Twenty-nine years ago today I started a job I didn’t want in a career I wanted even less. I remember the day as if it were yesterday for both the warm, sunny late summer weather outside and for the dark, depressing pall of doom that hovered over me inside the building. I didn’t want to be a receptionist.
At twenty-one, I wanted to be an actress or a screenwriter—my heart knew it, my soul knew it, and my Leo astrological sign knew it best of all. That was my destiny, to embark on a journey of creative exploration through which I could reach the masses, not as a mere computer keyboard-poking paper pusher.
The screenplay I had written a year earlier and a literary agent in Texas had agreed to represent, not surprisingly, was not picked up for production by a Hollywood studio, so after a year under contract, the agency had returned the manuscript to me with their warmest regards. Dejected, bordering on despondent but still living with my parents, I felt obliged to at least try to assimilate like a normally functioning adult in the working world.
And so it was, the Tuesday after Labor Day weekend 1990, I sat down at my new post at the Fuchs Lubricants Co. reception desk, a job handed me by a friend who was headed off to her senior year in college, and tried desperately not to bawl my eyes out. The thought of eight hours a day, five days at week staring at fake plants, 1970s interior décor, and the faces of a bunch of adults with that definitive look of having given up long ago, loomed over me like the Grim Reaper of hopes and dreams.
I don’t remember anything of what was said to me that first day or what I’d said to others, but I remember each syllable of the promise I’d made to myself. “This isn’t forever.” I’d whispered it aloud as I willed my eyes not to pool and dug deep within my self-preservation reserve for something, anything to help me believe it.
But it wasn’t easy.
Life, low self-confidence, and the lowest of expectations anchored me in the job for the next thirteen years. As the years went by, I feared that this was indeed my manifest destiny. My heart never accepted it, but my brain, ever the realist, observed, as each year came and went, the light of the hope of future greatness dimming ever so gradually until it finally went black.
That was about when my life partner at the time rigorously encouraged me to quit my wretched employment and embark on a new journey toward a profession that would bring me at least enough fulfillment that I’d stop coming home each night and making her life miserable with a never-ending litany of job complaints.
When I reached the stage where even I couldn’t stand myself anymore, I took the dive—quit the security of that full-time position, endured the culture shock of full-time college campus life, and somehow found the self-discipline to do at thirty-three years old what most people were doing at twenty. The end result? I became an English teacher. Huzzah!
Almost exactly fifteen years to the day I’d nearly surrendered all my dreams to a steady paycheck and impressive health benefits package, I’d finally made good on the promise I’d made myself that sad day in 1990.
I was now a high school English teacher…a nervous high school English teacher who needed to get a Master’s degree to keep her full-time position.
Enter the creative writing program at Southern CT State University. Again forced into something I probably never would’ve pursued through my own volition, I opted for the creative writing thesis to avoid having to take two extra classes. During that time, I gave birth to my first “child,” the thesis novella that would become the coming out, coming of age Goldie award-winning lesfic novel, The Revelation of Beatrice Darby.
Now as I observe the twenty-ninth anniversary of the most important promise I’ve ever made, I write this to commune with all those who’ve ever promised something to themselves and have made it happen, are still waiting to make it happen, or have simply never had the inspiration to make a promise to themselves at all. To all of you, I say make the promise, and for fuck’s sake, keep the promise! No matter how long it takes, remember what you wanted, remember what you felt you deserved from this life and scrounge up the fucking the courage, whether you beg, borrow, or steal it, to make it happen.
At age fifty, am I the rich, famous writer I’d fantasized about being as a kid? Fuck no. But I’m living my best life, and I make no apologies and harbor no regrets.
I teach, I write, and I live. What more can I ask of this crazy, messy cluster fuck of an existence than to be free enough to allow myself permission to feel satisfied with myself and my life at the end of each day?
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