Six foot five. But only two feet tall.
I'm a large man. I enjoy being tall. When my semi-notable height is inevitably brought up, I like to joke that I'm "five foot seventeen" or that I'm of "carny folk height." I like it when small, older women needing to reach goods on the top shelves at grocery stores put me in their employ. I never get lost in crowds because I can see precisely what the rest of the crowd cannot. I am at an ideal vantage to spot mommies for little kids. I have surveyed innumerable tops of refrigerators (Don't freak out. I've yet to see a truly awful one.) I'm able to stand in the sun and provide shade for the eyes of someone with whom I am conversing. Skyscrapers and I connect on a deep level. I'm accustomed to being noticed.
I left a comfortable situation in Michigan. I lived a comfortable, predictable existence. I knew how to do my job. I knew people; they knew me. For reasons that are probably suspect, I was afforded a certain amount of respect and influence in my cozy little circles. On occasion I cast a long shadow with my presence — even when there was no sunshine.
Over these past four months, I've made a handful of gaffes at school, and there are new relationships here in the city I wish I could do over. I still sleep in that loft bed that's at least a foot too short for me (I've figured out how to make diagonal work). I run the flights of stairs in my building because I can't afford a New York gym membership on my stipend. After long since living the opposite, I am once again trading time to save money instead of the other way around. Each day is a series of situations in which I know almost nothing about the topic at hand — I'm told this is called “learning.” Some of my professors are younger than I am. In graduate education, there's a certain kind of jockeying for position based on intelligence and pedigree of university (I'm not top of the heap on either count). I'm coming to understand that graduate students are a peculiar kind of nobody.
I got to sit in on a meeting about six weeks ago that involved several high profile academics and some notable people from well respected companies. It was a cool opportunity. I was eager. I sat next to influential people and had pleasant small talk. I treated it like I would treat any business meeting I've sat in for more than a decade now — treating others with respect and expecting the same in return.
Then the meeting began and the world pivoted around me. No longer were we having discussion. I was suddenly tasked with taking notes. I also soon recognized that the other graduate students in the room were not engaged as I had been. They sat docile-like and resigned against the wall, content to be seen and not heard. It was the academic version of Thanksgiving with the adults at one table and the kiddies at another. Those notes I took were requested along with my opinions; ultimately, the receipt of neither was ever acknowledged.
For some reason this all seems to snap most into focus when I'm running those flights of stairs in my building. Maybe it's the adrenaline and endorphins. I can choose to be indignant, disheartened, or even offended at my mistakes, circumstances, and perceived slights as this new world order of New York City and graduate school pushes in on me. Or, I can be grateful for these opportunities and recognize just how thin is the veneer of position and influence. I can pay attention to the expressions of my ego that flare up like a heat rash and apply a little cream of humility. If ever some day I am a big shot, I hope I will remember being little and treat the little people around me not as little but as people.