Monday, February 13, 2006

self portrait tuesday

This is my second entry for the "All of Me; Even the Ugly Bits" theme for Self Portrait Tuesday.

I Am a Waste

In December my boss told me drunkenly at our holiday party, "You're a waste." A coworker said my face melted in horror. Later, the more-sober boss explained, "I just meant that you're too smart to do the position we hired you for." I'm aware of this -- I signed up for a workerbee position and not more -- but his comment tapped into something that I bury and gloss over. And I have not stopped thinking about the comment since. I am not a waste in the way he meant. His vision of my capabilities means nothing to me. But in regards to my own deep-down expectations, I am on my way to wasting it all.

There were two things I wanted to be when I was twelve years old. I've read that what you want to be at twelve is the truest to your heart's calling. I wanted to be a writer and I wanted to be a midwife. A midwife! By the time I hit junior high and all through high school, I had very clear intentions of going to Africa to . . . lend a hand. The amount of suffering and lack of resources affected me deeply. I researched how I could help, and during the summer between my junior and senior years, I was selected by Operation Crossroads Africa to spend a summer on a West Indian island lending a hand. I raised every cent for my airfare to NY where the Crossroads office was located and then I was sent to a tiny island on the northern tip of the Leeward Islands. With eleven other high school kids, one college-aged leader and one island guide, we set up a summer camp for kids and fixed up houses of elderly islanders. As I painted red-roofed houses in fantastic aqua hues, I listened to old women tell stories through the window. They never told political or worldly stories, but stories of lovers and children. I listened to kids as we did art projects at camp and they told me local gossip like whose gnip trees yielded the most fruit. I loved every minute of every assignment. We all bunked in one house that sometimes had running water and was haunted by water bugs the size of crawling watermelons. When the water was out, we would walk a half mile to a community spigot to fill our buckets for washing, body and clothes. To this day, it's a mystery to me how anyone can hand wash clothing without having them dry into stiff, uncomfortable rags. It was an amazing summer that solidified my conviction that lending a hand was what I was meant to do.

I did a lot of lending-hand stuff through the rest of my teens into my early twenties; obscure solo missions. Like, I would cook food and then try to give it to random homeless people on the street who did not necessarily want to be bothered or approached in that way. Quite a few had untreated mental issues and I was all, "Here's a plate of food," and 17th Street Alice would be running from me yelling, "Stop trying to poison me." I also out of the blue volunteered to teach dance at a home for pregnant teens in East LA. The girls ranged from 12 to 17 and they would come to my class either bursting at the womb or with an infant cradled in arm. They didn't listen to me for nothing. When I tried to warm them up, one 16 year old put her hand on her slender hip that projected a huge belly and announced, "I do not stretch. I am a lady." So, eventually I ceased all dancing and just sat and listened to them because they were dying to tell their stories.

In the last fifteen years, My Calling to Help has been shoved to the side by Pushy Practicality and straight out materialism. So has my writing. In my mind, I equate materialism to greed and practicality to fear. And if I don't feel brave enough to stick to my heart's calling then isn't that a waste? If I am constantly tormented by things that happen in the world far away and right in my community, but I don't do enough or more, isn't that a goddamn shame and a waste? This is not to point out how little we all do, how much we all might waste, this is about me letting my callings go by because I'm scared to be impractical, too nervous to let my rent slip past due. It's hard to do it all. My husband has pointed out that maybe our sole purpose is to raise two future superheros. I absolutely believe this is one of my purposes, -- the one purpose at which I may not be failing-- but is my life only about putting hopes of accomplishment onto them? Is my supieor parenting message: I've given up and I pray you don't?

Many people that I know well and do not know well would say I have not wasted my natural abilities. But as I sit at my desk and mindlessly dial broker after broker and appease whiny salespeople and buy electronic chips that feed the technology monster, as my boss's comment echoes through me, I can't help but feel empty and wasted, withering away without giving a more meaningful contribution. It just weighs me down.

What did you want to be when you were twelve years old?


niki said...

From about the age 12 to 20, I desperately hoped that my family would put me in a mental hospital.

To me it felt like the only safe place to let out my true self. Fortunately (or not?) I have managed to let most of me out sans hospital.

Janine said...

Madness, the amount of times you hit that mail directly on the head is beginning to frighten the shit out of me. Particulary the line "I've given up and I pray that you don't" I wanted to be a doctor, work with my feet in the dirt and help those the world at forgotten, now I sell car parts.

Laume said...

It's beginning to be a bit frightening how much you channel my own fears and fantasies.

The two things I've aspired to most of my life, I kid you not - a writer (since I was old enough to hold a pencil) and a midwife (since I was 19). There's also these gardener/teacher/artist subplots going on, but more as personal outlets then careers.

I did write and get paid for it when I was younger, then got sidetracked by a divorce and small children. I never did make it to midwife for multiple, odd reasons, but I spent several decades teaching childbirth classes and going to births in every capacity from doula to camerawoman. Several years ago I intentionally retired that goal, except for the birth of grandkids and a few other unexpected offers.

Now I'm back to writing and I'm struggling to do something that used to feel, well, organic. For years now I've defined the problem as my life getting in the way of my writing, but I'm beginning to suspect the real problem is that I see them as separate and warring choices. I am now working on making them one and the same.

acumamakiki said...

Oh Madness.....this is so touchingly beautiful and it fills me with sadness.

When I was 12 y.o. I wanted to be a grown-up. I don't think I had much ambition, in fact I know I didn't. I was too angry, too scared and too ready to fight to know that I wanted more.

Yes, your husband is right, that it's your calling to raise 2 superheroes (love that btw) but I also think there's more for you and I KNOW you'll find that answer. It might not be mid-wifery but it can be your writing. You do have a beautiful way with words, you express yourself in a way that speaks to me and I know others....
You inspire me and just because you work to pay the's not a waste, your smart enough to know what needs to be done and I KNOW you will fuel your soul and it will soar.
Interestingly my word verfication is: cvfuel.

Joelle said...

I'd say you've accomplished what you dreamed. You are a writer. A very good one. I have a feeling someday you'll get paid to do it. Great post!

tina said...

Dear Madness, please don't feel this have so much of your life ahead of you, and so many opportunities on the way that you can't even begin to imagine today...

Trish said...

Very personal and deep...but you're wrong...

You write beautifully and your give so much to so many...

Tara said...

there is a time and a place.

right now you have two girls who need a momma, need a routine, need clothes and school and rules and money.

help them to grow-put your dreams on pause for them-or, find a way to make it work together-but i do believe that they are your time and place right now.

this time and place will pass so quickly. you are in it right now so its hard to see. its hard for me to see too.

ESB said...

i wanted to be a writer....

you are a *natural* and *funny* writer....your blog is a start; it gives you practice, among other things.

i beat myself up about not writing enough, too. for me, it's equal parts laziness, part exhaustion, part terror.

if you ever want to talk about this more, come find me...

Heather said...

I love this, I have an inner person screaming to go and help, but I don't make time, and feel dissapointed in myself. If you raise your kids to be as compassionate as you, id say your doing alot. When I was 12 I wanted to be Cyndi Lauper.

Jamie said...

Ballerina. I've spent my entire life dancing, but there's just not a need for 5'3" girls in tutus. I've found my salvation in teaching dance, and working with kids to use dance as a means of promoting healthy self-expression and boosting self-esteem.

And you know what? It is so much more rewarding than any encore at Lincoln Center could ever be.

Rhonna said...

love the spt!

madness rivera said...

Every single comment so far has really touched me and made me think in some way. Seriously. Marrying Life to Purpose - yes! And my job now is to raise superheroes because that will go quickly -- damn, you're right -- and later I can save the world in other ways . . .And the great comments about the writing, thank you.

I just panic sometimes, and I suppose taking inventory and checking myself reminds me not to lose hope or focus. The mundane job doesn't help, but in all honesty, relatively, it's a great job.

This month's SPT, I feel, is about being brave enough to put your "flaws" on display and in the revealing the flaws lose their power or it inspires you to do something different - adjust, change. It's been a powerful experience. Again, thanks for all the comments.

Deb R said...

As several others have said, you are a writer. And I could easily picture putting the word "published" before the word "writer" in that sentence someday.

As far back as I can remember, the two things I wanted to be were writer and artist but I honestly have no clear memory of which of those things was more important to me at age 12.

Rebel Girl said...

What are those lines from that Ray Carver poem?

"And did you get what you wanted from this life?/ Yes, to love/ and feel beloved, on this earth."

Something like that. It's on his gravestone. I saw it.

At 12 - I wanted that too - to love and feel beloved - which translated into wanting OUT of my mother's houae and life and into my own. I got that 3 years later, sort of. I have it now.

I also wanted to be an artist, a writer -- but also a doer. I am still working on those.

I love the image of you painting roofs, D - some of those roofs are still blue, you know.

It's great getting to know more of you here.

Stay strong. We have the rest of forever, remember? Our band.

Maven said...

You will never outlive your ability to live up to your potential. MWA!

Also, thanks for your take on what the SPT challenge is all about. I still haven't decided whether I'm going to participate because it seemed to me, upon first consideration, that posting about your (perceived) flaws either gives you the opportunity to wallow in some self-deprecation (which, like you, I'm not all about) OR invites lots of positive! reinforcement!! from your readers. Both options seemed kind of blech to me, but I like the idea of robbing your flaws of their power by waving them in the breeze. I think owning your insecurities is incredibly powerful. It's probably the main and most important thing about me that's changed in the last few years.

Anyway, right on.

PS: I think when I was twelve I wanted to write and perform and possibly teach. More than that, I probably wanted to be good-looking. What a relief it's been to grow up.

madness rivera said...

Good ol' Ray. The Beloved Rest of Forever - yes! I have not forgotten our band.

Maven - I too was nervous about exactly what you said - exclamation points and all. Lately I've realized that "flaws" seem to take on a life of their own when kept sealed tight and obsessed over – took me long enough to understand that. Fuckit - we're all in the Flaw Boat in one way or another so I'm puttin' 'em on the table, man. ¡Toma!

la vie en rose said...

i wanted to be a missionary to some exotic place like africa. now i'm not even certain i believe in the same savior i wanted to "sell" way back then--at least i don't believe in the same way.

your words ring so true for me and many others. how do we play out those longings while living in a world that has become so much more complicated than it was at 12. i wish i had an answer. are you a waste? am i a waste? i hope not. i hope our value is based on more than whether or not we lived out the dreams we had at age 12. and as far as those dreams go, our lives aren't over yet. maybe those dreams have changed, been postponed, what have you. maybe we have new and different priorities now (i.e. our children)but life will change soon enough...and who knows what will open up then. you're doing what you need to do now...and you are lending a hand to this community of fellow bloggers through your stories and your powerful writing. yes friend, you are a writer.

Marigoldie said...

When I was 12 I wanted to be have intense emotional experiences (usually in the form of kisses under the bleachers). I had no idea there was even a world outside my town.

Now, with all my life's disappointments, I do believe that saving the world is done in small, subtle ways: being kind to people who don't deserve it, taking up as little space as possible, et-cornball-cetera.

I'm also wasting myself. I'm scared of trying to push my talents. But I do think that my day-to-day, like yours, is incredible interesting and fulfilling.

Anonymous said...

Hey D,

An old friend from SAMO told me about this blog, so I had to take a look. The comments you’ve received to your posts should be enough to confirm that you are already a writer … a good one at that. Aren’t these heartfelt reactions enough? If not, the question is what – beyond this blog – you want to do with your work? Maybe that’s a topic for another SPT.

As to righting the wrongs of the world, well … I’m sure you already do more than most. The question I have is whether your concern springs from (i) a sense of guilt over your relative good fortune, (ii) pain in seeing the suffering of others, or (iii) indignation at the fact nobody seems to give a damn. I’m about half-and-half between (ii) and (iii).

Anyway, whatever you’re doing, keep it up.

Take care.

Three Sheets

P.S. BTW, at 12 I wanted to be God.

P.P.S. Thanks to your shameless plug of Dagoba, I now doubt the social responsibility of my beloved black panther dark chocolate from the Endangered Species Chocolate Company. I will have you know that the black panther bar is packed with 88% cocoa, which means it has 50% less filler than Dagoba. Does it all come from slave children? What say you, Madness?

Lynne said...

i've felt the same- and often! but i'm sure you are not the only one you've reached and inspired with your words.
as i watch the students i teach change more and more each year, i'm beginning to believe i am needed right where i am. i am the only constant in many of their lives. that thought gets me through a lot of bullshit.
something i do, as small is it might be, is sponsor a woman in kosovo via when my second grandchild is born i plan to take on another.
it isn't much, i know, but one human at a time...

yolie said...

When I was 12 I wanted to be a Go Go Dancer. I hope it was just the boots I lusted after and not a true calling.
For what it's worth, I don't believe you're a waste. You are raising 2 Super Heroes AND writing AND living a conscious life. That's more than any human can manage at any one time! Practicality isn't always about fear. Sometimes it's just good solid planning for the future.

Laini Taylor said...

This is the first time I've read your blog and it's completely engrossing -- I just kept reading entry after entry. This most current entry sounds like many people I know who get sidetracked or who get sick of the sacrifices they've been making financially etc in pursuing their dreams. I've held off having children so far because I wanted to get a solid start in my creative career and I think it's been a wise decision for me but I'm also really aware that I've sealed off a major area of my life and aspect of myself in the process and I still plan to be a mother (fingers crossed) but I'm just as afraid of that as I am of pursuing my dreams! To answer your question, when I was 12 I wanted to be a writer, and I stopped writing for years after college, and last year, at the age of 33, I sold my first novel!
Thanks for a great read.

Anonymous said...

That dream at twelve never has to be a dream deferred. It's still possible if one wants it bad enough. What most of us face, including myself, is that despite my unhappiness with where I am today, I derive comfort, security, safety from the existence I've carved out for myself. Each day, I have the choice to either continue to embrace the less than satisfactory life or take the risk of leaving the familiar behind and diving into the unknown of making that childhood dream my new reality. It's a hard thing to admit, but there it is. A dream is a gift given by God. The making of that dream into a reality is how we get to share that gift with others.

madness rivera said...

SAMO in the comment box! Oh, Three Sheets/God (Clay? Jake?), you think I don't know about the black panther bar . . .you must not know that I was the chocolate sommelier at Mother Market for a spell. First off, I'm a big fan of the endangered species chocolate company and though I do not suspect slavery from them, it still is not officially marked "Fair Trade." Feh, that either means they didn't want to lay out cash to get the certs or we'll read a report that 10% of the profits did not go to dwindling animal populations but into fat pockets of slave traders. Secondly, if you're eating the black panther bar, you're a bigger man than I because 88% cocoa is a kick in the balls to me. The Dagoba filler (hahahahhaha) bar that I'm pimping specifically is the Conocado bar which is 73% fair trade cocoa from Dominican Republic -- BOOYA! But you, my friend, have gone over to the dark side.

Righting wrongs has to do with (ii) and (iv) which is, it shouldn't be a big decision to want others to be on an even playing field. Lending a hand feels like a natural reaction to me. It's frustrating to not spend more time doing so.

Kathleen said...

i took voice lessons for years.
i wanted to be an actress and a singer.
i do that now, only for the shorties.

i can't believe you posted this the SAME day that you wrote a kick-ass letter to help save my school.
that took heart, girl.
cause, as much as i feel a connection to you, you barely know me. and you reached out and helped today.
and you touched many with your gesture.

you haven't given up. you are just beginning.

andrea said...

stinging words from the bossman. and even though he meant well, you will probably hear those words echo for years. am I wrong?

how much do I love that you went in and tried to teach dance to pregnant teenagers? a little piece of information on you that I already had, but still. the sign of a great teacher: you went with the flow and listened to them. a great teacher knows how to follow the energy and roll with the needs of the class. you were exactly what they needed at that point in time. and I wonder, did they feed you like my students feed me?

but I feel you because I spend a great deal of time thinking in a similar vein. the space where I teach has these great words written on the walls:

you do enough.
you have enough.
you are enough.

I have to remind myself everyday. that right now, it's about raising my babies. and cultivating who I am so those babies will know to do the same as they grow up. I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. in fact, I feel a little like I'm writing this for myself more than anything. does that make any kind of sense?

and when I was 12? I wanted to be a solid gold breakdancing ballerina who painted and taught art and dance on the side. I also wanted to be a missionary. and I sorta think I was/am all these things in a strange indirect way.

keep on keepin on sister. you are an inspiration.

becky said...

I honestly don't remember what I wanted to be when I was twelve, so I'm going to tell you what I see in your future instead.

I can imagine that your daughters will learn your caring, compassionate ways and when they're a bit older, you'll probably all chose to spend your vacation times together doing amazing things to help those who are less fortunate.

You're amazing, and you're doing an amazing job of parenting your daughters.

madness rivera said...

Well . . .whoa . . . the comments have been amazing and uplifting.

Kathleen - haha - I thought about that. Mainly I think this pesky 9-5 gets in the way of being able to do more things like that. But, like so many of you have suggested, I need to be patient, and just keep doing what I'm doing for now.

thank you all, again.

liz elayne said...

this post is incredible.
thank you for sharing this with such honesty...
i wanted to be a writer...just like anne of avonlea. a writer. thank you for this reminder....

Server Girl said...

i love this post. I think i wanted to be a teacher...but i DO NOT want that now...i like your pic and all u had to say :)

HollyRhea said...

I haven't even read ALL 31 COMMENTS!, but I can tell this is striking a chord in us all.

We need to live in tribes.

And you can be my midwife (which was actually my dream, too. weird.).

Alexandra S said...

My friend told me about your site yesterday and I just had to tell you that your writing is terrific. You have such an extraordinarily unique and powerful and raw voice.
And I want to add that I feel for you about being in a job that does not speak to what you adore doing. I am in the same boat and trying to carve my way out-its not easy but lets not give up-neither of us, but especially you with such a gift for writing.

criolinha said...

thanks... I loved your blog

Michelle Fry said...

When I was 12 I did not want to be a medical software expert who trained clients on proper billing methods that's for damn sure. I did however want to be a writer or a teacher. I am kind of a teacher at work and want to be more of a writer. I really feel your pain in this SPT and appreciate you putting it out there. This past Tuesday I wasn't feeling up to the task of being that honest.