I think I’ve always been a bit of an all-or-nothing type. I’m melodramatic and a bit self-involved quite a lot of the time, much to the annoyance of anyone who loves me and many who don’t. A knock-on effect of those tendencies happens to be that I give something a go and if it doesn’t work out, I let it go pretty easily. I don’t give up, mind – I just shift. My attention. My effort. My raison d’être.
When I was 15 I thought I might be a writer. By 17 I was hoping to fall head-first into rockstardome. At 18 I boarded a plane to Manila. Said I to me, “Either animals, children, or music…that’s gotta be it.” By the time I boarded the plane back to LA I was set upon working with kids. Homeless kids, to be exact. And I did – much more than I ever did poetry or rocking out. But life has, in the past couple of years, led me in a number of different directions, and so I’ve found myself doing the things life has led me to do. Most of those things haven’t involved homeless children…or children at all, really.
The last year has been an interesting one. At the start of it, I was feeling rather zen about all of it, like things were sure to fall in place if I just kept my head about me and stayed focused. I suppose things did fall into place, if by “things” I didn’t mean “money” and by “place” I didn’t mean “my bank account.”
There are a couple solid reasons magazine writing didn’t work out for me. Firstly, there’s my ego. My heart is too fragile, my skin too thin. I need to know I’m doing a good job, and sitting in my office sending out query letter after unanswered query letter was soul destroying. I could have handled criticism…it was the silence that killed me. There’s also, of course, the fact that I don’t particularly like magazines.
I love words. I love books and plays and screenplays and poems and song lyrics. But magazines have just never been my thing. In any of their many forms. The longevity of the words found in songs and books does not belong to them, nor does the urgency of the words found in newspapers. I know there are people who love magazines. There are also people who love mushrooms. My magazine-writing endeavor taught me that I should leave the cooking of mushrooms to those who like eating them. It just makes sense.
I think I knew that ship would sail long before I said out loud that it had, because in April I got my TEFL qualification as “backup.” Ladies and gentlemen, let’s be honest. Backup is for people who know they’re not going to be legendary at the pursuit they are currently pursuing. That’s not to say it’s a bad idea – it’s just to say that true greatness often involves believing so deeply in oneself, all caution is thrown to the wind.
But – importantly – backup is not the retirement plan of dreams.
Since we’ve come to France, I’ve not really felt confident about working in my previous field because my level of French felt insufficient for a job that depends so greatly on communication, because I was wary of starting over when I’d worked so hard to build up my experience in London and the Philippines, and because I wasn’t sure, frankly, if I had it in me to do that work again. To be honest, I’m still not.
There’s this line in Max Ehrmann’s “Desiderata” that goes, “Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.” I always took that to heart, and as I trudged through waiting tables and tending bars and slinging coffee during university, it gave me comfort. It has occurred to me recently, however, that my career is (and always has been) the “changing fortune” of my life, though I’ve exercised as much will as I could muster in ensuring that it at least existed in some form or another.
Right now I’m teaching English. It’s been slow in coming largely because I’ve not wanted it to come. Before I was a student, so my career was irrelevant. Then I worked with homeless young people. Then I managed people working with homeless young people. Then I wrote. In all of these professions I felt proud. Though I never felt a fully-fledged writer, I felt prouder to call myself “burgeoning” than to disclose: “I teach English.”
Here’s the thing: I’m enjoying this. A lot. I like my students. I like seeing them learn. I like not worrying about them, knowing that they are largely okay, and my job begins and ends with grammar, syntax and spelling. I love language and I love words, and I’m digging into that on a level completely different to what I’ve done before.
I can’t lie to my faithful readers…this has not been easy, and it’s taken its toll on two very important parts of my life: my writing and my yoga. Since it’s my first year, and since I’m teaching to so many different levels, I’m starting from scratch and it’s taking ages. I work twice the number of hours I teach. And I’m still studying French and volunteering at the retirement home.
While I’m painfully aware that letting my yoga practice slip is about the stupidest thing I could possibly do under stress or pressure (incidentally, I’m getting that back in order), letting my writing slip has been something else all together. I think I speak for both Chris and myself when I say that we’ve never wanted this blog to be a journal – it’s not that I don’t like that sort of thing, but the juicy stuff in my life story is not something I wish to share. Call me a conartist if you like. I just don’t fancy you all knowing how crazy I really am.
What If and Why Not is about taking chances. It is about the extraordinary journey that life is. It is about striving to be better, no matter how hard it seems or how good we get. It is about realizing our place in the world and our consequent responsibility toward it. It is about that magical feeling we all feel at the most important and significant miliseconds of our lives, when our hearts beat with the rhythm of the Earth’s pulse, when the strings that connect us pull tightly, when the ground beneath our feet is steady and yet our hearts spin with the world. It is about reaching out every which way to figure out how to make that happen.
I’m not intending to do any less of that, but it’s been hard to articulate how this heretofore underwhelming profession could fit into that picture. Perhaps it does, and I’ll make sense of that along the way. Perhaps it doesn’t, and I’ll learn how to make my life about more than my job. Perhaps I’m not long for teaching and life will guide me back to what I know, or onto something I don’t.
In the meantime, faithful readers, please bear with my sporadic posts. I’ve no wish to give up writing, but it has not been easy to find the right thread lately…I’ll keep searching, though, and for now I’ll keep teaching, too. There’s also that other great part of “Desiderata”: “And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”
Happy New Year, everybody. Here’s to letting the universe unfold as it should, even if it’s not always clear to me.