Thursday, February 25, 2010

We've Come A Long Way, Baby

While Mike, my husband, and I were watching a movie the other night, I came to an unsettling realization. Clerks was made in 1994, the year I graduated high school. Some quick math revealed the movie to be 16 years old, and a little deductive reasoning revealed that if Clerks and my high school graduation happened at the same time, then I have been out of high school for 16 years. Mike was three years ahead of me in school, so that means he had been out of high school for…16+3…gasp!...19 years. This discovery led to yet another…that life is flying by and that…again, gasp!...we are starting to get old!!! I was not previously aware of this. With Mike closing in on a 20-year reunion, that also means he is closing in on…can we bear another ‘gasp!’?...40.

I am just not old enough to have a husband pushing 40. There are a handful of things that scare the bejesus right out of me…having to live in Texas (though I’ve never even visited the state), swimming in the ocean (I blame Mike’s obsession with Discovery’s shark week and Jaws, along with Steve Irwin’s untimely demise), Sarah Palin having a role of prominence or importance – in ANY capacity, and turning 40, just to name a few of the more rational fears. Mike, the poor man, has no fear of 40, which must mean he is already at such an advanced age that his faculties are starting to go. He comes out with nonsensicals like, “Age is just a number,” and “You’re only as old as you feel.” Sometimes, I fear he is crazier than I am. Of course, he is very handsome, in great physical shape, and so youthful-looking that he still occasionally gets carded when he orders a drink. Almost four years younger than him, I can’t even remember the last time I got carded. I frequently wonder if waitresses think I am the cougar and Mike the na├»ve fawn. And I even have the benefit of make-up, and he doesn’t. That man!

So Mike and I were talking about all the adventures and events of the last decade or two when Mike proclaimed about himself, “I’ve come so far.” I asked him what he meant. Personally, in terms of maturity and intelligence and growth? Or professionally, from days of minimum wage at the local grocery store to doing pretty well as a major in the Army? And he just said, “No, I mean distance.” If nothing else, Mike is a literalist.

So, that got me to thinking about where we’ve lived and places we’ve visited. Mike has had a few extra years of moving around than I, and has gone to a handful of very far places, unaccompanied. I wrote down the places he’s lived, chronologically, and calculated the mileage (as a crow flies) between all those places. I did the same for myself. In a separate list, I calculated miles for the bigger trips we have taken together. The results: Mike has traversed more than 37,700 miles moving from location to location (from Connecticut to New Hampshire to Vermont to Alabama to South Korea to Alabama again, to Missouri, to Germany, to New York, to Iraq, to Kansas). I came in at a paltry 11,800+ miles (Connecticut to Alabama to Missouri to Germany to New York to Kansas). As for trips, I figure we can each easily add another 20,000+ frequent flier miles (which includes most of western Europe, the entire East coast, a good chunk of the West Coast and into Mexico, a couple of trips to various locales in the Caribbean and several trips throughout the United States). These calculations bring Mike’s total to about 60,000 miles and mine to 32,000. As a point of reference, the circumference of Earth at the equator is just shy of 25,000 miles. Which means, if our miles were laid out in a straight line around the center of the earth, Mike would be on lap three of the marathon and I, a slower runner, am working on my second lap of the earth.

Don’t tell him I said this, but Mike is very good at logic and perspective. Me…I’m good at other things, like irrationality and sudoku puzzles. As usual, Mike was right and helped me focus on how we really have come so far. Of course, there’s the mileage, but personally and maturity-wise, I think we’ve covered some amazing distances, as well. We’ve been able to do a lot for our relatively young ages of 30-something, thanks to the career Mike has embarked on. That being said, we’ve also endured a lot, due to Mike’s career, which hopefully has strengthened us and helped us focus on the few things in life that really, truly matter.

Suddenly, with Mike’s help, I don’t think we’re so old any more. And, despite how far we’ve come already, I look forward to the distance, both figurative and literal, still to travel with him.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Coming Out of the Closet

Coming out of the closet is a scary thing. There’s always been something that I have thought about myself, but have never had the courage to say out loud. I’m not even sure if my proclamation is truth, since I’ve never actively tried it out. I think about it often, but thinking (or fantasizing) about something doesn’t make it so (contrary to my friend George Costanza’s adage: “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”). To transform a belief into reality, I need to have tried and it’s exactly the trying that terrifies me. If I try it, there is the very real possibility I will find out I’ve been lying to myself my whole life and that I will never be the one thing I really thought I could be. Or I will find out I’m right. I can’t decide which is better…to never try, but to have the dream; or to try, which risks the possibility of failure and subsequent identity crisis. If I say it out loud, I have to actually face it and do something about it. And this fear…that’s what keeps me from saying, “I am a writer.”

To proclaim something about oneself opens one up for evaluation, judgment, criticism. If I decide to try this whole writing business, the only source material I have is my own life. I know a little about a lot of different things, but I don’t know a lot about anything. Except me, and my life. And even though I’m outgoing and am generally an open person, I don’t put my politics, or anything else, on a bumper sticker. I will talk individually about most anything, but I don’t like to publicize the very same things I might say to you in private. I am happy to talk to you, about your life, about what you do. I am usually not that interested in talking about myself. Yet, if I write, not only do I open my talent (or lack thereof, as I may find) for evaluation, judgment, criticism; I am opening myself, personally, for evaluation, judgment, criticism. This water I am debating to wade gets deeper every minute.

So, why do I think I need to come out of my closet and declare myself as a writer? A person consists of multiple parts, I think: the person you meant to become, the person you are, and the person you hope to be. Who am I? I am (gasp!) a Stay-At-Home Mom and, while I am fully aware that I am doing an incredibly difficult and very important job, this is not the person I meant to be. I was supposed to be someone important (to a wider audience than my family). I was supposed to have a great job doing whatever it was I loved the most. I was supposed to have a legion of adoring fans who anxiously awaited my hysterical column, my riveting expose, or my recently published bestseller that got picked up by Oprah and turned into a major motion picture.

Except I didn’t do those things. I didn’t even try. Life, as I have heard before, turned out to be a journey, and not a destination. The closest I ever came to being a “writer” was editing obituaries for a college alumni magazine. But it’s hard to say “I’m a writer” with a straight face when the only thing you’re actively writing (rewriting, really) is obituaries. Somehow, fame, fortune and recognition never found me.

Personally, I kept journals in high school but a recent discovery of those deepens my unease today. I thought, then, of myself as a writer but there is likely much more truth in the statement, “I was a teenage drama queen.” Perhaps soap opera script writing was my true calling. Today, I maintain journals for each of my daughters (100+ pages…my only work of length), chronicling our lives and their growth and all of the things I want them to know about my husband’s and my adventures in raising them…all those great moments and memories that are already starting to fade from memory. But my only intention for it is as a personal work, for my daughters when they’re older. Likely, it will help their therapist wade through the quagmire of the mother-daughter relationship. And, occasionally, I will get an idea and start a draft (never finishing), and sometimes I only jot notes on a piece of paper, which has so far accumulated, neglected, in a folder on a desk. And it is exactly for all this lack of trying that I am so afraid to say, “I am a writer,” because I have no proof to back this statement, and nothing else to fall back on, if I find this dream is a lie.

There are plenty of things that I always meant to do, and haven’t. But none of them nag at me, except one. And I have to wonder if it’s because that was the one thing that was meant to be. I’ve never been afraid to try something, because how can you know if you like something or would be any good, unless you try? But all the other things…it didn’t matter if and when I found out I wasn't any good at them. There are tons of things I’m not very good at, a handful of things I am terrible at (riding a bike and singing, in case anyone is curious). And I am certainly not getting any younger and life only gets shorter. A friend recently sent an e-mail, announcing she was borrowing an idea from Nike and “just doin’ it.” If it sucks, she said, so be it, and she wouldn’t have to wonder if she could’ve done something interesting with herself. The logic in that is brilliant, so I told her I would like to borrow her borrowed idea. Recycling – even in the form of good ideas- is so good for us, in so many ways.

As of today, I nervously say goodbye to my closet and open myself to the judgment of the world (or, more realistically, the handful of people who actually read anything I write). I don’t want to always wonder what might have been, so instead I am going to actively pursue what might be.