This morning I was listening to a song on the radio called “Stressed Out” by Twenty One Pilots, and the following lyrics struck a chord with me:
“We used to play pretend, give each other different names,
We would build a rocket ship and then we’d fly it far away,
Used to dream of outer space but now they’re laughing at our face,
Saying, “wake up, you need to make money.”
In addition to those lyrics being stuck in my head all morning, I just watched a video on Facebook with a chalkboard that Ashton Kutcher set-up asking everyone to write one regret. What they found was that a majority of people started with the word “Not”, saying that they did NOT pursue their dream, did NOT go to grad school, etc. http://aplus.com/s/30a05e703ad
All of this made me think…when did we forget what we were looking for in life? I recall telling my twenty-one year old self to never give up and to never settle. But settling is a part of growing up, isn’t it? I hate to say it, but it’s true. Responsibilities keep piling up…student loans to be paid, rent, car payments, saving for a house. You need to get a job to pay for these things and sometimes you have to give in even though your soul is kicking and screaming because some things get left on the sidelines, and for me that was my writing. Writing had always been my passion, but other things became a priority and writing became more of an afterthought throughout most of my twenties.
I did what I was supposed to do. I got a job. Not a job in writing, but a job that would help me save for a future: a wedding, a family, a house. I was spending countless days and hours working in a cubicle and staring at spreadsheets with no windows and drinking caffeine like it was the elixir of life. I thought I was living the American dream, but I wasn’t doing what I was passionate about and eventually my soul couldn’t take it anymore. I say soul because I truly believe there was something deep inside suffering and dying a little more each day when I was not doing what I was passionate about. My soul was yelling at me to hear it and stop ignoring the inner aches and face the truth; wasting precious days that the soul knows, my whole body knows are sacred. Each day not a day closer to Friday and the weekend, but a day closer to never getting the opportunity to fulfill my true potential. I remember saying that my soul was mad at me, like I had become something I wasn’t.
So, one day at the job I was googling aimlessly and found information about a summer playwriting course at Stonybrook University. It would be for a weekend out in Eastern, Long Island. Something drove me to sign up for this course, though I didn’t have the money – having just paid for my wedding and dress and all those other expensive things associated with the big day. I vented to my husband that night and he knew of course that my dream was to become a writer, and he helped supplement the remaining funds so that I could attend the conference. Never did I realize this was going to be a life-changing decision.
There are people who come into your life for a reason and I truly believe this particular professor was at the right place at the right time in my life. During one of the classes, he went around the room and pointed at everyone and instructed us to say the words I am a writer. When he pointed at me I shyly said that I want to be a writer.
He looked at me unconvinced.
“Do you write?” He asked me.
“Yes.” I replied, aware everyone in the room was looking at me.
“And you have written plays and had them performed?”
“Yes,” I said again.
“Then why don’t you believe that is what you are?”
I wanted to tell him that it was because everyone had told me it wasn’t possible, and that the odds were against me… writing was only a pipe dream… that there was so much competition….
But then I realized those weren’t my reasons. Those were everyone else’s reasons. I wanted to do this. I needed to believe in me. I am a writer.
I said it out loud as if it finally made sense – as if my soul was finally speaking and not being buried deep within. It was like a burden was lifted off my shoulders and I could breathe. It was the first time I realized who I was and what I was meant to do.
And I wrote a novel. And another novel. And three short stories, and four more works in progress. And, at my first book release party, I had the chance to thank my 3rd grade teacher who started it all and encouraged me to write. And I thanked my parents for reading to me when I was a child and instilling that love of reading at a young age. And I thanked my older sister who translated my first book when I couldn’t even write and when I could only draw pictures.
Who I didn’t invite was my 8th grade English teacher who said my writing wasn’t up to par with the other students (her favorites). Or my high school English teacher who I had confided in and said that I wanted to be a writer. She proceeded with speaking about another student who should have been a writer, and made it sound like that path was not for me. Or the college professor who said the famous line “don’t quit your day job because writing doesn’t make money”.
There were many others like that and there always will be. But I try to ignore the negativity now, and instead think positively and only listen for constructive criticism. It’s not easy, especially since sometimes the worst critic is myself. However, I wake up saying “I am a writer” and writing is a part of me and brings out the best part of me. It’s a constant battle, but no one ever said it would be easy.
So I still have the day job, and I still have bills to pay and a family to care for, but I also write and now my soul isn’t yelling at me anymore. Well, not as much anyway. I think we just do the best we can with the talents that are given to us. The movie A Bronx Tale has that famous line that says “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent”, and I think it’s even worse if the reason that you waste your talent is out of fear; the fear of the unknown. Taking risks and taking chances keeps life interesting. It’s what brings an idea to life on a page that would never have been written. It’s what brings a dream to life that never would have been lived if I listened to everyone else.
So, if I ever see Ashton Kutcher’s chalkboard on the street, I thankfully will not be that person to scribble that I did “NOT” pursue my dream. Instead, I’ll be the person to write, “I DID”, and I hope you will write that too!