When I was in high school, in the eighties, I was doing what all teens in the mire of decisions and discoveries do: I was mulling over what I wanted to BE. Why is there so much self inflicted pressure at such a young age to have a definitive answer to that question? No matter how much anyone persuaded me not to worry about it, there were just as many asking me, “What do you want to BE?” Ughh. I don’t wish for those times back for all the land in China. And I’d like to minimize the pressure my own teens may incur with that question and assure them they have time to discover one answer at a time. There’s no pressure to have the life map written out in ink by the high school graduation event. Maybe one clue is all that’s necessary, and hopefully someone somewhere will be kind enough, thoughtful enough, to be more encouraging than realistic. I’ll explain.
When I was seventeen I drove from Michigan to Iowa alone in my mom’s borrowed car to visit my step-sister who was married.She was a new, exasperated mother. This plan was thrust upon me by the conspirings of some adults. I knew that without being told, but I didn’t mind being manipulated in this case because the call of the adventure and the lure of freedom was too enticing.
She took me camping. I was a little prissy for that, but I kept an open mind. With all the quiet in nature and the odd independence of my step sister who kept herself occupied I was free to think about my future. I remember asking myself from all the deep places inside me what in the world did I really want to do. Dancing didn’t seem to be the answer any more, but it was the only thing I was sure I could do well. It was safe. I allowed myself to explore the unsafe options. I wrote in my journal that I wanted to be an author. I can still feel everything that coursed through my soul at the moment I realized it. I wanted it with all of myself in a desperate teenager’s dramatic way. When she asked me what I was thinking about I said it outloud for the first time: “I want to be a writer.” She snorted a quick laugh tossed her head aside, and dismissed me with, ” well then you should be”. She returned to poking the fire, and I stared at my journal.
Later at home, I confided to my best friend, my mentor, my theater director, Penny Owens, that I knew what I wanted to do after graduation. I told her I was going to write a book. (I tried out a little feigned confidence to see how it worked.) She didn’t laugh, she penetrated my heart with her firm gaze and told me, “You don’t know anything yet. You need to have a life first before you can write anything anyone will want to read.” Ouch that truth hurt.
The air was let out of my plan in that moment. She stole my possibilities. I could almost see my name on a book drop off, plummet to the ground and be trampled.
But it didn’t die. It just nursed itself back to health for most of my life. That first realization on a camping trip in Iowa was a clue. Maybe I took Penny’s advice and went to get a life first. I learned a few things too. I still haven’t done “it”, but I no longer believe “it” can’t be done. I also don’t believe there’s any hurry. When the timing is right to write a book, God will push me, and I will go. My dream of writing didn’t die, it doesn’t have to look the way I imagined it as a teen scared of her future, it simply is what it is, a part of who I’ve always been. I didn’t even know the word “blog” at seventeen, and yet here I am writing one every day. There’s no career map to look at, we must feel our way through the thick of it and be clever to recognize clues.