On Evolving Dreams and the Prospect of “Starting Over”

She might not look like what you pictured when you were 16. Her job might not be cool.
Her hair might not be flowing like a mermaid. And she might be really serious about something, or someone. And she might be a lot happier than you are right now.

— Katherine to Jessa, Girls

___

I briefly, and recently, worked with a girl five years my junior—fresh out of undergrad—who expressed, during one of our first shifts together, that she wanted to work with victims of sex trafficking.

She explained how she wanted to start a private company that would run investigations to recover victims and integrate them back into society. She capped this vision off with the belief that, in order to move on and lead a normal life, victims should be discouraged from telling their stories.

“It’s not good for people to talk about their trauma, over and over,” she said.

I looked at her sideways, and briefly questioned her on the effectiveness of this method. But beyond that, I didn’t really say much.

About a week or so later, I’d tell her, “I’m considering going back to school to become a therapist.” And it was her turn to look at me sideways.

“Oh,” she said, and then—not immediately after, but somewhere along the way in our conversation—“I just picture you being more nomadic and artsy.”

Some past version of me would’ve been thrilled to hear this latter response–to be perceived as nomadic, like a girl who wears bells and doesn’t believe in shirts. While current-me—the me-est me—felt mildly disappointed by her former and doubtful, “Oh.” (A response I’ve received a few times since the idea of becoming a therapist first entered my mind.)

Oh.

It’s like I’m letting people down. Like I’m admitting all the cynics who said, in response to my writing degree, What are you going to do with that?, were right. Like I’ll never pursue anything creative ever again. Like that part of my “career” is totally over—as if it ever really started to begin with.

***

About a month ago, I was accepted into an M.F.A. program for creative writing, and I was kind of surprised when the admission didn’t automatically render this other prospect—to return to school with the intent of becoming a therapist—completely irrelevant.

To “be a writer” is something I’ve always wanted. It’s something I’ve told myself I’d pursue to the bitter end, down whatever—and every—avenue. I told myself this under the pretense that I would look back and regret it if I didn’t try absolutely everything I possibly could. But then, I found myself at yet another interview, for yet another receptionist job, being asked, “In your career, what’s your biggest regret thus far?” And I thought: How many times am I going to do this? How many interviews can I sit through, half-heartedly, before I realize that—maybe my interviewing skills don’t suck? Maybe I just don’t want to be a receptionist all that much.

***

In undergrad, my favorite professor always said, “If you want to be a writer, do something else.” He didn’t say it as a discouragement from writing, but as a reminder that, in order to write well, one has to experience new things. And I took that to heart, in my own way. I told myself: Do the crappy jobs. Be the server, the cashier, the front desk girl—get shit on for a living. It’ll give you something to write about. And—yeah—that all might’ve passed for artistic pursuit in my early 20s. But, now, as I’m getting older and sealing up the cracks in my identity—have done, and will continue to do, the work of healing—I’ve started to seriously consider just how much I have always sold myself short.

All my life, I’ve said, “Writing is the only thing I’m good at.” And I allowed so much of my identity and self-worth—if not all of it—to be determined by this one talent. I honestly believed I had nothing else to offer. I put all my eggs in a single basket marked “starving artist” and did the crappy jobs. Because, I thought, that was it for me. But, over the past year and a half, my other talents have been brought to my attention. And now, in light of having been accepted into grad school, I can’t help but wonder if further education in writing would just be another way in which I sell myself short.

At the core of my desire to write, there has always been a desire to make other people feel less alone; to connect with humanity, and give people permission to keep telling their stories—however many times they need. And, even though it’s been a jagged pill, I’ve come to the understanding that my writing might never reach a wide enough audience to achieve this goal—at least not in the ways a career in mental health could. Which, might seem like my giving up on a dream—but it doesn’t feel that way to me.

If anything it feels like finally accepting, and admitting, that I am more than writing; that I can be of service to others in a way that runs deeper than counting out change and biting my tongue and blogging about it later.

It’s a chance to provide myself with a sense of purpose that “starving artist” never has, or will. Because—although there is a part of me that will always be dark and tormented and longing for something that isn’t there, my “nomadic” spirit—it’s a relief, to accept that I also have a deep seeded need for stability that deserves to be met. In spite of my past self, probably sighing in response from the depths of personal history: Oh.

I guess I find it eerie. How much I’ve changed since I first stepped out of undergrad and into the “real” world.

When my aforementioned co-worker told me—essentially—that repression was pivotal in terms of healing, I felt like telling her: You have no idea about the real world. I wanted to say: You wait. Someday you’re going to encounter someone so entitled, it’ll shake the foundation of everything you think you know.

So much of her cluelessness reminded me of who I used to be, and could never be again—not even if I tried.

***

I used to have this vision of myself—she runs away to the southernmost part of the country, and doesn’t need anything except for some dollar store paperbacks and a bikini.

She wants to be as far away from everyone as she can be, without drowning. So whatever has or hasn’t happened to her will look so far away, it won’t matter.

She might be a dream.

And I might be a lot happier than she is right now.

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