In an earlier post, I wrote that I do feel regret over some things I’ve done (or not done) in my life. These posts are driven in part by the fact that I have less than half of my life to live and I’m still not living the way I want to. Of course, it’s taken me this long to figure out what I want to do for the remainder of my life (besides eat great food, have great sex, read great books and listen to great music, most of which I do enjoy now). What I want to do it be true to myself. Perhaps my biggest regret is feeling that I’ve been living (and am still living) a lie for the past 20+ years. Career-wise, I’ve taken a path far away from where I originally started. I was never good at math, abysmal at statistics when I was high school and college, but today I am a “health statistics analyst,” spending my days writing SQL code to make disparate data sets “communicate” so my state can eventually have a complex understanding of the health and health outcomes of its citizens. Nice work, actually, and it pays well. But it is not at all what I had intended, and even though the work is interesting and my coworkers are wonderful, supportive, dedicated people, I could walk away and never miss the job, never think to myself, “if only I had written more code.”
My detour began when I was a teenager. I grew up in a very small, sparsely populated area of the Northeast where the local jobs tended to be at fast-food restaurants. I hated high school but I loved community college and often wondered if I could make a career out of being a college student. (I nearly succeeded, having been to five universities/colleges, obtained two masters degrees, finished two years of doctoral coursework and a spattering of miscellaneous classes.) The problem is I didn’t want to teach, and all my advisers argued that the only way I could write was if I also taught. As I’ve said in previous posts (and I will say often), I am a shy, sensitive introvert. I spent most of my childhood trying to disappear into corners and shadows. In college, I would drop classes if any of the assignments involved presentations (except for those classes I was compelled to take in order to get my degree). Ironically, because of my foray into public health, the list of presentations I’ve given over the last ten years is longer than the body of my resume. But I still hate giving presentations.
I just wanted to write, but I was too naive and introverted to figure out how to make a living at it without having to teach as well. I was the only one in my immediate family who had even set foot in a college, and for that I was an oddity. Becoming a teacher would have made me even more odd in their eyes. I kept trying to come up with more marketable plans, ideas for jobs that my family would appreciate and understand (like owning a greenhouse or working in a hospital), but I was very unhappy at every thing I tried. The only times when I was happy was when I was reading literature, writing, and sitting in class.
So I made a hard left at a detour and moved to the other side of the continent, upsetting my family, not finishing college (yet), not knowing what the hell I was getting myself into. On the West Coast, I had the opportunity to be true to myself but unfortunately I got stuck in a rut with drugs and drinking and general flaying about. I was a mess. It’s a long story about how I eventually cleaned myself up (with plenty of help from someone who is still in my life). But once I was cleaned up and again thinking about how can I make a living as a writer, I took a hard right on another detour and wound up in the Southeast. It’s too embarrassing to say exactly where I am. Although the current fix I’m in has paid well and allowed me to save and anticipate a comfortable if modest retirement, it’s taken a chunk of my life. Worse, it has nearly destroyed me as a writer.
While I was studying writing and literature, I felt validated as a writer and encouraged by my peers and professors. But at the time the local job market for writers and editors was pathetic and eventually I embarked on yet another detour, this time into the social sciences. You don’t write up research findings like you write a short story. It didn’t take long before I was convinced that I was a mediocre writer. Only by participating in NaNoWriMo a few years ago, did I realize how I had screwed myself as a writer, let myself down by internalizing the judgments of others.
And now that I’m facing retirement in a few years (hopefully with the same good health that I have now), I want to stop taking detours. I want to get back on The Path and not believe it’s too late. This blog is one step in that direction. Zoetrope.com has made it possible to participate in a writing group without having to change out of my jammies, and NaNoWriMo gives me that somewhat gentle kick-in-the-butt to just sit down and write. Times like these, I have regrets, but they just give me more drive to make up for lost time.