ideal situation, it paid the bills and provided the necessary benefits that insured me and my family would be covered in case of an emergency. I did what I had to do: I swallowed my pride for a bit and worked really hard at a job that had nothing to do with my teaching career. And I am happy to report that my efforts finally paid off: I landed another teaching job and I'm back in the classroom doing what I love!
"Zoo Station" perfectly reflects what it feels like to finally make it through this arduous process. As the first track on Achtung Baby, it is the song that ushered in a new era for the band. It signals the beginning of a new stage for U2, just as my new job is the start of a new stage for me and my family. The lyrics, in particular, are spot on regarding my current emotional state and (newfound) enthusiasm for what lies ahead.
I'm ready, ready for the gridlock
When I started my first job, I was fresh out of graduate school, so I was oblivious about what it took to be a successful college professor. I did not know how to handle departmental politics; I was not adept at juggling the duties of teaching, scholarship and service that a successful career in academia demands; and I had no idea how to balance my personal life with my professional obligations. Essentially, I got a five-year lesson in the vast difference between "education" and "experience."
Time is a train, makes the future the past
What a difference five years can make. Professionally, my time in Massachusetts did not pan out the way I had initially envisioned. It was, to say the least, challenging. I went into it full of hope and confidence, only to get shot down repeatedly. And throughout last summer, I struggled to come to grips with what had just happened to my career. To say I was bitter was a huge understatement. Admittedly, it still stings sometimes when I think about it, but the tincture of time has given me a healthier perspective on it. I am thankful for the lessons that experience taught me. I feel much more equipped to handle life as a professor now. It is an ongoing process, of course, one that presents new challenges each and every day. But now that I am no longer a rookie in my field, I feel better prepared to handle myself in front of my classes, among my colleagues, and with my family.
I'm ready, ready for the laughing gas
Before landing this new job, every day was an emotional endeavor. It was a struggle just to get out of bed. It was a struggle to get in the car and drive to a job that did not have anything to do with music theory. And it was a struggle to come home after a long workday and be a rock for my family. My temper was shorter than usual and my mood was often sour.
But the present situation is radically different. I am in Florida now and have begun the next stage of my life in a new city, at a new university, in a new home. I got a fresh start and I intend to take full advantage of it. I am ready to laugh again. I am ready to smile more than I scowl. I am ready to take an active role in my career. I am ready inspire my students and be a leader among the faculty. I am ready for the challenges that come with being an attentive husband and a good father. I. Am. Ready.
And so far, life in the Sunshine State is wonderful. I love our new apartment and I love my new job. I am still crazy busy, but I am busy doing things I want to do in a place I want to be. Gone are my feelings of desperation and discouragement; they have been replaced with genuine hope and excitement for both the present and the future. My career is on the precipice of something great, which will provide me and my family the opportunity to settle down for a bit and not worry about where we will be next year or the year after that. Truly, I'm ready for what's next.
Just a stop down the line...
(c) @U2/Endrinal, 2013.