I was recently talking to my sister-in-law. One of those late, 2 a.m. talks where you both should have gone to bed hours ago. I said something to her that stuck with me. Something about my life, and my goals. I’m going to share, but some background first.
When I was a little girl, all I wanted to be when I grew up was a famous performer. Now, I never said it so succinctly. I wanted to be a ballerina. No, wait, a pop star. No, wait, a Broadway star. No, wait, an actress in Hollywood, but also still a ballerina, and maybe still a pop star. I loved to perform. My mother put me in a “creative movement” class when I was 4 – somewhere there’s a picture of little baby me in my pink satin leotard with a bandolier of scarves that I wore for my first recital. Thus began a lifelong obsession. I was in every choir, in every school and church play, I took tumbling and ballet and jazz dancing (though I stuck with ballet the longest). My siblings and I used to stage performances for our family. My friends and I would play games that were essentially singing contests. When I went to college (the first time), it was to study Vocal Performance. This was the dream. Even after I left college (re: was kicked out because I stopped going to classes due to depression following my first major break up), this was still the dream.
I wanted the stage. Nothing in the world feels like being on stage. The adrenaline, the tingle in your skin as you take your place and wait for the curtain to draw up and the lights to come on. The long nights practicing with a cast that becomes almost a family for the production run. Hearing your voice soar through an auditorium, knowing that everyone is listening to you. There is absolutely nothing like it. And when the concert ends, when the curtains fall on closing night, you feel accomplished and exhilarated and heartbroken that it’s over, but you know you can do it again.
And then I got pregnant. I was barely 20 when I married the man involved (an ill advised union to put it politely), and gave birth to my son in January of 2000. I still thought, for a little while, that this was only temporary. That I would get back to the stage. I found some solace in other creative pursuits – I started writing more. I had been writing since my freshman year of high school, off and on, but it was a thing I did with friends, I had no real aspirations there. Not even a year later I got pregnant again (I am apparently hella fertile). Had a little girl. Then I found out that my son was on the autism spectrum, and I mean the end where people weren’t sure if he would ever be able to write his own name or communicate without pictures. I tried getting a part time job, but my ex couldn’t handle being alone with my son. I got a divorce, and my ex stomped off in a pout with no contact information left behind. Obviously I’m glossing over a lot here, but we’re highlighting the significant life decisions.
I went to one audition when my children were still young, shortly after I had filed for divorce and my ex had disappeared. It was for The Unsinkable Molly Brown, a paying gig at the Fine Arts Center. I’d had paying gigs before the children were born, though not many. I botched the audition. I wasn’t warmed up enough, it had been too long since I had done…anything. And that’s when I knew I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t chase this dream and be a mother to my children. Maybe others could, but I couldn’t. I would have to give up one, and since giving up the children wasn’t an option, I had to give up the stage.
And that was it, for a long time. Oh, sure, my friends and I had pipe dreams about owning our own clubs or starting up a gaming café or whatever else got us excited at the time. But my dream, what I wanted to do with my life – that was just gone. I was a mom, and that took most of my time. I held a variety of jobs, though lost a lot of them. Even worked at Intel for a little while, but problems with consistent affordable child care saw that blow up in my face. I ended up working for my mother at her laundry business, because who else was going to let me bring my kids with me when I needed to? Later on I also worked for my future in-laws at their shop selling bumper stickers and buttons for the liberally minded. Paycheck to paycheck, frequently in debt and juggling bills, home alone at night and utterly exhausted. Friends came by for game night. Sometimes we went out. I couldn’t envision a future other than survival. Quite frankly, there wasn’t one at the time.
Things got better. I fell in love with someone who was worth it. We became one big family. Slowly, over time, it got better. I went back to school – it was hard to find work that paid enough to be worth the child care with just a high school diploma, so I applied for grants and financial aid and started taking classes again. I started writing again. Then an interesting thing happened – people other than my parents started telling me it was good. Professors praised my tone and my style. Every article I submitted to the school paper got printed. I started submitting short pieces to literary magazines and anthologies, and saw them published. It took 8 years, but I got my BA in English – Professional and Creative Writing. After a year off, I went back for an MFA (still working on that). I started working regularly as a freelance writer.
So back to the conversation with my sister-in-law. I told her that I realized, at some point in the last year or so, that writing is the new dream. Specifically, writing a novel, getting it edited and polished and submitted to an agent or publishing house. It’s an attainable dream in many ways, though you wouldn’t know it from the way people talk about it. Not very many people in my personal circle are terribly supportive of this endeavor. Most of my friends don’t take it seriously – they’re all doctors and lawyers, or married to software engineers, and when I try to talk about my writing they treat it like a hobby. My family says I’m a great writer, but they think I should be writing about my kids or my experiences, they’re not interested in my fiction. Some of the people closest to me have said some well meaning but horribly disparaging things since I started to focus on this seriously.
The thing is, though – and this is the point I made that night, that hit me like an epiphany – I can’t give this up. It took me a long time to find another dream. I can’t just let go of this one because people think I should be doing something else. My husband understands, and supports me in this. I thank the stars he does. I’m 41 years old, my children are technically adults (though my son will require some level of supervision and care for the rest of his life), it’s been a long road but things have continued to get better. I need to see this out. I need to try. If I fall on my face, if I’m wrong and no one wants my stories, then fine I’m wrong, but I need to take this time and put in the work and put myself out there. No, it’s not the most stable profession. No, it doesn’t come with PTO or benefits or a 401K. But it’s the only dream I have left.