I've now officially retired. My husband isn't quite sure, because even though I formally retired last month, I was still going into the office a couple of times a week to clean it out. We're looking at over thirty years of paper, a dead mouse that had actually mummified, and a collection of old computer equipment that could populate a small planet. It was daunting, not to mention terrifying, because my thoughts immediately went to contracting hanta virus when I saw that critter, stiff behind a server that had been sitting in the same spot for twenty years. Fortunately, I always wear a mask these days.
As I worked my way through ALL THAT PAPER, checks I'd written for conferences I'd put on, government contracts, and bank statements for the last twenty years, my initial thought was, goddamn, why did I do this for all these years? It felt trivial, not to mention very grimy, and, oh, I don't know, sad that I could have, should have, been doing something else. But I had kids to raise and parents to eventually take care of, and I had unparalleled freedom to come and go when I needed to. Like when my son smacked his head against pipe in middle school and cut his forehead open, or when my mother couldn't turn off her bathtub tap and the water was filling her tub, and she couldn't bail fast enough and the water was threatening to flood her bathroom. Those sorts of things happen, and when they did, I could shut my door and walk out. The convenience and ability to come and go as I pleased (and benefits!) outweighed any other considerations. I wrote in my spare time so that my brain wouldn't atrophy, and I worked with some cool people. Not cool in the sense, wow, they should have a podcast type of cool, but people who make the difference in our general lives without people noticing the difference.
I worked as a technical editor and general dogs body for a number of professors at U.C. Berkeley. I worked with a guy who you can blame or applaud for not being able to smoke on airline seats, and others who probably will, due to their research, make it very likely that when the Hayward fault erupts, you will walk out of the building you work in, shaken but not crushed to death. And I worked for another guy who's working on creating green concrete. Did you know that concrete production is a major factor in global warming? Think about that the next time you walk down the sidewalk.
One day I was grumbling about my job and my upcoming retirement to a friend, and how I felt I'd skated through most of my life, while others racked up the applause, and that I thought my window for success as a writer had passed because I was filing and typing in between the kid duties and parental obligations. And, although I do think my window for success as a writer HAS passed, she pointed out to me that the achievements of these guys (yes, they were all men) hadn't been done in a vacuum. She was right. I was an important cog in that general wheel. And while all of these achievements would have happened more or less, maybe one research project wouldn't have become funded because I didn't edit it before it went to contracts, and that research spawned other research that spawned... Science and research builds on its self. It's a series of stepping stones, moving forward for the greater good.
As I was sweeping up the debris from hours and hours of shredding (those little squares get everywhere), I wondered about all those admin people like myself, who aided those researchers in coming up with vaccines to save people's lives in the time of COVID. People like myself, behind the scenes, probably not paid very well, and whose name will never appear in newspapers.
I closed the door to my office for the last time and put my keys in an envelope for a fellow admin, who I think is invaluable to the organization. Someone who is/was like me, not newspaper worthy, but who can also claim some secret glory for making this planet a better place to live.