I once heard that people don’t start living until their parents are dead. It takes an extraordinary amount of courage to stand in the face of those who tell you how to live — or even worse, expect you to live out the dreams they discarded. In light of that, I look back on my younger self with great compassion — because she didn’t stop seeking, even with inner and outer disapproval (“you can’t be gay / move away from home / choose something other than Christianity / not work a FT job with benefits / be an artist because that’s not a real job”). I started writing the guidebook then — though chaotic and uncertain — that I refer to now. I’m able to say, “Remember when I faced that roomful of kids in the South Bronx every day and became a great teacher?” or “Wow, I survived that heart-smashing breakup. How did I ever get through that?” or “God, I loved riding through NYC on my motorcycle — such a badass!”
All of the chances, the great successes that I didn’t really take the time to enjoy, the seeming failures in love or not living a “normal” life (what is traditionally expected of a woman) — make me who I am today. And as I take chances and walk new roads, I’m writing the guidebook for my older self.
I certainly spent a few years towing the line with spectacular lameness. However, for all of my parents’ limitations, they never forced me to go to Christian school or nagged me about marriage/kids (the coming out process — and yes, it is a process — at age 23 helped). After the nth move and the nth job, I think they realized that no amount of bugging or guilt trips was going to change my wandering ways.
But I had to give my self permission to create and evolve as I saw fit. I had to say “no” to wonderful promotions so that I could explore my artistic side, rather than hand it over to a corporation. I had to move when I wanted to stay, stay when I wanted to move and love when I wanted to run. I needed to cast aside an ideology that didn’t fit, while keeping the jewels that sparkled around my throat. I had to learn that “to thine own self be true” meant that it would never stop, this seeking, no matter the age.
That’s why all of the experiences we have — our crazy, chaotic, amazing journeys — create the map that leads us to the next, and the next. And when we feel lost, we have the guidebook that we need.
(I adore this pic of Georgia O’Keefe, one of the fiercest OBA’s — original bad-asses — of the 20th century.)