Kristina Braverman conceded the election tonight, and all I could think about afterward was that I was so excited to watch her tackle whatever she decided was worthy next. She didn't always want to go into politics, and arguably, winning mayor wasn't even really her main goal here. She wanted to change lives-- to make things better for those in need or those the system was otherwise failing. And when she sat with her husband realizing the numbers were not in her favor but just how much she wanted to do those things anyway, she wasn't defeated; she was further inspired. And she was inspirational. How hard she worked to get where she was, how much she had overcome, how deep and strong and big her passion was-- all things that will drive her to keep doing great things, even if not from the mayoral seat (yet). In a moment when her fire could have been snuffed out, she rose to the occasion and was reminded of what she had accomplished and who she had helped. Watching her made me want to find that one thing for me, too, but at the end of it, I realized that I get more pleasure out of watching others succeed and finding their passion than I do going after my own. And I think that's because I don't want anything the way Kristina wanted this-- recent or not.
I was raised with the attitude of anything I wanted to do, I could. My mother wasn't picking up and moving three thousand miles across the country while I was in school, but she never discouraged me from following through on that once I was of age-- even allowing me to apply to a program that would have had be condensing my senior year of high school into my first year of college in order to get me out to LA faster, a year earlier. Let's face it, I was a middle class white kid who tested into the gifted program in preschool and never left it, even when the accelerated math classes were soaring over my head. Doors were open to me because of my grades, my schooling, my creativity, and my independent work ethic. More would have been open if only I had been willing to ask for help. But that's the thing: when things got tough, I often found I'd rather walk away and turn my attention to something new, rather than actually having to conquer a fear or challenge myself. Why do something that's causing you discomfort, even if temporarily, right?
I took dance classes when I was three or four. Ballet, tap, jazz, as all the little girls in my neighborhood tended to. But I stopped there because I had too much stage fright to go on during the recital. I told my parents I wanted to quit, after they had already purchased the fancy outfit by the way, and they let me. I was too young then to have made an informed argument, I'm sure, but still they conceded. I could do what I wanted, and if I didn't want to do it anymore I didn't have to. It was great at the time, but looking back I see it has stunted me a bit. In later years my parents put me in swimming lessons-- which I pretended to hate but mostly only because the water was a sanctuary and I hated being told what to do when-- a day camp that was really heavy on sports and then separate tennis instruction. Those were more expensive than the dance and so I spent more time there, but even still, if I wanted to get out of actually participating, I was good at figuring out ways to do it. I was known to fake a sprained ankle or wrist "issue" before Color War time at camp, and I constantly had "cramps" on tennis days. They say if you spend half the time actually doing the work than trying to get out of it you'd be much more productive, but really, excuses came easily to me.
The one thing I always loved, though, was writing. In fourth grade my teacher asked us to keep a separate notebook for stories we came up with in our spare time. If we finished our other classroom assignments early, which I had a tendency to do, she encouraged us to stay still and quiet by working on something in those notebooks. I always did, and I often found I'd race through my tests extra quickly in order to get to those notebooks. I filled a few that year when most kids got halfway through one. She was the first teacher to offer me writing as a viable activity, but a few years later in junior high I was in a program with an extra course-- one completely dedicated to writing-- and that teacher was nothing but a cheerleader for original creation.
I've actually kept the notebook habit going until this day, even though regretfully these days it sits untouched on my nightstand collecting dust more than it sees any new ideas get jotted down into it. A friend recently asked me why I'm not trying to focus more on that kind of writing, and I didn't really have an answer for her other than the ideas just aren't coming. Recently Molly (of Mike & Molly) quit her job (ironically to focus on a writing career) because it just wasn't what she wanted to do anymore. She said something was broken in her-- or maybe it was fixed, she didn't know-- and that's kind of the perfect way to sum it up. Whatever it was that made me write, be it pain or stress or boredom or enchantment, it's just not there anymore. Maybe it will come back someday, maybe it won't, but I'm not sitting around missing it so I'm inclined to believe I'm more on the "fixed" side of the spectrum.
That same friend also asked me what it is I want to do then, professionally, and again I found I had no answer. But this one was a much scarier silence because for the first time in my entire life-- not just in my adult life but my entire life-- I didn't know. My recent (and frequent) bouts with unemployment or underemployment have stripped the "I want" and the "the perfect job for me would be" from my vocabulary. It's become much more about survival (which is again why I feel like maybe something in me is healed because writing was always an outlet for me, and when should I need that more than during the stressful time of poverty?). But I'm not entirely sure it's a new feeling.
I went home from that conversation and really thought about things. I looked back over the things I had told people I wanted through the years-- things I told myself I wanted, things I thought I did want. And I began to see the degrees of desire in a way I had never considered before. Much of my life was spent going through motions in the "you do A to get B" kind of way, assuming they would all just add up to something great or at least good in the end. I didn't follow a traditional path by any means. I didn't even have that many road markers telling me I was even on the right path or that things would actually turn out great or even good if I kept doing what I was doing. But I believed I wanted certain things, so I kept at it.
Now I'm not so sure. And losing sense of what I want just has me lost in general. I'm treading water now not because I'm waiting on someone to buy my show or hire me on staff but because I don't know in which direction to swim. I've started over before-- after trying my hand at one little project or another than didn't quite pan out lucratively or otherwise fulfilling or satisfyingly. It's always easier to give up and move onto the next thing-- but what happens when the next thing (and then the next and the next and the next) doesn't stick either? The problem is certainly you (me), but the pattern doesn't bode well for breaking the cycle or actually rising to the challenge.
I want to be Kristina Braverman when I grow up, but right now I'm still Sarah.