Monday, March 25, 2019

other paths, other fruits

Last week, waiting for our ride outside the Century Theater on Clark St. I could not help thinking about the Borders that used to occupy the opposite corner (now it's a Walgreens, as everything eventually becomes), Or how my very first rainy late May day in the city, I had made my way up there from my studio a few blocks south, an apartment still in a chaos of boxes and one very confused cat.  How I sat in the cafe, near the windows overlooking the sidewalk, slowly sipping a lukewarm cappucino (becuase I could only afford one) and filling out a job application uncertainly.   I was set to start grad school, but not till September, so I was living off credit cards that first month and needed to find some sort of job if I wanted to survive the summer.  I was fortunate and unfortunate, since I had yet to have anything resembling a real job, having not worked in high school and done only odd, occasional paid work in college--proofreading an anthology for a professor, running lights for a visiting dance troupe.  My undergrad education had been paid for almost entirely by scholarships & grants, and for extra pocket money, I would sometimes help my mother with housecleaning.  It was nice to have time to devote entirely to studies, and in summer, to writing and reading and doing unpaid work on theater productions, But in those first few weeks in Chicago,  because I had no real work experience, there was a lot of knocking unsuccessfully on bookstore doors (which still existed in a sizeable number), and then, resigned to food service,  coffee shop doors.  Later, I would work at Starbucks near the zoo for awhile, during which I deal with huge amounts of entitled, baby stroller, $100 bill wielding assholes and go home smelling like over-priced espresso and sticky with Frappacino mix.  But those first few days on my own were at once exhilarating and terrifying.   This was different.  This was adulthood, or what I imagined adulthood to be.  I was 23.  It was 1997. I thought I knew what I wanted--to finish my MA, to teach English (whether high school or college, it was still up for debate.)   Maybe to write a little on the side, but I didn't have huge hopes it would be anything like a career.

That girl was so scared, and yet so very at the beginning of things.  Anything could have happened to her.  She could have went any direction, but really, could she? Wasn't she already moving in the right direction?  It startled me that night outside the theatre to think it was over 20 years ago, that in the time since, she chose her paths and wandered from others.  That we are midway in the journey, when a second ago, it seems like we just started. About a year later, I would decide against further schooling and teaching.   I would start writing poems that were actually pretty good.  I would make a feeble attempt at a first book.  I would get my first journal acceptance. I would move away from the city.  I would move back.  I would start working in libraries which seemed a good fit with other book-minded pursuits.  I would move further north, where the rents were cheaper. I would work downtown.  I would publish more poems, start journals and presses, and publish one book, then others. I would gain several more cats and lose others to age. I would date men, gain then lose others.  I would start making collages and books. I would get my MFA in Poetry. I would grow the press and move into the studio space.  I would publish more books, make more art. I would find things to love and nurture even in my day job and they would become actual things I could do and get paid for.

In my more anxiety ridden moments of the past year or so, it always feels like life is a closing off, or I feel like Sylvia and that tree dropping it's fruit but really maybe she was wrong.  At midlife (and I am loathe to say it, but I do turn 45 this year and can no longer deny it) maybe some fruits fall from the tree. I, for example,  will never be a Broadway songstress as I once wanted to.  Or an interior decorator. Or a lawyer. At least not without a drastic shift in my life.  (But I suppose if I wanted them badly enough I could--go back to school, work in community theater to scratch those itches. )  Maybe other fruits grow and appear exactly when they are supposed to.  Maybe there is no narrowing but only more opening.  New projects, new endeavors.  You just have to reach out for them.

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