Up until age 18, I knew what I was going to do with my life, thank you very much. I was going to go to college and major in vocal performance with a minor in theater. I would then do whatever I needed to do to become a professional opera singer and possibly also a pop artist ala Tori Amos. This track would lead me, quite easily into a life of abundance and leisure where I would enjoy living in an old Victorian farmhouse in the countryside with my husband and children in the off season and travel the world performing for loving fans the rest of the time. My vision of the future was both romantic and tragically naive, despite the fact that I did have the potential to make a career for myself as a singer. The truth is, I was clueless about how the world worked and how much work it would take for me to accomplish such a gargantuan task.
When my first year at college began, reality slowly edged it's way into my world. First of all, while I had the voice, I didn't quite have the demeanor.
Before entering college, rebellion against the world and a raging anger toward my parents lead me towards punk, alternative and indie aesthetics and philosophies. I wore a lot of tomboyish outfits with ironically girly accents, I was a self-proclaimed bisexual in a school where I didn't know any other kids who were out, and I loved sitting around reading about Wicca and listening to my humble collection of LP's and 7 inches. I didn't listen to opera or classical music much, accept when I had to learn a new song. I loved singing the stuff, but I was definitely more a fan of modern music.
Of course, the music program at my college had it's fair share of eccentric students, but I couldn't seem to find others that had quite my mix of quirks. These were quirks that I really wanted to explore at university, being in what I had dreamt of as a hotbed of intellectuals and artistes, far more mature and sophisticated than the obnoxious high school students I had more than gratefully left behind. Sadly, it didn't take long for me to discover that I was surrounded by almost as many average-minded people as I had been in high school. Even the teachers seemed to lack imagination, having very specific ideas for how they would like to groom me, in order for they, themselves to shine in the light of my impending success. To make matters worse, I came to understand that in order to "make it" I would have to play at politics, kissing ass and conforming to certain norms, probably for the rest of my life. It was obvious that I didn't fit into the mold I was being presented with, and I didn't want to be shoved in.
My displeasure at these realizations and a palpable, though veiled anger stemming from my parents divorce while I was in high school left me feeling lost and led me to seek escape. I'd arrived at college with the express intention to avoid alcohol and to be very studious, inspired as I was by my then teetotaling older sister. I even chose my college in part because it was a dry campus and didn't have a Greek system. Unsurprisingly, it wasn't long before the lure of parties, booze and pot broke down my resolve with the help of my first roommate who took me out the first few times. This gave me the perfect impetus by which to dampen my emotions, I'd found my escape mechanism.
While I didn't let this new found pastime completely derail my academic and creative pursuits, it definitely contributed to a burgeoning sense of failure in me. It lead me into careless trysts with young men who had no real interest in me as a person, which only reflected my lack of self-respect. It dumbed me down and made my work sub-par. I was wracked with guilt for my transgressions, but I couldn't and wouldn't really face it. My beautiful dream of being a singer began to crumble all around me and the hint of cynicism that I'd begun to adopt in high school through my admittedly suburbanized punk-rock aesthetic began to overtake it. I grew ever more disenchanted with my experience at college and the alienation that it fostered, so I decided not to return the following year. Along with great skepticism from my parents, this decision incited the wrath of my voice teacher who insisted that I was never going to sing again, despite the fact that I asserted my intention to return to a different college within a year.
Admittedly, not everything was negative during my first year at college. Ironically, I found refuge in some intellectuals outside of the academic setting through my first "real" boyfriend, a city local. These people read voraciously, talked philosophy and art and were the first examples of autodidacts that I'd ever encountered. This totally blew my mind and expanded my world view. My boyfriend had dropped out of school after the 8th grade and had no formal education after that. He didn't, however, stop learning. He was one of the strangest, most brilliant and creative people I'd ever met. He was also wildly temperamental, immature, unemployable and living with his mother. The other highlight for me was a class on 20th century music which spanned a variety of musics in the Western Classical tradition and it's various influences, from Impressionism to Jazz to early electronic music, which was equally mind-expanding and inspiring.
All of the above events led me to decide to enroll in a much more unconventional college, where it was likely that I would encounter kindred spirits and be able to experiment more freely with my above mentioned quirks. As planned, I entered this school after working for a year at a multinational coffee chain that I'm embarrassed to admit ever having been affiliated with.
Still filled with cynicism and more aimless than ever, I attempted to construct a new dream from the rubble of my old one. While I did find myself in a group of true peers and was excited by the prospect of exploring the previously uncharted territories of experimental and electronic musics, the demise of my songbird dreams and subsequent self-destructive behaviors had thoroughly dismantled what little confidence I'd had in myself. This was not a recipe for success at this school, where self-direction and discipline where the prerequisites for obtaining a worth while education and experience.
I found myself in a situation where on the one hand, I was being challenged and exposed to new and exciting opportunities and concepts, while on the other hand I was surrounded by predominantly male peers and teachers who seemed to be struggling with their own set of insecurities. This often translated into an egoistic competitiveness, or as a (male) friend once described it, the penis check. Being without the motivations of the testosterone laden human contingent, I didn't feel the need to compete in such a way. However, I was deeply affected by their posturing and began to feel incompetent because I couldn't join in the mutual masturbation over specs, gear and the like.
Instead of reaching out and finding the mentorship and support that I truly needed, I receded into my shell and projected a deceptively confident holographic image of myself into the world. I tried to be authentic, to take risks, to express myself deeply, but I couldn't seem to break through the over arching feeling of loss that had embedded itself inside of me with the advent of my dream's demise at my first college. While I was still using my voice extensively in my work, in a way, the prediction of my voice teacher at college no. 1 was coming true. I wasn't singing anymore. I slunk away from most opportunities to sing with my classmates, and where I did sing, I was full of fear. I don't think that this was entirely apparent to others, but to me, it was a constant struggle. I had some good experiences at this second college, but I certainly didn't leave feeling successful. I was full of new dreams and ideas for what I wanted to do, but found myself too groundless to grow and harvest them. Many things I didn't finish and what I did complete, was stunted.
In the course of the three years I spent there, I adopted a decisively radical, us vs. them, political philosophy as a defense against the rawness and vulnerability that I felt inside. I hated the status quo, the mainstream, money, society, and in many ways, life. While I still wanted to do music, performance and creative stuff on a regular basis, I didn't want to "sell-out", so I decided that I was never going to make money at it. Instead, I figured that I could go into another line of work, which would allow me to work part-time and support my "creative habit". I chose to go into massage therapy, because I was genuinely interested in holistic health care and I had this notion that it would be easy work, easy money, and that I would be good at it.
About two years after I graduated from college, I enrolled in massage school. The 18 months I spent there was a breath of fresh air. It was growthful, nurturing and fed a curiosity about life and the human body that had been emerging in me for a number of years. Massage school made me a better person and aided in my own healing. For once, I felt supported and included. After the confusion of my college years, I had a tangible goal ahead of me. Once again, I had a dream to reach for. By the time I had completed my massage certificate, I had become a nanny, a doula (birth coach) and had specialized in prenatal massage. I also kept up my creative pursuits, after a fashion, here and there, in the way of dance, music and art, but that part of my life was still too laden with the dust of disappointment to be very satisfying. Still, my new career as a massage therapist would give me the time I needed to resurrect something of my childhood dream to navigate the world by my true purpose, my creative talents. So, with my new goal in sight, and in spite of growing health problems, I got my license to practice and set out to start a new chapter in my life.
Much to my chagrin, I soon realized that my rosy colored dreams don't often translate into reality. Sure, I had grown immanently more cynical over the years, but paradoxically, I was still the same, head-in-the-clouds romantic that I'd always been. Unsatisfied with the life I was living, I was always escaping into the potential future of my desires, while turning a blind eye to the sticky reality of the briers I'd become tangled in. Being extremely sensitive and ungrounded (something that massage school unfortunately didn't fix for me), I found rubbing the bodies of strangers to be anxiety producing and painful. This is something I should have copped to while in school, but I didn't recognize it for what it was at the time. Massage as a career became an unlikely prospect. While I did work part time on and off for a few years, it certainly wasn't the support for my "creative habit" that I'd hoped for. So much for having a tangible plan with a predictable outcome. My life's path and purpose were yet again in question. What do I do with my life? What is my purpose? Why can't I focus on a singular creative goal? Why can't I make a decent living for myself? These and many other questions have since lead me through a maddening maze of cause and effect, trial and error, oftentimes confusing and only further implanting a sense of failure in me.
Since I left massage school, I have been shooting in the dark, attempting to answer the above questions. I have been trying and striving, seeking alternative kinds of work, joining various types of choirs, making business plans that never see the light of day, and voraciously reading books on creativity and one's life purpose. I've spent countless hours attempting to "mechanically" fix myself in order to yank it out of me (whatever it is). I've fretted, worried, pushed myself, avoided things, procrastinated, and put half-assed effort into creative projects. Still I've soldiered on, which, thankfully has brought with it some wonderful blessings. I have learned and grown in leaps and bounds and I am more grounded and clear headed than I used to be. I like to think that I have become at once more pragmatic and realistic, whilst remaining a romantic.
The last two years have been some of the most transformative of all. By way of an extremely harrowing intimate relationship and a host of personal losses, I was taken through a much needed, albeit painful initiation which shattered my sense of self. Through this trial, I was faced with the choice to remain broken or to regenerate, recreate and rediscover myself. I chose the latter.
Now at the precipice of realizing a much sought after creative dream, that of having a child, my belly becomes round and juicy with life and what really matters begins to emerge out of the shadowed compost of my past. I am beginning to realize that these questions, plans and goals are futile. The truth is that I do have some great talents, but that doesn't mean a damn thing in terms of what my life needs to look like. Perhaps my talent for singing and other creative abilities will fuel my way through life, though it's unlikely that it will be in the ways I'd once expected.
I love being creative, it makes my life so much richer and more worth while. When I have a daily practice of creativity, I feed my soul and fill myself up so that I can function and participate in the world from a good place. The catch is, that this creative practice can't have a bunch of expectations attached to it and it can't be enmeshed with my self-identity. That is where I went wrong as a child and a young adult. I attached my core identity with the concept of myself as a singer and later as a radical, a healer, etc, etc. Along with these concepts came multitudes of expectations, which, when I couldn't meet them, left me feeling like a failure. Be it creative, singer, or healer, it is not something that I am, it is something that I do because I love doing it. If I don't love it, barring necessity, then there is no reason why I should do it.
This leads me closer to an answer for my title question. I've approached my life as a though there was always something wrong, because the dream didn't match the reality. My life always needed fixing and adjusting, and maybe then, I'd finally get it right. I was always chasing the dream, and never surrendering to the reality, the beautiful chaos of the wonderful life I was living. It is time to stop trying to make myself and my life into something. From now on, what I need to do is live my life from the center of my passionate heart, where all questions have already been answered, and all I need to do is listen.
The moral of the story:
You don't need to do anything with your life when you're actually living it.