I don’t expect many of you to be reading my blog on Christmas Day. But this blog is actually a gift for my dad, so it must be posted today. And you get to behold it along with him!
Looking back at this year’s posts, I realize I only cryptically discussed my Harper Lee Year in one blog, my Top 18 of 2018 (see #18), but I could have sworn I wrote about it somewhere else, the full story. Essentially, this is what happened December of last year.
I had just started a new job in the same department where I’d worked before, but in a different role with a different team. A couple of days into the job I had a revelatory moment in which I not only realized the job wasn’t for me, but I also realized there were people who actually wanted to do this job. The girl who was training me kept asking, “So, was that when you realized you wanted to go into research?” — after dolphin training, after teaching, after traveling to Greece.
No, young child. Sometimes people do things to make money and have health care.
It was as if I had to tell her point blank, “I don’t want to be here!” and since I had not yet said those words out loud, even to myself, the conversation forced me to take a good look at my life and where I was headed.
I was in the midst of my existential crisis when my dad called.
At that moment I was on my way to Warren, RI to interview a chef for a magazine article. “I’m building a resumé for a job I don’t want,” I cried to my dad. I wanted jobs in writing, in editing, in traveling, in study abroad, in teaching English overseas, in something that combined my interests and skills and put me on a path toward becoming a writer (or, let’s be honest: living in Greece), and instead, I was setting myself up for a Masters in Public Health.
“Well then, what’s your ideal situation?” my dad asked.
My ideal situation was that I would receive the $25,000 writing fellowship I’d applied for–unbeknownst to him–and get to live as a writer for a year. It was something I’d always wanted to do. Despite getting an MA in creative writing, my writing consistently took last place on my priority list, which was especially true when I first moved to Rhode Island and worked multiple jobs. Once I added Motif Magazine to the mix, any creative energy I had was funneled into my articles. And, sadly, I also wanted a social life. We know what they say about wanting a social life with friends.*
*In case you’re wondering, I replaced “love” with the gym. Same same.
I told my dad I applied for this scholarship. It was unlikely I’d get it, but since it was only open to Rhode Island writers, I thought my odds were…better? At that point my hope was dwindling, but it was still there, a tiny string I firmly held onto.
That’s when my dad said, “Okay. How about if you don’t get the fellowship, I will be your fellowship?”
Such acts of unmerited kindness are too much. I showed up to the interview looking like a balloon swallowed my face. But a week later, I received a rejection letter from the RI Foundation, and my dad’s offer still stood.
After some deliberation** I accepted, and thus experienced a tidal wave of terror (mixed with excitement as a lovely foam finish).
**it took several friends convincing me I wouldn’t be “that” millennial who depends on Daddy at 30 years old.
It’d be one thing to disappoint the RI Foundation; it’d be another to disappoint my dad. That might be why I’ve not discussed any of my Harper Lee Year here…mostly because I felt like I was failing at it all year long.
I once heard Professor Rosalind Picard, who founded the Affective Computing Research Group at MIT (the program that gave Artificial Intelligence emotional intelligence) speak at a Round Table event. She said she used to be an atheist, and in an effort prove her case against the Bible, she started reading it cover-to-cover. The result was that she converted to Christianity. But one of the most memorable things she said, though I don’t remember what the pushback was that prompted it, was this: “Don’t compare me to a perfect person. Compare me to the person I used to be.”
When I compare myself to a “real” writer, I slide into despair of how unproductive I am, how I don’t know what I’m doing, how I’m squandering my resources, and I have nothing to show for my time!
Thinking about Rosalind Picard, however, I wondered what would happen if I compared myself to myself instead of other people, and thus we arrive at my Christmas gift to my dad.
Here is my year in review. Thank you, Daddy, for letting me live my dream in 2019. I learned about being a writer and about myself, and also how hard it is to make infographics. I hope you are able to read between the blurry lines and see how important this year has been. I hope it/I make(s) you proud.
Merry Christmas ❤