Monday, March 7, 2011
Asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, "actress" was always the first answer to pass my lips. Specifically, Broadway actress, even if I was just chorus girl. The father of one of the many children I baby-sat asked me this question one Friday night as he drove me home from an evening of Easy Mac and Cinderella on VHS with his young wards. What do you want to do when you are older? Become an actress. So, you want to become a waitress! He laughed at his own joke, and polite girl that I was, I smiled in return. But it wasn’t funny. Just because I was young, 13 or so, my dreams didn’t matter. It’s not until now, as an adult, that I wonder if he was really laughing at me, or at his own self at 13. Maybe he wanted to be an actor, an astronaut, an architect, but ended up the day shift manager at AT&T somewhere in the suburban wilds of adulthood.
The answer changed as I grew older. What do you want to be when you grow up? Hesitate. Answer: Happy. A different kind of laughter followed. Shrug and smile when asked further questions.
Being an actress would have made me happy: Taking a gig on Broadway, doing the same dance steps night after night, singing the same song with furious gusto, bowing to a crowd of tourists that stood in the cold at the TKTS booth all morning for the same jokes that would be laughed at the next night. Going from show to show, gaining small parts, background roles, until one day someone noticed that a résumé full of shadows equals enough credit in the karma bank of dues to land a larger role. Maybe even a starring role. A life lived fully pretending to be someone else, repeating the words written by another’s hand and gaining all the glory and credit for pronouncing those words correctly and with passion. I could do that. I would be happy doing that. It’s not a laughable goal. A hard one, really, full of struggles and judgments and sleepless nights and empty stomachs, but I have those anyway. In abundance. Doing jobs that never made me half as happy as living a dream would.
Yet, dreams have a strange way of changing. So fluidly and completely, and so readily acceptable that it becomes barely noticeable. Along the way the dream changed, the answer changed. Actress fell away for a brief time to missionary (or something like sainthood, ignoring the fact that I wasn’t even Catholic) and shifting again; in time I realized that I wasn’t reading the words of others so much as I was writing my own. Reciting Chekhov onstage was a highlight in my life, but reading him privately and noting the language, leaden with metaphor and poetry, the burden of translating a word that may not exist in the English language – those things became equally fascinating.
If I live to be 90, I am still now in my youth. But for the most part I am what most would consider to be one of those “grown-ups” -- in that indeterminable age of fantasy and responsibility so thought-upon and frightened by and puzzled over in childhood. Who I am now is the answer to, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” And it seems I got the answer I wanted: Happy. I am happy. I have a newly gained and cherished MA degree in Creative and Professional Writing in hand. I have a loving and supporting partner to stand with me and help fight to keep the wolves of fear and insecurity at bay. I have friends from every corner of the world, who I found through chance (or destiny) and each in turn filled an empty space in my heart.
At this point in my grown-up life, I am broke, unemployed, and carrying a degree that some would consider worthless. (Though, really, how is any education or experience worthless? The lack of monetary value does not make the experience of a sunset any less beautiful or a study in the arts or humanities any less enriching.) I have debt, I have fear, and I have an uncertain job market locking doors that I have yet to knock on. I have no idea what will come next.
But, my friends, my loves, my readers: my heart is so incredibly happy. And if this happiness within myself is the result of being a grown-up? I’ll take it. It’s what I want to be.