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Simple, isn’t … so far

September 6, 2012

So, for the last month, I’ve been working on an essay for a magazine contest. The mid-September deadline looms, but I keep getting stuck.

The question to address is: If you could change one decision that you made in the past, what would it be?

In some sense, I have 97 incidents I could have written about, but I searched for something that: (1) I would be comfortable having traditionally published; (2) wouldn’t be so dire people would hate reading it, or feel guilty; and (3) could present an unorthodox viewpoint.

I began with the obvious — what if I hadn’t gone to Oklahoma City in 1985? — and worked my way backward.

What if I’d applied to colleges out of state? Or downstate? (My best friend attended UIUC.) I only applied to one place, conveniently located across the street from my high school. Mainly because I obsessively worried about how I was going to pay for any of it, since my parents refused to contribute anything. What I told people ~ My solid B average and utter lack of extracurricular activities seemed unlikely to result in scholarships or grants. My secret fears ~ I was deathly afraid of attending some huge state school where I would get eaten alive, and no one would even notice or care. I feared living with people I couldn’t choose, who would think I was a freak, and avoid me or mistreat me. I thought I might die of loneliness.

It’s kind of eerie, writing those words above, and realizing that the last 3 lines perfectly describe living with my family of origin. I was already a stranger in a strange land, and had always been.

If I’d gotten out, and away, maybe things could have truly changed.

But to make that happen, I would have needed allies. I would have had to find (1) people of goodwill who were (2) capable and pragmatic, yet also interested in (3) what I wanted to do and (4) tangibly helping me do that.

In 1984, I didn’t know anybody like that. (Spouse was the first person in my life who fit all four criteria. And he didn’t show up until 1992.)

So I dug back further.

During my senior year of high school, I had to write a paper in Spanish about some aspect of Iberian/Hispanic culture. That’s how I discovered Moorish (and Islamic) art and architecture, things that fascinate me to this day. I dreamed of seeing Andalucía for myself.

But I never have. Spouse and I have not made it to Europe. And before I met him, family vacations to Europe never got close to Iberia.

At 15, I dreamed of being an artist in Paris.

At 13, I wanted to be an exchange student in Europe. That would have required attending the nearby public school, which meant it was doomed. My parents had made up their minds that their children would go to the Catholic magnet/college prep high school that drew rich and/or smart kids from all over the western suburbs (assuming we could get in — there was an entrance exam). If we hadn’t made the cut, we would’ve gone to a different Catholic high school, possibly transferring into the first one at a later date. (A friend of mine did just that.)

Before 1985, the only ways I had of asserting my own preferences and interests to my parents were subverting and/or thwarting the options they mandated for me. My energies were largely consumed by reacting to stuff I didn’t want, rather than facilitating or creating things I did want.

My boundaries were always contracting, to protect my inner core from outside threats. I had to stay small so I could be nimble enough to escape after a possible defeat. And there were a great many defeats.

Really, it’s a wonder I had the emotional stamina to keep finding new dreams to think about. But no, maybe that’s just how I kept going: someday it could be better, so I need to keep holding on.

That’s kind of where I am right now. Except I’ve moved past simply reacting to my environment; now I’m reaching for what I want. Now I’m getting bigger, by trying new things. They won’t all work, but more will work than not trying anything.

So the ‘new venture’ I’ve been hinting about is my new editing and writing business. I’m still working on the website, which will include a new blog.

Details to follow as I figure them out.

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