The Midlife Reboot

I started out with what many said at the time was great promise. I excelled mainly in the more creative subjects, which everyone said figured because, like my artist/bookworm mother, I was left-handed. I taught myself to play the piano in my grandmother’s living room, where I hung around until my parents got home from work in the evenings. When I wasn’t playing piano, I would sit and draw beautiful ladies in glamorous costumes. For my birthday once, a friend gave me a pin that said “World’s Greatest Artist.” To keep my friend Perry and me occupied once we’d plowed through all the levels in our own accelerated spelling class, they had us create our very own newspaper.  I made a pretty funny illustrated book one year for school called “How To Be a Stereo Freak.” On looking as an adult at the drawings of Dead-loving hippies and afro-sporting fans of Kool & The Gang, I realize a more fitting title might have been “How To Be a Stereotype,” but hey, I was only a hick kid at the time. Anyway, my point is that I used to have an identity as someone who enjoyed art and writing and music, and was comfortable in my knowledge of and enthusiasm for those things.

Then I got older. I’d heard lots of family legends about how cool my parents had been, and I didn’t want to disappoint. So I moved up to high school, completely gave up music, and never took a single art class. I only wrote what I was assigned to write. My creative pursuits in those years were limited to painting pretty good posters for pep rallies and sporting outfits that could have landed me a part as an extra in a John Hughes movie. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but I had pretty much abandoned everything I had loved doing up until then. I guess I thought it was time to get serious and do something “important,” which for some reason was not a word I associated with anything I had done to that point.

I graduated and went to college a half hour from home, where I majored in English, figuring I’d end up teaching, although I never wanted to, mostly because it involves kids. (I swear, though, half my relatives still think I’ve been “teaching school” all these years.) I had lost track of everything I might have truly wanted to do. I skated my way through school, barely cracking a book and utilizing my supreme bullshit skills to score decent, completely unspectacular grades. I got a bachelor’s degree in English and was one class short of a minor in Spanish, but mostly what I remember is five (yeah, five, so what?) great years of partying with my friends and chasing cute guys. I learned a ton more about life in my job as a smartass video clerk than I did in my classes. When I walked across the platform and shook the department chair’s hand at graduation, she told me, “I didn’t see much of you this semester, Amber, but you sure write well.”

There I was, a grown-up, at the point where real life supposedly begins, and I had obliterated any sense of my real self.

When my mom was in her 20s she used to do a lot of drawing and oil painting, and she was good at it. She loved it for its own sake, but all the family would ever say was, “She should start selling those! She could make good money!” I think this sunk into my little mind and told me that in order for creativity to matter, it had to be for sale. Creativity for pure joy or expression was pointless. So I put mine away, like my mom did, and hurried about the business of satisfying other people’s expectations (or not, as it turned out).

Turns out it takes a lot longer to get that fire lit again than it took to snuff it out. I’ve been making desperate and haphazard attempts for the past two decades, having about as many dumb, throwaway jobs as I’ve had pints of Haagen-Dazs to console myself in times of utter give-up-itude. Other than a few mosaic picture frames, a really cool container for Brad’s poker change, and some cheap homemade jewelry, I don’t have a lot to show for myself in the creativity department. I know people who never abandoned their talents and now are accomplished musicians and writers and actors and artists and, if not making a living, at least their lives are rich with their chosen crafts. The depressive version of me still surfaces once in a while and wants to kick myself for giving up and giving in–giving in so easily, in fact, that I didn’t even know I was doing so.

But I’m in my 40s now, and I consider this a magic time, when a hunger for creative fulfillment, a screw-em-if-they-don’t-like-me attitude, and an acute awareness of the passage of time all converge and give me a good shove toward the true pursuit of happiness, which can only be found by doing what means the most to me, by actually being me. That’s why I’ve started blogging, and why I’m doing so in a room which is currently filled with haphazard stacks of art supplies and a card table, but which is gradually becoming my “room of one’s own” in which to pursue creativity for its own sake, for my own sake. I don’t know why I let myself be led astray so easily while some of my friends were able to stay the course, but I do know it’s better to start now, a late bloomer, than never to start at all.

So what’s your version of this story? What’s the talent that you let go of too easily? Have you started up again?

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7 thoughts on “The Midlife Reboot

  1. amber, at my age, i still don’t know what i want to be when i grow up. i think everyone is all over the map with what their lives shoulda,coulda been. at least you are thinking about it and reaching for some goals. life goes on and we all stumble thru it with our dreams and ambitions. good for you. your writing is excellent, so keep at it.

  2. I wanna be Sue Heck. Obviously, I didn’t know I wanted to be Sue when I was younger, and if you asked me then if I wanted to be some geeky kid I would have run in the opposite direction. Looking back, wouldn’t it be great to just live in your own happy, optimistic bliss, never really knowing that everyone is sitting back and laughing at you. Not being tormented by peer pressure and a devine need to be something you clearly are not!!!

    • So true! I don’t know what makes some kids seemingly immune to it. I love that show so much, from Sue’s determination to Mike and Frankie being just like Brad and me, right down to their tacky, messy house! I also love Brick, because he’s weird and he knows it and he’s ok with it–he just wishes everybody else would just leave him alone and let him read.

  3. Just found your blog, and I find your down-to-earth style very refreshing. I can relate to the whole putting your creativity on a shelf thing. When I was younger, I wrote all of the time. When I got older, I got embarrassed about what people would think and tried to force myself to take a more practical approach to life. Now I’m trying to find the balance between living a practical life and living a creative life- sounds like you’re kinda doing the same thing.

  4. Same. I did the uni thing, but only as I got older, and only what I thought I wanted to do. Still looking. A bit like the old U2 song, ‘still haven’t found what I’m looking for’ 🙂 You DO write well.

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