Friday, September 26, 2014

When You Grow Up

I never had the super clear vision.

I always thought that everyone knew what they wanted to be when they grew up. Everyone except me. It seemed like lots of people had it figured out well ahead of time. The rest bopped along, falling backwards into amazing opportunities at every turn. I didn't really know what I was heading towards, I just kept moving. At least I felt like I was moving. Then one day I realized I'd been standing still for a decade.

From early childhood, I would get glimpses of what I wanted to do, what I would "BE", as if one day you became something merely through the effort of wishing it to be so. By declaring it to the well meaning people who bent down to ask me.

"I want to be a teacher!" I would say. They would smile approvingly. I knew that you needed to have an answer to the question. And we all understood what kind of answer it had to be.

It was preferable if you desired to mold yourself into something mirrored by a smiling Barbie "I Can Be" career doll. One of those was ok. Just not the one where she is a rock star. That is fantasy, not career.

I suppose that is a safe thing to do, to reign in the expectations.

One time I decided I wanted to be a stand up comedian. I was ten years old. My mother did not approve of this decision and she let me know that it was a ridiculous notion. More than anything she let me know that it was not a real job. What? What is "real" and what is "not real"? You mean fun and interesting or boring and predictable?

The dichotomy of real/not real options said so much.

She also told me that to be a comedian, I would have to live on a bus. I'll never forget that. In that moment, I was transfixed. You get to live on a bus? What an adventure!

Unfortunately, I had not yet learned how to hear those subtle noises about "real" in the way they were meant to be heard.  In truth, it tells us more about the person drawing the line than it does about our own abilities, opportunities, interests, etc. It tells us about their own fears, their failed journeys into fantasy and how hard the realities were when they hit.

It's not their fault. Someone did it to them too. They are just passing on the shared experience and generational discontent. It is difficult to teach something you have never learned. Like hope.

I realize now that all of my visions of how it would look to be a working adult were a result of what happens when you take what I watched, both from my household point of view and that of school, friends, church, and people I saw socially and mashed them together with television, unrealistic dreams, ambition and the hope I inherited from a long lost relative somewhere.

I thought I would work as a  teacher, or maybe in an office somewhere. Maybe I would have my own office. Maybe I'd work in a high rise building, or as a police officer someday? They were all things I thought of to have easy answers to the questions people loved to pose. I had no idea what I was doing that minute, let alone twenty years down the road. I still don't.

One day, in a fit of desperation and hatred for a disdainful human being that held the title of my boss, I dug deep. Really really deep. Deeper than my own self preservation and deeper than the fear that held the tight grip on my mother's sense of reality. Deeper than doubt and indecision, further down than the inertia and self loathing of office work than I had ever gone before. I knew where I was heading. I had heaped lots of garbage and responsibility on top of it, hoping it would not ever rear its ugly and demanding head.

Down there I found a little girl with a journal. A carefully guarded tiny notebook that she clutched tightly, writing a few lines or a dozen pages, depending on the kind of day it was. A book that was a prized possession, a best friend, and a source of solace in the storm. The little girl looks up at me and whispered; "write".

Writing is all I have ever done. When I was happy, when I was sad, when I needed to work things out and when I needed to speak my mind. I used writing to convey thoughts when I had to communicate with someone without letting my own fears block the way, and when I knew they would not listen without interrupting. I've written to remind myself of what I am and I've written to tell someone else that I cannot be what they need. Writing is how I live.

When I grow up I will be a writer? No. I was born a writer. I will grow up to get paid in the currency we exchange, giving my writing the cultural credit for being more than just thoughts on paper or words on screens. I will exchange a tiny dream, chunks of my soul, the essence of myself and any hope of getting to live on a bus, for the monetary validation of what I already am. We don't grow up to BE anything. We peel off the shell of expectation to reveal what was  there all along.

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