Originally posted October 7, 2010...
You know that Robert Frost poem that goes, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…. and I took the road less travelled and that has made all the difference?” I’m pretty sure that’s the poem in its entirety, or it may as well be because that’s all anybody ever quotes from it. My trouble is I see every possible choice in my life like those Frosty yellow roads. I don’t mean I agonize over every decision but rather I see every possibility of an opportunity as a game-changer. I’m not explaining myself well.
When I was sixteen, I applied for a job at a coffee house downtown. After physically dropping off the resume at the coffee house, I ran to the bus stop, took the bus to the stop near my house, and ran to my house to check our voicemail, convinced that I not only had the job without an interview, but that I was the new employee of the month.
When I was seventeen I developed a mad crush on a guy whose name I think was Gary, but we’ll call him Gerry here to protect his anonymity. Gerry worked at another coffee house and was marginally friendly, which I interpreted as mad lust on his part. I started going to this coffee house obsessively to cultivate our one-sided tryst. I think one time I came later than my usual time and Gerry said, “I was starting to think you weren’t gonna show up!” I fake-laughed until I was hoarse and started planning our entire future together.
When I was eighteen I was up for a drama scholarship to a university away from home. Would that I could say it was some arts institute in France or something, but it was just the U of S in Saskatoon. Instead of practicing my monologue on the drive up with my dad (some maudlin piece about a guy whose friend from Little League dies and he remembers his “hair like cornsilk.), I instead pictured my life as a Drama Student who was “here on scholarship” and how people would see me and whisper in the halls. “That’s that kid! He’s not from here; he’s here on a scholarship! Watch out!” and I’d do scenes from Beaches and they would weep.
Well, I never got the job at the coffee house. I finally worked up the courage to ask out Gerry who said, “What? With you? Did somebody say I was gay? Was it that girl that works here? No, listen, no–who said that I…no, of course not, no.” And I never got that scholarship and messed up the “hair like cornsilk” line, which I think I recited as “hair the colour of corn.” My point is, no matter how unlikely the circumstances surrounding an opportunity, I single-mindedly focus on what my life would be like not if, but when that comes to pass. But it never comes to pass! I’m not sure if this is a case of counting my chickens before they hatch, or putting all my eggs in one basket, but it’s something. And it leads me to my new Dream.
Dream: Don’t put all my eggs in one basket…. and don’t count the contents of that basket, assuming that there’s chickens in there…because… I mean probably, there’s not.
Goal: Achievable. As much as lore would have us believe in the Big Break, the successful people I know are successful through a series of seized opportunities and certainly don’t rest on their laurels waiting for that One Thing that will turn their lives around.
Plan(s): Get some more baskets. Getting my plays published has been, if you’ll pardon my French, difficile. I’ve been so lucky to have had plays of mine performed by different groups (mostly high schoolers), and sometimes those groups win awards. So it stands to reason that the plays have some merit, and maybe one of the many publishers of high school plays would cotton to my snarky sagas and publish my stuff. So every so often, I dust off an old play of mine, edit and format it, and remove any Canadian references (or suggest alternate American ones) to neither alienate nor confuse potential American buyers (for example, when one character says, “I went to the Jann Arden concert last night,” the alternate line is, “I went to the Barack Obama concert last Obama.”) Then I send it off and wait. And wait and wait. Most publishers promise feedback in about eight weeks, but I find I wait an average of six months. And in those months I imagine my new life as a published playwright. How I, using the unrealistically high royalties my play would somehow earn, would fly to whatever high school in North America was doing my work and surprise the students, who would hoist me on their shoulders and chant “Successful! Successful!” and I would laugh and say, “Put me down, you youngsters! But yes, I am successful.” But alas, many months later, the answer is always no. Sometimes it’s a kind and complimentary no, often it’s a form letter no. And I retreat and lick my wounds and eventually submit to more publishers.
I often wonder how much faster and easier and better it would be if I didn’t romanticize the process so much. If, instead of waiting on the rejection letter, I just assumed it was coming anyway and submitted to ten more publishers in the interim, all the while writing brand new, exciting work. This last time, the publisher forbade electronic submissions of work. This meant I had to print out my play at some copy and printer place, bind it at some binding place, mail it off at some postage place and include a self-addressed stamped envelope (by the way, did you know you can’t stamp American mail to be sent to Canada? I couldn’t believe it! I couldn’t affix an American stamp to an empty envelope to be returned to me. I had to buy some bullshit seventeen dollar voucher that the American publisher lady would have to present at the post office when sending back my letter to myself, and that would take care of it. What the what?). And so began my entire summer of checking my mailbox daily. Of researching the schools who bought plays from this publisher, and envisioning my work at the newly built auditorium of the R. Nelson Snider High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Of just assuming it would all work out. And last week, I saw my own chicken scratch handwriting staring back at me from my mailbox. Hands shaking, I opened my self-addressed stamped envelope and read the neatly-typed half-page response thanking me for submitting but informing me that they were going to pass on my work.
It’s not the rejection that stings so much as the embarrassment of having invested so much time and energy into something that never was. Several months ago, I inquired about a Dream Job, the possibility of which now sustains me as I slog through the drudgery of cashiering at two jobs, seven days a week. I can’t say too much about Dream Job, as it might hurt my chances of getting it (both in a superstitious and practical way that I can’t go into). I’ve told a few friends about it and they’ve all said, “That’s perfect! I can totally see you doing that!” which only serves to bolster my false confidence. Like the play publishers, there’s a delayed response with Dream Job, and I am still in flux. But the possibility of Dream Job has given me so much joy, even resilience. One of the Real Jobs has been a trial lately; angry employees, a lousy working environment, a seeming barrage of abusive customers, two police visits in as many weeks, but I have this idiotic blind faith that Dream Job will come to pass and I won’t be in Real Job much longer, so it’s all good. But that’s not good.
But I’m getting better. I know that wishing for something badly enough won’t make it so. I’ve applied for other, less Dreamy jobs, not waiting to hear the definitive no before taking action. I’m writing new projects while still submitting the old ones. The other day I was kvetching to Jon about Real Job and fantasizing about Dream Job when he stopped me and said, “You know, it’s like Sheryl Crow always says, ‘It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.’” I wanted to say, “Really, Professor? Sheryl Crow? That’s who were turning to now, the ‘All I Wanna Do’ girl? And she doesn’t ‘always say’ that, it’s a line from one of her songs, how do you know what she always says?” But what I really said was, “Yeah.” Because he’s right.
Annie Hall (have I mentioned that movie enough?) ends with Woody in voice-over saying, and I’m paraphrasing, “There’s another old joke, where a guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, ‘Doc, you gotta help me! My brother’s crazy! He thinks he’s a chicken!’ And the psychiatrist says, ‘Why don’t you turn him in?’ And the guys says, ‘I would, but I need the eggs.’” And Woody theorizes that that’s, in essence, why we deal with the craziness of relationships. Because with all the absurd, crazy, irrationalities therein, we stick around because most of us need the eggs. I would add that that’s also why some of us pin so much possibility into our Dreams, whether or not the Goals are Achievable. Even if they’re not all in one basket, even if the chickens never hatch, we just need the eggs.