A False Start on My Path
When I was 21 (way back in the olden days of 1996), I graduated from undergrad school with a major in English and a dubious minor in French. I thought I was going to be an academic, or a teacher at least. Failing that I was then going to have to think about some kind of “real job” and settling for a life I really wasn’t excited about. So I went off from Atlanta to St. Louis for grad school.
The school year I was working on my masters I became increasingly immobilized. Depressed. Slowly I began to realize I wasn’t cut out to be an academic. But my other options frightened me. Then I realized I had chosen academia because I was too scared to pursue any of my creative dreams. Writing mainly, or maybe acting. But really I knew in my heart I was called to be a creative writer.
So of course I got myself an internship with a Public Relations firm where I was assigned to work on the account of a regional supermarket chain. When that soul-crushing experience was over, I interviewed to be a corporate proofreader, and was relieved when I did not get the job. I knew I needed to make a living, but every possibility I could think of really depressed me further. My journal got a very emotional workout.
Ritual Choice: dedicating myself to an artistic life
“I cannot stand the thought of another day, another year, another wait till… But I think I still want glory as much or more than actual mastery of an art form. But the real, the real expression of what is inside myself, is always going to be there. It isn’t going away. I think the real ,uncorrupted form of whatever stories I have to tell, frighten me. I don’t really know what they are, but I know some of those characters as if they were real people….” Journal entry, 9/21/1996
I really thought about it, and I realized that whatever I might need to do to earn money to pay bills and live now and in the future, for better or worse I had an artistic calling. It was going to be with me forever, and I had learned that the more I ignored it the more miserable it made me. In January 1997, 21.5 years old, I made a very formal vow to live my life as an artist:
I want to focus on my creative visions and getting them expressed. I want to experience the world, at all levels of society. I want to be among the rich, the poor, the ordinary, the special. Bring me people of all stripes, experiences of all kinds. I want beauty, but I cannot avoid the ugly. Wherever my life takes me I must stick to this way of life, or I will never thrive. January 18, 1997
Getting Off Course, Being Gently (or Forcibly) Pulled Back
So I didn’t take an office job. I made money doing various freelance writing jobs, proofreading things, doing newsletters and reports. I read a lot of books, filled dozens of journal notebooks. I made a wide variety of friends, was even able to travel a little. Then the paid work largely dried up and I still hadn’t produced any substantial work. Maybe I had been wasting time.
“Every time I want to say that I have totally fucked up my life I remember that I have done it deliberately, that it is supposed to be difficult. That a year and a half ago I chose to create my own life and not settle for things that would put insurmountable obstacles in my path toward my artistic and spiritual goals– which at times begin to seem quite flimsy. But then at other times are so crystallized in my head that I cannot help but to continue. And then of course there is this thing, this thing this thing inside my inside, inside my mind , inside my skin that says it must go on to create. It must expand, it must begin– but first it must take a ten-year nap.” From my Journal, 12/31/1998
Right after that I ended up in a very special relationship and I was happier than I had been in years. We moved into a large apartment. We started a business. I sort of ignored my stated creative purposes for a couple of years. Then, in May 2001, my partner died unexpectedly, and my only sibling committed suicide. I was sent into a tailspin.
The Cycle of the Seasons of my artistic calling
And the cycle more or less repeated itself over the next decade: I moved back to Atlanta to be near my parents. Another relationship. Another attempt at grad school (to be a teacher). Another failure. Another move (to New York). The “right” relationship, which prompted a move to Philadelphia.
Periodically I would decide I needed to do something to get a stable “real” job, but I was never able to get myself together. A block always came up and told me I had to stick to my purpose. Then those fears would emerge and would scare me right back into my safe middle ground.
One day I realized I had gotten exactly what I had asked for. A variety of experiences with a wide variety of people in a wide variety of places. I have slowly become happier and more confident. A spacious apartment in the center of a big city and a cozy house in the country with a big yard to garden in. I now had a life with the space and privilege to work on bigger creative pursuits. And I had to honor the universe for giving me what I wanted, for what I needed to do what I had been called to do. It wasn’t, in the end, a ten year nap, but almost a twenty year journey to get there.
Where am I headed?
Who knows what the world will bring in the future. I know I have developed compassion for others, confidence in my self and slowly (painfully) developed a self-discipline. Most importantly, a clear understanding that if I just respect my artistic calling, I will be fine.