When I was very young, I wanted to be a race-car driver. I would pretend to drive cars using boxes or chairs pushed together. At some point, however, I recognized this imagining as something that was just fun to do, so from about age 10 or so if you asked me what I wanted to be I answered with, "a writer."
I majored in in English in college, because my AP English teacher encouraged me and praised my writing. In my sophomore year in college, I freaked out a bit and went over to Communication, trying various majors within that department. When none really clicked with me, I went back to English. I have a Master's in English with a concentration in Creative Writing; I wrote a poetry thesis. I realized, however, before I graduated that I did not want to make the kinds of sacrifices necessary to try to "make it" as a writer. Around this time, my friend, Maria, suggested I apply for a teaching assistantship, and I did.
Though my first day of teaching was rather disastrous, I felt at home in the classroom. I enjoy talking to students about their ideas, watching them begin to articulate (some of them for the first time) what they truly think in writing. I love the excitement of a new project, and the way I can see on their face when they "get it," whether it be a concept, a new idea, or some other creative spark.
I received my Ph.D. in 2008.
I learned a great deal in the following four years about the kind of teacher, person, and professional I want to be. I struggled. I made mistakes. I trusted wrongly. I grew. I followed the path to the university where I currently teach.
I fell in love with teaching again, this year. I put a great deal of effort into this semester and I feel that it was worth it, because I was able to shake off the past and move forward. The students I taught were smart and creative, goofy and challenging, and they helped to reignite my passion for this work.
I still consider myself a writer. I write on this blog. I write poems and creative non-fiction. I write scholarly articles and try to publish them. I push my creativity in the classroom and in scholarship. I found an avenue where I can talk about writing as my job while also encouraging and helping others along.
I never imagined I would be a teacher until I was. Both of my parents have been teachers and it was never something I thought I would pursue. And then I did.
I wasn't someone who had a specific picture in my mind of what my life would be like when I grew up. Even when I said I wanted to be a writer, I did not have an idea of what that looked like, not really. Instead, I daydreamed all kinds of possibilities. I could move to New York or Boston, work as an editor and live in an amazing loft space where I threw fabulous parties. Or I could be a great ecologist and go to Costa Rica in search of a rare tree frog. Each book I read took me on a new adventure, where I could imagine myself doing anything. But dreaming you could be a lawyer who saved people on death row because a character in a book did, and following through on that reality are two completely separate things.
Whenever I imagined my life in all these various possibilities, I was alone. No husband. No boyfriend. No significant other. When I was 17, I wrote an autobiography for an English class in high school. I found it a few years ago while helping my parents move, and in it, I describe a career when I write about my future. I write about finding it and what I learned from re-reading it in this post. What was interesting to me was that I could see myself as successful on a professional level, but never imagined what a successful relationship might look like or mean for my future. And then I met M who did not fit into any of my imagined futures, nor did I know how to be in a relationship. I certainly did not think that we would get married or experience any of the things that we have together.
In 2011, Thoreau's quote " endeavor to live the life which [you] imagined" was something upon which I reflected deeply. I still wear a necklace that says "live the life" which reminds me of Thoreau's sentiment and also the idea of "living the life you love." And while I believe it is important to think about what you dreamed as a child, the kinds of things that excited you and lit you up because we often lose touch with the small joys we allowed ourselves as children, I also think that you have to re-imagine your life as you live it, making room for the surprises like falling in love or realizing a job you never thought you would like is the perfect job, or living somewhere you hadn't considered before. Our childhood dreams can remind us of our hopes but we can't expect, in my opinion, to always live up to our imaginings.
To me, living the life I imagined is about maintaining, creating and cultivating relationships, pushing my creativity and being grateful for my life, recognizing all of the amazing people and experiences in it. It is, as I have said before, about keeping our dreams close, imagining new possibilities, and trying new things.
I could have never predicted, at 10, at 17 or even at 25 that I would be where I am today. Almost everything about my life is significantly different than I imagined it would be. And yet, I'm happier, more fulfilled, more connected, and certainly more deeply loved than I ever imagined I could be.
Once again, I recall Thoreau's conclusion, "The universe is wider than our views of it."
So many possibilities, so many adventures, none of them quite what I thought. Most of them, and my life, in general: so much wider than my view of it.