Thursday, May 21, 2009

Follow Your Bliss

Chloƫ and Jess, 2008

If you ask most people what they've always wanted to do, they haven't done it.
Have you?

When I was twelve a teacher had us write a letter to ourselves, listing all the plans and dreams we had for our future. She said she'd send it to us when we were grown up, so we could see if we'd done what we had hoped to do. I never got the letter back and I've often wondered what I wrote.

I'm sure I said I wanted to be a writer, since I was already writing private limericks , embarrassing family stories, back-yard plays, and daily letters to pen-pals and cousins. I had voluminous diaries which were in circulation amongst my little brother's friends. It was easy to grow my readership by letting it slip that I wrote about them.

I tricked my brother into watching me secretly hide the locked diary under my pillow and hang the all-important key on the lamp switch. The intrigue was too much for the neighborhood's Hardy Boy sleuths, and within hours I was a well-known author, being sued for slander and defamation. Hey, it's all good publicity, right?

I had other plans, too. Whenever I was brought back to class from a daydream, I realized again how badly I wanted to go somewhere else: travel. My grandparents gave me a world globe for my 10th birthday, and a favorite activity when I was alone in my room was to close my eyes and give the globe a spin to determine where I'd go someday. Wherever my finger landed was written on a list at the back of my diary for future reference. I actually still have the list. (It's right under my boyfriend list: Kent Spencer, Kenny Clark, Jimmy Day, Steven Jones.) Sadly, my fantasies for my future didn't match up with my parents'. They didn't see my potential in the glorious ways I envisioned it.

They did have high expectations for me: "Marty, you could be a really good pianist if you'd just practice!" "You need to work hard on math, if you want to be a nurse." (I had a kit and a nurse's outfit. It was an OK assumption.) "You've got to type and know shorthand if you want a good job in an office." (These were skills that had served them both well.) "You are smart enough to get a full-ride scholarship, if you just applied yourself" (and went to class regularly). The problem was, these paths didn't excite me and it was easy to set aside what did, with lack of support.

I grew up more aware of what everybody thought I should do than what I could do. It's funny that nobody in my entire world, including me, took seriously my desire to become a writer and/or go traveling.

When I got straight A's in advanced high school creative writing classes, and even an A+ on my freshman English research paper, I was encouraged to clep (skip w/credit) future English classes and get right to work on my major—German—where I was getting C's. In a round-about way, even English teachers were saying "Don't stop here. There's no future here." I got the message that anybody can write. I needed business skills to get a real job, and if I was going to stay home with kids, I didn't need any skills at all.

So much for personal interests. I could write for a hobby, (whenever all my nay-sayers needed something written—like a lesson for Sunday School, or a poem for an invitation, or a skit for their party.)

European travel was another frivolous goal viewed by my parents as too expensive, dangerous, and unnecessary to even discuss. After a few years of nagging him, my dad asked, "Why do you want to go to a place like Germany? They were Nazi's. Our enemies! And the whole country stinks, because they don't take baths." (They had some left-over war-time prejudices!)

They finally agreed to pay half, if I paid half, for a semester abroad in Salzburg, Austria, which changed and defined my life. I had been right about what I wanted. But by then I had new desires to factor in, and "I [happily] took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."

Gretchen at The Happiness Project quoted Walter Murch, an Academy Award-winning film editor and sound designer:

“As I’ve gone through life, I’ve found that your chances for happiness are increased if you wind up doing something that is a reflection of what you loved most when you were somewhere between nine and eleven years old…At that age, you know enough of the world to have opinions about things, but you’re not old enough yet to be overly influenced by the crowd or by what other people are doing or what you think you ‘should’ be doing. If what you do later on ties into that reservoir in some way, then you are nurturing some essential part of yourself. It’s certainly been true in my case. I’m doing now, at fifty-eight, almost exactly what most excited me when I was eleven."

So am I. It's fun to end up where I started. I don't regret a thing. The path I've taken has brought me to the exact place I wanted to get to, and I haven't missed anything important by going the long way around. And I've got joy, experience and wisdom I would have missed if I'd skipped the round-about journey.

What did you want to do when you were ten? Are you doing it now? Why, or why not?


Anonymous said...

a writer and a traveler-- which is just part of why I love you so much!

I've spent a lot of time fretting over the lost opportunities in high school and college--- I should have been a journalism or English major-- I should have traveled the world as a journalist. And yet, I had 6 kids instead. But there are still(at 39) plenty of possibilities ahead of me. Thanks for inspiring me.

Polly said...

I always wanted to be a mother, and teach my children that they could do whatever they wanted to do. to encourage them to dream and believe in themselves. i've always done it and i'm still doing it with grandchildren.

diane said...

I wanted to be Perry Mason or one of the Tom Hanson dancers from The Carol Burnett Show. I honestly thought I would have a dance studio in my basement. Injuries prevented the dancing dream. I danced through college and then had to stop. So the dance studio was replaced with a hair salon in my garage. Still creative. Health issues are causing me to rethink my future. Standing behind my salon chair is no longer an option. The dream of motherhood has been realized but will be over quicker than I thought, as least the daily part. I have to find something to keep my hands and mind busy. Not sure where this will lead but I am anxious to figure it all out.

Sheri said...

I'm glad you've stayed true to yourself. What a wonderful writer (and traveler) you've become.

I have no idea what I wanted to be when I was ten. Maybe that's why I never became anything. LOL. I probably wanted to be a teacher, because when I was ten my oldest sister was teaching English at Highland High and I thought that was cool. I know I became interested in family history at that time because my grandma was living with us and she told me stories of her family.

Kay Dennison said...

I can't remember really. All I know is that I wanted to see the world and yeah, I liked to write. When I was 40 I realized that I'd really love to be a professor of comparative literature and travel to do my research. It was too late. I had two kids who needed me. And now it's really too late so I whine on my blog.

Bev said...

to write and to create art --- and finally after 30 years of wandering and doing what had to be done to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads I'm getting to do some of those things

great post Marty --- makes me want to ask my daughter about it too

Virginia said...

Like you, I always imagined myself to be a writer. What I ended up writing (mostly technical material) and what I thought I'd write when I was young don't quite match up. I pictured myself as a journalist back then. But it remains the truest idea of what I want to be.