“On a bluff, the vegetation is often shallowly rooted in poor soil and can be easily disturbed.” –National Geographic

In Alaska, everything was the extreme version of itself. The mountains were really mountainous, the cold was very cold, the humans superlatively human. It was a place for people who liked to live on the edge of themselves. It was not always for me. I didn’t know it until we got to Minnesota, but in the same way some people are “beach people” or others prefer an open field, I like bluffs. I like that they are paradoxically formed both by erosion and crashing waves. They roll where mountains jag. You don’t have to buy special boots or be documentary material to climb them. You can be seven-years-old and get to the top.


At the top and on the climb, I thought about my question. My guess is everybody has at least one question that won’t leave them alone. Mine is “will there be something for me to do”–a something to do that might become a something to be. I’m reading books with subtitles like “the power of not knowing” and “how non-conformists ruled the world,” and these books are full of anecdotes describing people who have done something large and lasting with their lives. While I often feel faced with too many questions, they seem pressed to choose between too many answers. It’s as though at some point, they had to break their own hearts and say “no” or “yes” to something the rest of us are afraid to talk to.

Even my junk mail thinks I should have something to do, with its “5 workwear essentials” and “boss lady wardrobe deals.” I am advised in yoga to “breathe out work toxins” that I don’t have. But Aaron says, “wait.” He says let me give you what you gave me–time to, like Bruce always says, “Talk about a dream. Try to make it real.” In response, I apply for the first education-related job I can find. In the wake of its second interview, I am afraid of both getting and not getting the offer. The position is a stretch, with a long list of software experience requirements, and when asked about my qualifications, I channeled my newest geographical crush and did the only reasonable thing: bluff. I can YouTube Power Bi and SPSS later.

Besides the fact that I want things–a house where the bathroom isn’t part of the dining room, a boat to ride the Mississippi, I am also more comfortable with answer the noun than answer the verb. Strunk and White’s “never use two words where one will do” has become a life’s work. When asked “what do you do,” why answer “I am learning to teach yoga to help people with joint and muscular issues” or, even worse, “I’m writing a book” when I can say “I’m a teacher” or an “assistant director of assessment.” Nouns are clean, easy, and fit comfortably on a business card. Verbs are infinite.

My dilemma is that when asked “what will you do,” I have always had to bluff to get the latest job looking me in the eyes, asking me to be its noun:

“Do you have experience working with struggling readers?” (2007 interview question, first job after M.A. in English.)

“Oh, yes, that was a strong consideration in my thesis on disability criticism in the southern grotesque.” (It’s not always a phonetic struggle? Maybe?).

When you’re sitting on your bluff, you might be happy, even fulfilled at moments, but your soil isn’t necessarily rich. You learn to be permeable, to keep your soil sandy and silty with room to let a lot of things drain in and out. You feel the bluff grow with every slamming wave or every gradual loss of eroded surface material.   It can happen so quickly or so slowly that sometimes you’re not sure how you got there–if you ever decided that’s where you want to be.

But here’s the truth–decisions are a luxury, a rarity even among the middle class. Bills don’t pay themselves, and a detailed job description is a challenge I’ve often been very pleased to accept. If they offer me the job, I’ll be grateful and look forward to working hard, being in a professional community, and getting on If they don’t, then I’ll be glad for a husband who never says “now” and a question that’s as patient as it is persistent.

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