That’s what the owl said to me, in the voice of the hookah-smoking caterpillar from the Disney version of Alice in Wonderland. However, unlike the caterpillar, it delivered the question without disdain, and the owl was not expecting an answer.
We were walking around Town Lake for my birthday, moseying northwest under the high leafy canopy of pecan trees just before the Lamar Street Bridge when I spied a fluttering of wings out of the corner of my eye. I stopped, looked up and saw a giant barred owl staring at me from a tree branch above. “Look!” I said with awe, and Gage followed my pointing finger to the owl. His eyes grew big and he grinned.
“I’ll go get Dad and Jack!” He raced off ahead, his sneakered feet pounding the packed gravel. Owl’s head turned and followed Gage’s progress with mild interest. Then it turned back to me. Eyes big and round, calm, attentive, curious.
Who ARE you?
I watched and snapped pictures as Owl stared, turned its head to survey the surroundings, adjusted its stance in the tree, and stared again. Owl glided to another branch facing the water, then swiveled its head in that impossible, 180-degree way and made eye contact again.
Who are you?
As I watched Owl, a calm resoluteness came over me. I was not intended to answer the question. I was meant to be it, go out and find it, in the world and inside myself. Owl’s was not so much a question as an invitation, one posed without judgment or attachment. Then, Owl soared away.
Days later, an owl landed in my inbox. A raku potter I follow, the Alchemist, had made some. I picked one who spoke to me, and my very own owl arrived, carefully wrapped, in my mailbox a short while later, all the way from Canada. It was addressed by hand.
Now Owl sits on my desk. I smile when I see her. She watches me type, and she is always asking….
It’s not mine, actually. It’s a friend of mine; the title is a direct quote from the text she sent me. And I don’t mean “friend.” If you’ve read some of my other posts, you know I’d tell you if it were my vagina that was falling out. I once typed out several frank paragraphs about the time I lost a tampon in my hoohah for months and the ensuing odor. I almost wish it were my vagina falling out, just for the material.
No, no, not really, vagina gods. I am making light of an uncomfortable medical condition for the sake of art. Please do not visit that karma upon me. In all actuality, I would like my vagina to stay right where it is, in that boring yet comfortable place, tucked inside my body where I can’t feel it nor do I feel compelled to write about it. But things do not stay put as we age, so read on for a few common, distressing and distressingly common female reproductive issues.
FUN FACT: "Vagina" refers to the inside part you can't see that leads to the cervix and then the uterus. The outside parts we tend to call the vagina in everyday conversation are actually the vulva and labia. Helpful definitions and diagram here.
Jen’s Wayward Vagina
Jen woke up one morning, and while getting ready for work, she noticed a familiar yet uncomfortable feeling — like her tampon had slipped down and was poking out. Only she wasn’t wearing a tampon. Upon exploration, she was horrified to discover what she felt was not a wandering sanitary supply but her actual self — tissue from inside was trying to be outside. Jen has some medical experience, so she knew what she felt was a prolapsed vagina, which is just doctorspeak for, “Your vagina’s falling out of your body but we’d like to make it sound a little less terrible.”
After five or two hundred deep breaths, Jen calmed down enough to do some research. She was shocked to discover that 40 PERCENT of women have vaginal prolapse at some point in their lives. Why then, we wondered together, did we not know about this? Vaginal prolapse can come with a smorgasbord of fun symptoms that range from that feeling of “tissue protrusion” Jen felt to constipation and general sexual concerns about having a loose vagina.
We all know about erectile dysfunction and vasectomy reversal; pharmaceutical companies are falling all over themselves to develop treatments and yelling it out to the world as they do it. If 40 percent of women have vaginal prolapse, why had I not heard so much as a peep about it until Jen freaked out and shared it with me? Might she have freaked out less if she’d seen 80 thousand commercials for how to treat it? I’ll leave that to rattle around in your brain while I move on to another friend of mine. More info on vaginal prolapse here.
Rachel’s Pain-in-the-Pelvis Bladder
Rachel and I were supposed to meet up to walk, but she texted me that morning to say she didn’t feel well enough, but could I come over and talk? As I walked to her house, I wondered what was up. Maybe she’s worried about one of her kids. Maybe she’s leaving her husband. Maybe she has cancer. All three of these, I’m finding, are common at our age. It was none of them.
Rachel has a chronic urge to pee, though not much comes out. She doesn’t have a urinary tract infection. A urologist gave her a vaginal suppository to treat it, but she had a bad reaction to it. It burned her insides. Her doctor “had never heard of this happening before.” Now, she can’t exercise because she’s in too much pain. She has trouble sleeping because of the pain. And she’s generally unhappy because, again, pain. Our shared gynecologist suggested melatonin and general disregard for the impact this pain was having on her life.
She’s since done some internet research, diagnosed herself with interstitial cystitis (IC) and altered her diet, which has helped some. IC affects somewhere between 3 and 8 million women and has no cure. Thanks, medical people. Let that one marinate along with vaginal prolapse.
Sarah’s Disappearing Clitoris
That’s right; that little motherfucker who brings you so much pleasure can disappear, and she is not going to go quietly either. She’s going to go kicking, screaming, itching and scarring all the way. It’s called lichen sclerosis. I would never have heard of it if Sarah hadn’t told me she had it and has to keep Clobetasol cream on her person at all times for the rest of her life. Obviously, it messes up your ability to enjoy sex. Four percent of women who have it wind up with vulvar cancer. It’s a lifelong, incurable thing that affects one in 80 women, mostly those peri- or post-menopausal. Betcha never heard of that one either. Ever see a commercial for itchy, scarring clit pills? No? More info on lichen sclerosis here.
The Really Disturbing Thing
It’s scary that these conditions exist, but what’s worse is that no one talks about them. That makes them even more terrifying. Men can make jokes about not being able to get it up because everyone knows about that thanks to Viagra and their never-ending ad campaign. No one jokes about itchy clits or vaginas gone rogue. Or undefinable, vague pelvic pain that maybe wouldn’t be so undefinable if there were more research dollars poured into women’s reproductive issues.
I don’t want much. I’m not asking for science to make me fertile at fifty. Believe me, I don’t want that. I’m just asking for a little transparency — that women not be blind-sided by these conditions. That we not feel horrified and alone about something that affects 40 percent of people with vaginas. And maybe some money and research put into what medicines, procedures or therapies would help us be more comfortable as we age.
For someone who is pretty attentive to all the shit that goes on in her head and whatever the latest science/space/blackhole news is, I can be oblivious to the walking, talking, irl stuff. Early concrete example: my dad built me a Barbie house for Christmas when I was eight. While it was a work-in-progress, he threw an old paint-stained olive green bedspread over it in the garage. I walked past its five-by-five Snuffalupagus-like bulk every day for months to access my bike and roller skates. I didn’t notice it.
My mother said, when I was young, sometimes kids would make fun of me in that subtle, it-sounds-like-a-compliment-but-any-sentient-adult-can-tell-it’s-not kind of way. It hurt her heart, but upon realizing I had no idea anything was going on beneath the surface of “I like your hair,” she decided perhaps ignorance was bliss and kept it to herself.
I am still like this. Although, at forty-five, I may get an inkling that your “that sweatshirt looks so comfortable” comment may be your way of passive-aggressively saying, “You look like a slob, and now I feel better than you,” I am still too exhausted to try to figure that shit out. Whatever. You are dismissed.
I was just reading an advice column in which a person asked, “When a guest brings a bottle of wine to my house for dinner, do I have to serve it with the meal?” Figuring out what social custom dictates you do in situations like this is so incredibly tiresome. If you bring me a bottle of wine, please, for the love of god, tell me what to do with it. “I thought it would go nicely with the chips and queso” or “Save this for yourself for later” are welcome directions. Better yet, take liberty, get comfy in my house, and open that shit yourself or shove it in my wine fridge, which is probably empty because stocking up on wine is not something I’m capable of.
Whatever you do, don’t give me a choice and expect me to say the “right” thing. If you say, “Whatever. Open it if you want.” I will circumvent trying to read your true desires in your face like tea leaves and do exactly what I want. I’ll ask, “Are you sure?” That’s your one out. If you don’t take it, you’ve no one but yourself to blame.
Look, I will pick up on your mood. I am annoyingly empathetic. If you are having a shitty day, I will know that you are sad, tired, pissed off, depressed, whathaveyou. But if you are trying to send me subtle social cues to tuck my bra strap under my sleeve, I will absolutely not notice. Then, you will make fun of me to your “friends” later, which will feel delicious at first but leave you with that horrible hollow feeling after the fact, and I will go home none the wiser.
I used to think this lack of social awareness was a failing of mine, but every time I have gotten a clue that I didn’t use the right fork or someone was smirking at my shoes, it hasn’t done anything for me except make me feel bad (when I was younger) or annoy me (when I was older). Plus, Jason says he loves this about me, and with all the other shit he has to put up with, I oughta throw him a bone. So…oblivious. Yeah, I think I’ll keep it.
I didn’t realize how apt the name of this blog was when I came up with it. At the onset, it just described how moody I am — how I can be in love with the world one minute and convinced it’s utterly doomed the next. I can even hold both of those feelings at the same moment. The “riding” part refers to my attempt to gently navigate these mood swings instead of trying to beat them into submission.
But wave riding is not just for my personal emotional ambiance; it has applied, very much, to weathering this forced shelter-in-place, quarantine, socially-distant experiment to which we’ve all, necessarily, been subjected. People are sick, and essential employees are out there doing their jobs in the face of immense challenge and fear. I salute them. This post is for the rest of us.
Telling It Like It Is, Part 1
I could tell you that, since we’ve all been sequestered here in our house, I’ve been cooking more. The kids have been helping around the house, and Jason has ramped up his woodworking. I could wax philosophical about how we’ve learned to appreciate the little things — stocked grocery shelves, a walk around the block, our own good health. Our kids are visibly excited about toilet paper, for godsakes. I could tell you we’ve hiked and done crafts and that in a way, we feel closer as a family than ever. I could mention that this time has caused me to reflect on what is truly important and in what direction I’d like to take my career. I love the simplicity this situation has brought us. All of this would be true.
Telling It Like It Is, Part 2
I could also tell you that Jason and I had a loud, emotional argument right before bed one night last week that took us days to recover from. I could tell you how I cry into my hands in front of my computer screen at least once a week, the job sites staring back at me with offers from companies I will never hear back from — a recurring non-event that chips away at my self-worth. I could reveal that my kids, though they don’t complain anymore about isolation, long for their friends. I could mention how, introvert though I may be, I have recently started fantasizing about going OUT to dinner, about seeing a movie or having drinks at a bar with friends, about drinking a coffee IN the shop. All of these things are true, too.
Just Like Oz
Things are great and terrible. It is the best of times and the worst of times. Isolation is blissfully relaxing, centering even, and yet also distressing and identity crisis inducing. Part of being human (at least I hope so because if not, it’s just my weird, overly-complicated bullshit emotions) is the ability to hold these seemingly conflicting feelings simultaneously. So if you are also having your waves — peaks where you feel like self-distancing has changed your life for the better, troughs in which you want to run away from home and never come back — know that some of us, hell probably most of us, are going through the same thing. And it is possible to feel it all at once, too.
Comparison, Thief of Joy
When you scroll through your social media feeds and see all the crafts and baked goods and post-workout sweat shots, don’t compare yourself to that. Remember, those people have their troughs too. We all do. Don’t be too hard on yourself (she says to remind herself the same thing.)
That doesn’t sound like a revelation until you try to write one.
Starting a book is easy. You’re lying in bed one morning, and you get a flash of brilliant story, running through your mind in full technicolor. You run downstairs in your underwear, flip open your laptop and start tippity-typing away, eager to capture the scenes on paper. This is the part they always show in movies — the writer version of the Rocky training montage. Pages ripped out of typewriters, pencils behind ears, many cups of coffee consumed.
Then, you get to the hard part.
You spend hours, days, months, years, writing and staring off into space thinking about your story. (Daydreaming as a work-related activity is one of the few perks of being a writer.) Your characters are selfish friends who take up all your time and energy and don’t give anything in return. Writing a book is, as far as I can tell in my extensive experience of one completed manuscript, five percent blinding flash of inspiration. The other 95 percent is tentatively typing things you know you’re going to have to redo, all while secretly fearing the whole thing is shit. It’s a lonely endeavor — just you and your imaginary people.
You’ve decided you need accountability.
You tell your real-life friends, relatives and strangers in line behind you in the grocery store, that you’re writing a book. They ask how it’s going periodically, and even though you have no real answer, it does sort of keep you on track. Then one day, they ask, “How’s the book coming?” And you finally get to say, with a triumphant flourish, “It’s finished!” often followed by, “No, you can’t read it (because I’m secretly still afraid it’s shit.)”
The hard slog up the mountain is over.
You have written the denouement and the conclusion. You have typed “The End.” (For real, I did that.) You rise from your desk chair, stretch your aching, hunched back, holler to your spouse and open a bottle of wine in celebration. But then you stand on top of that massive mound of paper, ink and tears and look up to realize you’ve only just climbed a foothill. The big, bad specter of editing and rewriting is looming over you, daring you to start scaling it. It’s enough to make you cry. Or to put off even looking at your story again for at least six months.
That’s where I am right now.
I am reading every single word of that “completed” manuscript, rife with inconsistencies, plot holes and typos. I am rewriting the entire thing because that’s the only way I know how to do it. I am starting to hate my characters and my story. I am sick of them, and because they are now real, I fear they are also sick of me and my waffling on what they get to do, feel and say. It all convinces me even further that I’ve written a B-minus novel at best.
So, if you were wondering whatever happened after I wrote that post ALMOST A YEAR AGO about being done with my novel, there it is. It’s done. And it’s so not done.
Writing a book is not hard.
It is excruciating to the point that sometimes I want to delete the whole file and all the sub-files of notes and pretend the whole damned thing never existed. It’s like having a baby; if you knew what it was going to be like before you started the process, it would never happen.
I once heard a favorite author of mine speak, and it took her six years to get her first book published. At the time, my jaw dropped, but at the rate I’m going, I may be editing my own AARP application before I get this thing done.
And yet it will happen.
I keep getting derailed by my own insecurity and laziness, but damnit, I will slog through this swamp of a story, clean it up and see it published one way or another. By that time, though, instead of reading like commentary on current social standards, it may be more of a historical novel.
I could pretend this post is intended as advice for the young writer or a reality check for anyone considering starting a novel, but really it is entirely selfish. I needed to vent, to complain, and let’s be real, avoid editing. Now I can get back to rewriting the book….oh, will you look at the time! Well, there’s no way I can start now.
My ninth-grade English teacher was obsessed with Charles Dickens. She made all of her classes read Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities. She was a member of the Dickens Society and attended Dickens-themed soireés where all the guests donned 19th-century garb and spoke in 87-word, obtusely-structured sentences. I assume.
We had to memorize the first sentence of A Tale of Two Cities, which didn’t seem like a big deal until I realized it takes up the ENTIRE FIRST PAGE OF THE BOOK. I still fail to understand how it can be “good writing” when you have to go back and re-read the first part of the sentence because, by the end, you’ve forgotten what the subject and verb were.
I remember parts of that sentence. My brain cannot recall where I put my phone or what time a soccer game is, but it holds onto useless detritus like my childhood phone number, the lyrics to an old Velveeta cheese commercial and, yes, the beginnings of famous novels I don’t even like.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” is how it begins. It then trails on for another sixteen lines with a series of very similar (and unnecessary) oxymorons. “Epoch of belief, age of incredulity…blah, blah, blah, noisiest authorities…blah, blah, blah…superlative degree of comparison only.” WTF, brain?
I hate it when he’s right.
BUT. Despite his mellifluous method of stating it, I’ve grudgingly decided Dickens had a point. That sentence applies to just about every era on the timeline of significant history. The heroics of the American Revolution alongside the appropriation and slaughter of indigenous peoples. The discovery of radiation’s miraculous cancer-killing properties and the deaths of thousands of innocent people in the form of a bomb. A new awakening for feminist activism but spurred by the election of a presidential misogynist.
My own, private heaven/hell/Idaho
It even works on a personal level. My twenties were filled with fun, friends, partying and carefree selfishness without guilt. I had a job and nothing to pay for except myself. And I cried a lot, lost four pregnancies and was in an unhealthy relationship.
My 30’s were an incredible time of self-discovery. I felt confident in myself as a person. Jason’s and my relationship grew deeper and wider. I had kids and discovered a love like I’d never known. I also worried a lot about fucking up and struggled with breastfeeding to the point of tears. I mourned the loss of time to myself. It was great and terrible, just like Oz.
The best of times weren’t that good.
I read somewhere that we recreate good times as better than they actually were. We look back on an overall fun vacation and remember playing in the ocean, relaxing on the sand, snuggling in bed with a mate. We forget the one rainy day we were bored, the lost luggage or the fight we had on the plane on the way home.
It’s helpful when thinking about now. With all the challenges — worry about kids, working on relationships, concern over finances and all the stuff I am constantly forgetting (with the exception of outdated commercial jingles) — I know I will look back on these years and smile wistfully to myself. I’ll remember the kids young and not yet jaded by adult experience. I’ll recall learning to be a writer, the freedom to work from home, and the security of the built-in social network that comes with school-age children. Overall, this is a good time.
There have been some true, worst of times, where the “best of” part was indistinguishable: the immediate aftermath of my miscarriages, the throes of divorce, intense struggles with depression and loneliness. In comparison with those, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Why didn’t you just say so?
So, what I took 618 words (Dickens would be proud) and 15 minutes of your life that you can’t get back to say is this: PERSPECTIVE.
“The evil men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones. So let it be with Caesar.”
(I never get to use the partial Shakespearean quotes that float around my brain, so now I’m just showing off. This is where you nod, virtually pat me on the head and roll your eyes. Go ahead. I totally deserve it.)
So I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions, and the past two Januarys, I’ve ranted here and here about why. But I have in recent years, used the beginning of the year to reflect on how I could make my life a little better and set a focus for the upcoming months. That may sound like a bullshit way of saying “New Year’s resolution,” but thinking about it as a focus has less baggage for me. The term “resolution” makes me feel like I have to come up with a socially acceptable goal related to exercise or finances and achieve it so I have thus performed the act of being a good, responsible adult for the approval of everyone else…..
…or, more realistically, failed at it and felt like I also am failing at being the right kind of person who exercises, eats right, saves her money and never says an unkind or negative word. Then, I can simultaneously feel like a bad person whilst feeling resentful about social pressure to make and keep resolutions.
Some of you relate to this. Others of you are thinking, Jeezus, why do you have to make things so complicated? Others, I don’t know; I’m just lucky, I guess.
What Happened Over the Holidays
I had kind of forgotten about setting my yearly intention until I read Candid Kay’s recent blog about how she does pretty much the same thing, picking a word she can focus on for the new year. Then, I remembered this that happened over the holidays:
We were in Telluride, staying with Jason’s family, for a ski vacation. This particular day, lots was happening. Our oldest wanted to ski, the youngest didn’t, a bunch of the family was going snowmobiling, and it was approximately six degrees outside. Jason and I were trying to decide which of us would ski with the oldest and which would snowmobile with the youngest, when he asked me, “But what do YOU want to do?”
I suddenly noticed I was thinking, “Well I should probably spend time with this one, Jason probably wants to go skiing, but I should take advantage of my lift ticket I’ve already activated today…” It was all practicality and what other people might want. So when I paused and asked myself, “Yeah, April, what do YOU want to do?” I couldn’t even tell what that was. In the midst of that house full of people, noise, wants and needs, I couldn’t begin to discern what my own were. I silently excused myself to the bedroom to think, because I hate crying in public. I was distressed I could be so out of touch with my own desires.
I’ll Tell You What I Want, What I Really, Really Want.
Not being able to tell what I want is a pattern born from a people-pleasing past and having small children, who until their recent maturity, haven’t known Moms even had preferences. So my focus for 2020 is to take the time and space to figure out what I want to do, whether it’s what movie to see or which direction to take my career. That doesn’t mean I never compromise (in a family of four, it’s inevitable) but I, at the very least, want to KNOW what I’d prefer. I don’t want to perform my life so that everyone can see that I am a “good person.” I want to feel it for myself.
So, do you set a New Year’s resolution, intention or focus? Do you say “screw it” to the whole idea? What’s your take on it? What are your plans, if any, for the upcoming months?
I was poking through my spam folder when I saw a message that appeared to be from myself but with a different email address. It began like this:
I do know @#$$%% is your passphrases. Lets get directly to purpose. No person has compensated me to investigate about you. You do not know me…
I replaced the “passphrase” with gobbledygook here, but in the actual email, it was a password I had used in the past. My hackles went up, despite the horrendous grammar (or maybe because of it). The message was long, but the gist was they had downloaded all my contacts, and if I didn’t send them $997 in bitcoin, they would send everyone a video (they’d hacked into my camera) of me watching porn. Aside from my email address and the password, there was no specific information that indicated they knew anything about me. Ridiculous, right? Except…
I have watched internet porn before.
Just like most people probably have, at least once. My heart began hammering in my chest. I tried to laugh it off, but I couldn’t focus on my work. My overactive imagination kept conjuring up what it would feel like if my entire contacts list received that kind of video, how it could terrorize my family, my kids, even ruin my career. Then, I began to get angry. How dare this person hijack my brain with fear, distracting me so that a morning I planned to spend catching up on work was spent rereading the same paragraph over and over because I couldn’t concentrate. How dare they pray on people this way. It’s bullshit, and I’m not putting up with it.
I told Jason, you know, just in case it came to fruition, so he would be prepared. Plus, it always makes me feel less like the world is ending when I share, especially since he didn’t think it was any big deal. Luckily, despite what the malicious message implied, the notion of my watching porn has no chance of ruining my relationship. I went for a run, I calmed down. I feel better about it now.
I’m not the only one getting threatening spam.
I can’t help but think about the people who might be taken in by this, might actually send the money, or might not, but they live in fear of their worst, most embarrassing nightmare coming true. I’m mostly angry at the perpetrator, but part of the reason crap like this even has a chance of working is how horrified we all are that people might actually find out we like sex, that we might like to get creative with it sometimes, do something unconventional (not that watching porn is, at all, unconventional.)
Now that I am done being scared and pissed off, I’m viewing it as a warning shot — to be careful online and to teach my kids to be the same. I am, right now in my head, composing a conversation I need to have with them about suspicious messages and how to handle them, (i.e., tell me so I can help and/or track down and beat the shit out of anyone stalking and scaring my kids.)
It’s less embarrassing when you share.
I debated whether or not to share this story here. It’s embarrassing, but considering how many people watch porn, it’s also ridiculous to be embarrassed about it. Telling you myself, instead of waiting for someone else to out me allows me to be in control, to take back the power that internet trolls are trying to steal for their own gain.
I know there are other people out there who’ve gotten these messages — people who feel scared, annoyed, angry, embarrassed. And when we keep these terrifying situations to ourselves, it eats at us and grows larger and heavier. We lose to the internet terrorists who want us to be scared enough to succumb to their wishes or at least live in fear for a while.
But when we are honest about who were are, when we stand on the mountain and shout, “Yes, I’ve watched internet porn before. So what?” When we let all of our skeletons out of the closet to dance around in broad daylight, no one can impose a fear hold on us. Here’s the other thing you find out when you let out gossipy truths about yourself….in actuality, no one really cares all that much.
When we come home from vacation, I am fifty percent likely to unpack right away, put everything where it goes and start a load of laundry. The other fifty percent…I leave my bag on the floor of the bedroom for a week and a half where I paw through it every time I need something. Either thing is just as possible.
I am wildly inconsistent about most things. (I can’t say “all things” because I’m not even consistent at being inconsistent.) I’m obsessed with Facebook until I decide I hate it and ignore it for three weeks. I exercise regularly until I decide life is too short to spend it working out and my running shoes start to grow cobwebs. I like routine very much until I start to get bored and want something novel until I feel overwhelmed and crave routine again.
Jason says I’m a complex person. I’m starting to think this isn’t a compliment. It’s confusing, even for me. Especially when I plan something when I’m in “do all the things, be with all the people!” mode but the actual plans fall in a “people suck, I don’t like to shower phase.”
My mother-in-law once asked me if I liked to shop, which seems like a simple enough question. My answer (Yes, when I’m in the mood to, but a lot of times not because of capitalist bullshit, you know, and it can be soothing to wander through a store but stressful when you feel you just HAVE to get a birthday present for someone and it can be overwhelming when you can’t decide what to buy and just end up putting everything you picked out back and leave the store in tears.) is stupidly complicating.
Today I think, You know what’s wrong with me? I need to be more social. Tomorrow it’ll be, You know what my problem is? I don’t have enough alone time. I need to be busier; I’m bored. I’m overwhelmed; I need more downtime. Like seriously, could I land at just one end of the spectrum of a problem just once? Like for more than a few days at a time?
How is it that I can be equal parts people-pleaser and stubborn, “You’re not the boss of me, I don’t have to if I don’t want to even if I know it’s good for me”? How can I have BOTH of those feelings inside me simultaneously?
I need every day to be a choose your own adventure book, so I can adjust my life on a dime. Do you, A, go to the meeting? B, take a nap? C, drive to Mexico? Take a random day like next Tuesday, and given the option, I might pick any one of those. You can’t predict it. More importantly, I can’t predict it.
I’m going to go upstairs and read now or maybe play Rocket League badly with my family. Or perhaps I’ll invent a time machine so I can go back and talk to Einstein about the theory of relativity and hope that, in person, he can explain it to me. Really, any of that’s pretty likely.
When I was a kid, adults always asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I knew the answer was supposed to be a paying gig, so I shrugged my shoulders noncommittally and hoped they’d just move on. The truth was, I didn’t want to be anything when I grew up, at least nothing that qualified as a valid profession. After all, no one was going to pay me to make up dances in my living room at my own pace and only when I felt like it.
As far as I could see, being an adult sucked. They got up and went to work eight or nine hours a day, got only two weeks vacation and didn’t even get summers off. They were obligated to stay at their place of business until quitting time. They paid bills and did responsible things like washing dishes, mowing the lawn and paying for car insurance.Screw that, I thought as I spent long summer days roller skating up and down our steep neighborhood driveways with friends or sprawled across my bed with a book by myself.
I liked to make up stories. I wrote down the rambling thoughts in my head in the form of poetry or barely-legible prose. Not a practical career choice, that of a writer — may as well decide I’m going to be heavyweight champion of the world. NOTHING I liked to do was marketable.
I went to high school with a lot of high-achieving teenagers, and in college, my friends found their places. They were pre-med, pre-law, civil engineering. Being a writer didn’t fit in with my family culture nor my school cohort unless of course, I could make myself a noteworthy best-selling author. No pressure. So I spent most of my college years making out with boys and figuring out where I could get my hands on some beer. I graduated from college because that’s what was expected and because I was tired of people telling me what to do.
I didn’t know there were other roads to adulthood, and indeed, there weren’t as many options as our kids thankfully have today. There are young entrepreneurship programs now that have kids developing their own marketable products while still in high school, for example. That’s awesome, but here’s another thing to think about:
What if we widened the definition of “successful?” We heap praise on the ambitious, but is being content where you are such a bad thing? Is wanting “just enough” really worse than aiming for the stars? Why did I have it in my head anything less than “best-selling” was a failure? Why wasn’t “pretty good writer who ekes out a living” a viable option if it made me happy?
I’d like to see us continue to support the kids and young adults who have ideas and goals and want to run with them to the top, make all the money and/or change the world. But let’s also remember it takes more than wild idealism to make the world go around. Some of us don’t want to be millionaires or develop the next life-altering piece of technology. Some of us don’t want to be all-star athletes or biomedical engineers. Some of us just want to be allowed to do our art, share it with people, and be left alone.