Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Paths (I Wish) I Could Have Taken

I've been feeling really burned out on teaching and graduate work lately, and by lately, I mean the past several years. In my heart I still want to be a professor, but sometimes I think about what my life could have been like if I'd become something different.

When I was a kid, I thought I could do anything and be anyone. I didn't think about all the reasons I couldn't. I just had these dreams and believed that I could make them come true someday. I have to admit that one of my childhood fantasies was to be Cinderella:

But I wouldn't dance in glass slippers, because that would, you know, hurt. And I'd want a Prince Charming who was just a little bit smarter too. I mean, I wouldn't want a guy who'd set out to find me and decide he's going to marry the girl who has the same shoe size as me. No. I'd want a Prince Charming who'd decide he's going to marry the girl who has the same face as me. (Unless, of course, I really do have an evil doppelganger out there who is plotting to take over my life. I'm pretty sure I saw her buying french fries the other day and I swear she was WATCHING me...) But I digress.

Now that I'm older, I don't want to be Cinderella anymore, but there are other things that I might have liked to do instead. For example, I became a workaholic at age five. One of my favorite pastimes as a kid was cleaning and organizing my room. (I think the "nerd" gene must have multiplied in me or something.) So I think it would have been cool to become a doctor, because the nature of the medical profession would pretty much require that I be a workaholic anyway.

And I admire doctors for their dedication to helping people and saving lives. I think that anyone who goes through the long, arduous process of becoming a doctor must really be passionate about the medical field and making a difference.

I'd be known as the doctor who developed the cure for hiccups, or the doctor who proved that you really CAN lose weight by eating pizza and not exercising. The only thing is I'm terrified of blood. I can't even watch horror movies without covering my eyes and shrieking, "AAAAAHHHH! Is it over? Is it -- AHHHH!! Why do more people keep going into the basement if none of them ever come back up? And OH NO! They're opening the door and AHHHHH!!! Where'd that guy get a chainsaw?"

It also would have been cool to be a dancer. I've watched professional dancers who moved with complete and utter joy on their faces, as if the only place they ever wanted to be was on stage.

The only thing is I'm not very graceful. I'd probably mess up one of the dance moves and then bump into one of the other dancers, and start some kind of dancing domino effect. And then the shrieking would probably start up again. And maybe the other dancers would get so frustrated that they'd toss me off the stage, and I'd fall into the laps of people in the audience, get up, and then fall again. Only this time I'd land on members of the orchestra and possibly break their instruments, and then people would REALLY start shrieking, and....

Yeah. I don't think I could maintain the level of concentration required to be a dancer. Not for that long, anyway.

I've also had this fantasy of playing in a rock band. I like the idea of putting my stories to music and performing them for people and watching them dance to my songs. I think it'd be fun to perform with other members of the band and let the music just fill me up.

But I have no musical talent whatsoever. Dogs howl when I start singing. And I can play a couple instruments, yet the only songs I can play without messing up are "Chopsticks" and "Hot Cross Buns". And those aren't exactly dance tunes.

The one dream I've had that's never changed (and probably never will) is to be a writer. Even if I never get published, I'm still going to keep writing, because I can't imagine a life without writing. It's the one goal in my life that I've never questioned. When I write, in a way I can live out my dreams because I can become any person I want to be, go wherever I want to go, and meet new and interesting people. I can create this whole other life for myself where I don't have the urge to yell at anyone in public because they were rude or inconsiderate, where I can find a way to address the problems that come up without feeling so lost and scared sometimes, and where I can just be happy.

How about you? When you think about the path that you're on right now, is there any path that you sometimes wish you could have taken instead?


  1. I wanted to be a cat for a really long time. I would crawl around next to my cat and sniff things with her and just lie across from her staring at her. (My internship, if you will.) That was the life...

  2. I've been having similar thoughts as these lately, and as for Cinderella, yes I always wondered about the shoe size vs. face thing-- how weird. Disney should have had all the women at the ball wearing masks, then it would have made sense. I've always wanted to be a writer as well and due to a series of fortunate events it happened, but lately with other tasks taking over my life the writing is languishing. I am NOT HAPPY about that. It's so important to be true to one's self. I used to want to be a professor, too, because I thought it would ease the way into being a better writer and getting published.

  3. I wanted to be a ballet dancer too! That and Cinderella ;) Sadly neither of these have worked out. Maybe there's still some hope for my childhood dream of taking over the world, and making Friday an official part of the weekend.


  4. My obsession with Top Chef and all its incarnations (Top Chef Just Desserts, anyone? I want to marry judge Johnny Iuzzini) has cemented my admiration for those who can be creative with good food. My mind just doesn't work like that. If it did, I'd love to be one of those people who changes their entire life and goes to culinary school.

    And yeah, I want to be an author so freakin' bad. I'm just now getting back into fiction writing after a few months of life getting in the way. I'm like you: even if I never get my big break, even if my fiction kinda sucks, I find so much fulfillment in writing.

  5. Hi gem,
    It would be interesting to be a cat. For one thing, they're able to jump up onto high places, kind of like superheroes. :)

    Hi Karen,
    It is hard to be away from writing for too long, isn't it? I always find myself thinking about it if I haven't been writing. I'd like to say that being a professor helps ease the way to becoming a writer, and it is true that there are several professors who write fiction. But more often than not they're the ones who teach fiction writing, whereas the rest of us get caught up with writing academic articles and scholarly books. But I'd rather be writing the "fun" stuff. :)

    Hi Delilah,
    Making Friday an official part of the weekend is definitely a good idea. I think that everyone would be a lot happier and more relaxed if that happened.

    Hi maybeimamazed02,
    It would be cool to go to culinary school. I've even thought of taking a cooking class just for fun. Maybe then I'd have something in my freezer aside from frozen pizza.

  6. This is a great post. I wanted to be an astronaut, but I have a deathly fear of heights. I wanted to be a forest ranger- cool, right? Um except for the bears and the bugs and mice and such.
    I'm a writer. I never thought of it as something I wanted to be. It was simply something I always was... now, I guess my goal is to be a better writer every day. Cheers~

  7. Hi Nancy,
    The way you described being a writer is great. I think a lot of people could relate to that. :) And I like the goal of being a better writer every day, because that's definitely a good goal to have. It would be cool to be an astronaut, though. Walking on the moon...that would definitely be something to write about.

  8. I love your look back at the things you wished to become.

    My first wish was to be a nun. That didn't pan out being that I stopped being Catholic right after my confirmation and converted to Judasim.
    I wanted to be a writer, but nobody ever encouraged me so I let that dream die. I thought you had it or you didn't right at the start.
    Yeah, I flirted with rock star. I didn't need Simon Cowell to tell me what a long shot that was.
    I almost went to fashion design school.
    Somewhere, I always wanted to teach. Whatever my interest was - writing, art, history - I always thought what it would be like to teach it.

    Lately I've been rethinking my choices as well.

    Good luck on your path. With PhD, the closer you are, the more you want to quit. I hope you find what you're looking for, even if you're not sure exactly what it is yet.

  9. Hi Theresa,
    Thank you for the encouragement. :) I hope I do find what I'm looking for, and I hope that you do too. I know that I would regret it if I were to leave the PhD program now, especially after I spent so many years working for it. But I can't help thinking about other things that I could have spent all those years on.

  10. I love this post. I think some dreams come and go, and the ones that are fundamental to us stick around. In your case, writing!

    I have tried many different paths and I've never felt as comfortable and happy with what I'm doing than right now.

    But writing isn't something that needs to be an all or nothing. You don't need to abandon the dream for your PhD...

  11. Hi Talli,
    I like your statement about how the dreams that are fundamental to us stick around; that's totally true. You're right in that I don't necessarily have to give up writing in order to get my PhD, since there are a lot of professors who are also fiction writers. It's just that grad school is so all-consuming, so that my writing ends up taking last place more often than not.