Names I know have been falling out of the sky. I’ve been located via MySpace by several people I knew in secondary school and Friendstered by an old college friend recently. Let me just say that I was one of those people who had fun at her ten year high school reunion because I’m earnestly interested in what happens to people, how they are transformed by time and experience. And a lot has happened to the people I used to know. They’re married, they’re having children, they’ve moved across the country, they have jobs that come with a title and a staff, and one even has her Ph.D.—plenty of transformation.
So you know what’s coming, right? I start to wonder about me. If I’ve been making progress. It’s not a competitive thing. I have no desire to continue my formal education. We know I’m not ready for marriage. And I don’t want to be the boss of anyone. But as far as my path is concerned, I do think about whether I’m as far along as I should be. That may sound ridiculous—like I’m racing myself—but then again it could be symptomatic of always having felt like I’m a beat behind.
When I was a kid and I thought about my eventual adult life I was certain of only a few things. I would never work all day, every day in an office and I wanted to be part of a team. When I became an adult, my neuroses kicked in and I acted in accordance with my fears. I needed to be able to support myself and show accomplishment. I got a job at a corporate publishing house and did what I could to round out my square edges.
It was not an unmitigated disaster. I learned a great deal about good writing, fixing bad writing, what kind of writing sells, and the often unbelievable lengths people will go to…to show accomplishment. It took me years and not a little heartbreak to admit it, but commerce, even of the literary variety, is not my domain. I felt lesser for it, for a while, and then I thought that perhaps the reason I didn’t make it working for the man was because that isn’t where I’m supposed to be. And so I left.
Leaving was good, but getting off the wrong road doesn’t exactly put you on the right one. I still had that rounded out mentality and I didn’t know quite what to do with myself. I would sustain great flows of creative energy only to get bogged down with the stress of trying to classify where I was going with my career, how I would succeed financially, and whether or not I was even good enough to be bothering with creative endeavors. Without the structure of the man, I was at a loss.
Historically, change has been intensely difficult for me. I’ll do almost anything to avoid it. So many of the major changes in my life have been jarring and painful that I consider placidity to be an altered state. As soon as I acknowledge contentment, I start sweating what will happen next. Because I’m sure it won’t last. I feel like I’ve been in survival mode, without backup, for the last twenty years. And it’s taken its toll.
So, yeah, the whole leaving thing was a big deal for me. But I didn’t know how to follow it up or who I was to be making change—a circumstance that usually affected me, not the other way around. In the wake of it all, I haven’t had much of a grip on who I am. When I think about the precepts set out by my young self and consider how far a field I’ve strayed, I feel like my adulthood has been one great big suppression. Because that kid may not have had the chance to learn much, but she knew exactly who she was.
But like I said, give them enough time and some people will surprise you. My granny, for instance, getting married at 81. I went back to the Midwest to attend the event. Who would miss it? I’d been jogging a lot and was in peak physical shape, for me. I was wearing a size eight. Blanche wore an enormously large brimmed hat, which she kept on throughout the reception…at the Moose Lodge. Once the one-man-polka-band got going she picked out the best dancers and stole them away from their partners.
There was some to do about one of my cousins wearing a dress. She’s a beauty, but she doesn’t know it and likes to keep a low profile in baggy jeans and T-shirts. I’m all too familiar with that awkward adolescent feeling, especially being more of a curvy girl. In the dress she felt exposed…fat. I remarked that she’d outgrow it in no time and meanwhile we could all see how pretty she was. Blanche agreed, in her fashion. “No one cares about these things. I mean look at you. You wear a pretty dress and you smile and no one notices.”
I was speechless. But if I could have spoken I might have asked, ‘No one notices what?’ Because, for once, I felt sure that nothing was wrong with me—that I was pretty. I had to go to the bathroom and look in the mirror before I could suck it up. And I could. Because I’ve learned that Blanche doesn’t mean to be an underminer. It’s just part of her neurotic cocktail. This is an extension of the way she looks at herself and she can’t help but apply it to me because I’m an extension of her.
I understand that, but I’ve had to reconcile myself to the fact that she doesn’t see these tendencies within herself and even if she could acknowledge them she wouldn’t know how to address them. You can’t demand change from people. You either find a way to work with who they are or you don’t. It was a coup, but I got her to buy short shorts to wear gardening and swimming at Aunty Em’s lake house. At first, she wouldn’t have it because you could see the cellulite on her size four legs. (She admits to it now—I think only because she knows she can’t fool me anymore.) But I got her not to care, for one weekend, in the seclusion of our family. That was big.
This is all by way of affording you the opportunity to truly appreciate my surprise a couple of months ago when Blanche told me she was buying a house. She had scoped out an up and coming neighborhood and found a reasonably priced property that qualified for a state funded grant program for low income first time home owners. She was organized. She had done research and filled out forms. She was talking about downsizing her menagerie of material possessions in order to settle comfortably into the small home. She was meeting with one of her regular clients to discuss putting her on the company payroll, so she could create a monthly budget. I didn’t know who was on the other end of the phone.
“What brought this on?” was the gist of my stammering reaction.
“I always thought I’d be swept up by the knight and he’d take me home to the castle,” she said.
“Well lately I’ve been thinking, Prince Charming isn’t coming…”
You could have knocked me over with a feather. In context to this miraculous happening, I had to expect a little more from myself. I needed to believe that I could get back to being who I was. Because if Blanche can make that cognitive leap, absolutely anything is possible.
The upshot of my transformation is I’m re-squaring my peg. And I think more change has to be the way to do it. Because while I may have gotten myself out of the office, I’m leading quite the solitary life. And learning how to shape my own change, well, it’s about time.
In this spirit, I went out and found a job. It’s far less cerebral and much more active—I’m a waitress at a fairly well known SoHo bistro. I get out of the house and interact with people four or five days a week now. It’s terribly pleasant. And I work with very cool individuals from all walks of life. It turns out my neurotic cocktail is geared toward service. I’m all about making sure the table is properly set and you’re happy with your wonderfully prepared, beautifully plated food.
I got an email the other day from another old college friend. One of her friends is coming to New York this summer and she’s looking for an apartment or a share. I got to thinking that if I could reduce my expenses, it might be easier for me to get back to sustaining that creative flow. My office is mostly just a handy place to store my books. And it might be nice to have someone around all the time, especially if that someone is friend-recommended. We’ll soon see. She’s moving in at the end of July.
This may just be the beginning of an adventure…a very long awaited one.