"Let us not be ashamed to speak what we shame not to think."
-Michel de Montaigne
-Michel de Montaigne
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
What Color Parachute Would You Like?
I feel like 27 is some sort of critical age. Which is a stupid 27-yr-old thing to say, I know, but it *feels* true nonetheless. The truth is EVERY age is a critical age, but it is only now that I'm starting to feel like possibility and limitation are scaled in equal measure before me. And that is an entirely new prospect for many people in their late twenties.
What I mean is this: you never tell a 5 year old that they're being unrealistic when they say they want to be an astronaut/President of the United States/ballerina/doctor/pirate/NBA star/firefighter. Our own cynicism might quietly *think it*, but, for all you know that freakin' kid MIGHT ACTUALLY DO IT. Who knows? Life is before them. Possibility outweighs limitation. But at 27, the field narrows. What was once an open meadow is now this scraggly little path winding up Work Mountain.
But the funny thing is, I'm finding this narrowing to be a sort of blessing.
I have a dear friend who is pulling his hair out trying to decide what to do with the rest of his life. Ah, that question: what to do, what to DO with our remaining youth, our remaining work years? He's prayed. He's discussed. He's researched. He's sought counsel. What he hasn't done, in my humble opinion, is be quiet. Quiet enough to have an objective discussion with himself. All of his understandable fretting has made me think about my own career trajectory, and in retrospect I find it ironic that my true passions were illuminated only after I recognized and accepted the limitations I have. I had to have the cajones to be painfully honest with myself and my desires before I could start reaping any joy from the work that was, in fact, sucking up my youth.
For me, teaching was a disaster. Not because I wasn't good at it, or because I didn't like the kids, or because the pay was bad (and it was). I LOVED my students, and by all accounts I was a stellar teacher. But, and here's the thing, I felt like I was extinguishing some essential part of me in order to do it. If it had been my "calling" all of that work would have been nutritious for my soul instead of draining, taxing, toxic. This is not to say that our passions should come easily, but rather, the work that comes as a result should grow us, feed us.
The narrowing of the field has helped me to zero in on what I want my life to look like, really. Not what I think my life should look like. And for the first time, I'm starting to see glimpses of the dreams I began as a girl. At fifteen I read and fell in love with The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. At 22 I taught this book to my 9th grade students. And now, at 27, I've received a note from Sandra Cisneros herself saying she loves my poems, lauds my future in writing. How else could that have happened, ever, if I hadn't been honest with myself about my desire to become a poet no matter how daft it made me look to other people?
I may never achieve any measure of *success* where writing is concerned. And I am, in fact, a no-name in the publishing world. But I'm totally okay with that because I am living a life that looks and feels exciting to me. Thank God the field is narrow for me now. Thank God I've had the good fortune of falling on my face hard enough to know now what I want. Bring on my thirties and beyond: I'm ready to run through them, torch in hand.