A comment on my post yesterday made me pause for a second, and ask myself if this list I am creating is about EGO. Am I trying to say look at me and how wonderful I am? Why did I decide to write a list celebrating my life?
Our lives are all made up of stories, some large, some small. Some victorious, some failures. Unless someone has walked through your life with you for entire thing, by your side through it all, there is nobody who knows all of your stories. My mother doesn’t know. My sister doesn’t know. My brother doesn’t know. My childhood friends don’t know. My adult friends don’t know. My husband doesn’t know.
It’s not that the stories are secret, simply that nobody can be there at all times to experience them.
However, those stories make us who we are today, and those stories guide us toward who we will become. In a world (or at least a country) where middle age is sometimes seen as “less than” youth, and where I “aged out” of my highest academic degree by not getting a tenure-track position within a couple of years from graduating, it makes understanding and valuing your own story all the more important.
There’s a scene from the movie The Holiday which gets me every time. Iris is having dinner with Arthur Abbott who points out something very important:
Arthur Abbott: Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason you are behaving like the best friend.
Iris: You’re so right. You’re supposed to be the leading lady of your own life, for god’s sake! Arthur, I’ve been going to a therapist for three years, and she’s never explained anything to me that well. That was brilliant. Brutal, but brilliant.
I’ve too often been the best friend. This list is to help me understand myself as the leading lady in my own life.
Today, I will include some things that I celebrate because they made me stronger or helped me grow. I hope you will celebrate those moments in your own life which may have been difficult at the time, but through which you came out a new (and improved) person.
22. When I was completing my MFA, my committee chair threatened (and tried) to fail me because I hadn’t done some things for her that had nothing to do with my thesis project. She, literally, sat me in her office one day and said “that’s your second strike” when I was unable to perform a time-consuming task for her because I had other (paid) obligations. After this meeting, I didn’t remain meek. I went to a dean and discussed my concerns. He told me there was little he could do, as it was her word against mine but he would help me in any way he could. After my thesis production, my chair wanted my committee to fail me for things that could have been fixed if she had advised me earlier in the process as was her job (I’m not saying I had no errors, just that if she had pointed out her concerns when I was in rehearsal I might have been able to answer those concerns). Yet, she came to rehearsals and said nothing, leading me to believe all was well, until my committee meeting where she attacked. The other two members of the committee seemed somewhat speechless. They offered me an alternative, which was to write a paper answering some of the concerns, and reflecting on how or what I might have changed. I turned in a 12 page document that couldn’t be disputed. My chair isn’t the one who let me know I had passed, another committee member did that. I never spoke to my chair again. I learned to stand up for myself and my (future) students against injustice in the system.
23. I mentioned being told in Japan that I was the “weakest” teacher at the small conversation school I taught at. I was crushed. I asked for an explanation. What was I doing wrong? What could I improve upon? What were the complaints against me? My boss told me he couldn’t be specific at the time but he would find out. I remember going to the river, sitting under the cherry blossoms, and sobbing for hours. Being in a foreign country is difficult enough, but then to be told that you were failing in that country was even worse. It was terrifying. The way I saw it, I had two choices, quit and go home or stay and try to improve. If there is one thing I’ve learned about myself, is I am stubborn to the end. Despite the fact that I never got any more information from my boss, I chose to stay, and worked as hard as I could to become better. In the end, my boss asked me to stay on for an extra month (I was supposed to be at that school for a year) until my replacement came. I then moved onto a bigger school where I stayed for two years until I decided to go to graduate school.
24. I miscarried my first child. I know this happens to many women, but I blamed myself. Before I knew I was pregnant, I had asked my doctor to put me on antidepressants. I don’t remember what I was on, but it was one not considered safe for pregnancy. As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I stopped taking those pills. About 6 weeks in, I lost the baby and I mourned. I still mourn the child who never was, because I blame myself for that loss. However, if I had that child, I would never have received the wonderful gift of Sarah.
25. I completed my doctoral program in three years, including course work, research and writing my complete dissertation. My dissertation was then nominated for an award. I had to present at a conference where they would then announce the award winners. I was pregnant (with Sarah) at the time, but hadn’t had any problems with morning sickness until my nerves about presenting kicked in. Picture me sprinting from the elevator to my hotel room, carrying my bags, saying hello to roommates who I hadn’t seen in over a year, and running into the bathroom to vomit. Fun days. Anyway, my presentation went well, despite some antagonistic questions from audience members. The other nominees presentations were interesting, and we awaited the awards ceremony. Just before the ceremony, the head of the committee (who I had met in other situations) pulled me aside and said, “Lisa, nobody is getting the award this year, but you are getting an honorable mention.” I am the ONLY ONE who got an honorable mention, but NOBODY got the award. Politics that I will NEVER understand at play. To this day, I still can’t understand why that happened. When they announced it at the award ceremony, nobody there understood it either. I had to try to be stoic, try to hold in my tears. I failed miserably. From that I learned my first lesson in the brutality of academic politics, a lesson I would (and still am) continue to learn over the years. A lesson that has led me to know that there is something else out there for me, even if I have yet to figure out what that is.
26. The last one for today might surprise you. Nathan (my now husband) was my first and only boyfriend. I was a complete and utter failure when it came to dating as a young person. In junior high, I “dated” Stephen for like a minute. (Basically he called and asked me out. One of our friends convinced me to say yes. I got scared and broke up with him before we even had a date.) I had one date with Chris in high school, but he liked me a lot more than I liked him. I ended up going to the prom with him as friends, because my friends wanted me to go with someone. I had a few flirtations in Japan (Gacho, Scott, and Mike) but I wouldn’t call those dates. I met Nathan in grad school in Hawaii, and didn’t even know our first date was a first date. (For that story read this). We dated (including long distance) for five years and then we got married (now married 13 years). I think I learned enough from being the best friend, to know that I had found a good one. At the same time, I always thought I’d never find anyone, that there was something wrong with me which prevented me from connecting beyond friendship. Always the best friend, never the leading lady. Lesson learned.
What are some of the challenges in your life that have made you become the person you are today?