|Rhiannon riding in Arberth. From The Mabinogion|
I woke up around 4:00 AM and couldn't get back to sleep. It doesn't happen often. Sleep is one of those physical functions that I can usually count on, and I am ever so grateful for that. But sometimes, like this morning, I wake up early and I can't shut my head off. This hasn't always been so pleasant. Sometimes I lay in the darkness, freaking out about the places I haven't been and the things I haven't done. I feel old and a little panicked. I hear the clock on my life ticking, I worry about years wasted not doing the things that I want to do. It's a helpless feeling, because it isn't about desire, imagination or motivation, but about resources. At times I have felt that I would spend the rest of my life struggling without ever really having the opportunity to live. But things are moving forward.
Once upon a time I felt like a cautionary tale to all the other good little Catholic boys and girls. "This is what happens when you don't do what you're told, don't do what you are supposed to do." You grow up, go to college, get a job that you hate and work long hours at it. Complaining is mandatory, and the more you have to complain about the better. Maybe you get married and have children. If you're a woman, you give up your own ambitions in favor of supporting those of your husband. Worse, it's expected of you. If you're lucky, there might be something in it for you. Maybe at the end of your life, when you've been worked to death and your mind is tired (or if you're a married woman, you've sublimated your own desires for so long you no longer remember what they were), if you've been very very good and squirreled away your nuts, you might get to do something you enjoy. From the time I was very young, none of that sounded at all appealing to me. NONE of it. In fact, when I was in Kindergarten and the teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said "retired". I didn't know it wasn't a thing I could be. I just knew that my grandparents did it, and though they were always busy, they seemed to really enjoy their lives. The other part of that was that my grandparents didn't have to go to school. As a child my greatest wish ever was that I would never have to go to school again, so even on that level, "retired" sounded like a pretty good deal.
And then you grow up. I tried to do things the 'right' way, I really did. It was awful. I didn't fit. I didn't fit in anything I did. Sure, I know how to toe a line, but it's exceptionally unnatural for me. It made me physically sick. I know how to be polite, how to sit calmly at a table with my napkin in my lap. I know how to sit up straight, and which utensils to use when. I can beat around the bush with the best of them too. Manners are cool. Everybody should learn some. But sometimes subtlety doesn't work. I didn't get that for awhile. For a long time I felt like the only thing I got right at all was having my daughter. If my only legacy is the decent human being I brought into the world then hey, that's something. Very nearly enough, really. But you know, I never got married, so judge away if you must.
Somewhere along the way I learned to be direct. Unladylike, perhaps (and at times VERY unladylike), but more me and more effective. It was the first inkling I had that maybe, just maybe, there was more than one way to get from A to B.
Have you ever dreamed that you were flying? From the time I was little I used to have a recurring dream about flying. It was kind of funny, really. Everybody around me was flapping their arms and flying around successfully and happily. I would flap like crazy and never get more than a couple of feet off the ground. It never changed. Even as an adult, flap, flap, flap, nothing. Until a couple of years ago. It was the same dream, but this time I instinctively just raised my hands above my head like Superman, and off I went like a rocket. I know it was just a dream, but the message wasn't lost on me. The thing that had held me back was my belief that I had to do it like everybody else. It was just a stupid dream, but it changed everything.
I'm human. I care what people think. I don't care enough though, to change my priorities. I didn't get married. It wasn't because I failed, it was because I didn't want to. I work for myself. It isn't because I'm unemployable (in fact, I work happily with other open-minded, artistic folks with a shared goal), but because it's preferable to me. I've learned that sometimes, life is ugly and messy, and it's okay. It's okay to look at the mess and talk about the mess. The mess has far less power over you when you aren't trying to shove it aside like it never existed. Sometimes, the mess is the lesson you need to learn before you are allowed to move on. You can't move on if you aren't willing to embrace all the things, messy, not messy.
These are the sorts of things I think about now when I wake up at 4:00 AM and can't get back to sleep. I look back on lessons instead of mistakes. My life hasn't been about rebellion and wrong turns, it been about moving in the right direction for me. I got something valuable from every experience in my life, even those that were the most difficult. There are things I never would have learned about human nature, or even my own nature (and capability and strength) without those experiences. All of it a means to an end. I may not be where I want to be yet, but I'm most definitely on my way. Knowing that makes for a much better 4:00 AM experience.