Friday, April 27, 2012
Follow on a Friday: Your Heart
I remember my first encounter with Kit Smith.
I call it an “encounter” because he was three years old, and you don’t really meet a three-year old. Especially not this one. I had escaped from my own young children for a blessed hour of peace at a local coffee shop where I often went to get some writing done. Halfway into my first cup of strong coffee, I realized I couldn’t string together one coherent thought. That was because there was a three-year old under a nearby table, crashing giant legos and bellowing in exuberant play … while his parents, enjoying their own coffee and crumpets, blithely ignored him. I waited for the parents to do, say, something, to their tiny terror, but … no. They obviously didn’t think there was anything unusual about this din.
They were used to it.
Two decades later, I’ve learned that extraordinary children are often not politely quiet. They don’t color in the lines. They say outrageous things at inappropriate times. They are hard to raise. Sometimes they crash and burn and all we can do as parents is pray that they’ll emerge, phoenix-like and wiser, from the lessons they’ve learned. I’ve noticed that those that do, that pull off merging their amazing talents with common sense and discipline, can realize their dreams.
They live a Plan A life. The first choice, the dream life. Not the backup plan: the job you’d be willing to live with and pay the mortgage with.
Plan A can be pretty much anything, but what all Plan A’s have in common is the odds. Low, practially impossible odds of success. Like, becoming a professional actor. Publishing a novel. Singing with the New York Metropolitan opera. Competing in the Olympics.
Or becoming a professional athlete. Like Kit. Who recently learned he’s made the cut to play lacrosse with the Boston Cannons. He’ll suit up for his first game tomorrow and I hear a fan club’s worth of folks from our little town in
Maine are heading to Beantown to cheer him on:
Granted, Kit has talent, but so do many people who don’t achieve their Plan A dreams. So what’s the difference between those who “make it” and those who don’t? Yes, yes, I know, hard work, determination, faith in yourself … we’ve heard it all before.
I had reason recently to “poll” a few of my writer friends about this topic, and novelist Alison McGhee said it best. I knew Alison back when we were in the same creative writing seminar in college. Since then, she’s published some 20 books, and achieved a wonderfully satisfying career. Besides emphasizing the importance of always having enough income to pay for health insurance, here’s what she said:
I myself never had a Plan B. I wanted only to be a writer, and a creative writer, not a journalist or academic. … I wanted to write short stories and poems and novels. So I have never had a real job, really, in my life, besides part-time teaching (health insurance!) Writing those novels and poems always, always was the priority, and I organized my schedule around it from day one. When my kids were born I got up at 4 a.m. so as to get the writing done before they woke up. Many, many sleepless years.
Eventually, 20+ years down the road, I was/am living the life I always wanted to live. There were many years, decades, when I worked in solitude and without any sort of public affirmation (e.g., 13 years of writing every day before I sold a novel, mostly because it took me a long time to become a good writer). It’s very scary for me, as a mother and as a caretaking sort of human being, to advise anyone to put all their eggs into one basket and never veer from a certain path. But that’s how I did it.
Yes. It’s as simple, and as terrifying, as that: No Plan B. No backup. No other vision for yourself. You live Plan A because it’s who you are, and you’re willing to make little or no money doing it, endure long years without outside affirmation, and resist pressure from people who suggest you get a “real” job. Or go to law school.
Like my childhood friend, David, the kid who always had the lead in the school musicals. He was in a lot of denial about himself for a while and told everyone he was going to law school. At some point he had a reckoning and threw caution to the wind and has gone on to have a wonderful career as an opera singer. It’s not an easy life: he’s had to find other work between “gigs,” and he travels a lot. But one year, when he was performing with the New York Metropolitan’s traveling company, I got to hear him sing, and I wept. He was fabulous, this boy I used to know. Living his Plan A life.
And now there’s Kit. The Tiny Terror, not so tiny anymore, hurling lacrosse balls like miniature cannons into a goal. Plan A life.
A few weeks ago another boy I used to know (my 20-year old son) decided to make a few Plan A plans of his own, and auditioned to attend an acting conservatory in
London in the fall. He described the audition itself as surreal: the folks he performed for registered no response, just stared blankly and scribbled notes as he sang and strutted his stuff in a classroom. He had no clue what they thought, or how he did, which is unsettling for a stage actor who feeds off the energy from a live audience.
“Whatever,” he told me. “I didn’t hold back. And in my written statement, I just said I don’t want to be an actor. I will act. Anywhere, for whatever money, it doesn’t matter. I absolutely will do this.”
I didn’t see his audition, but right then I knew: he got it.
He’s headed to
England in September. Meanwhile, I’m calling Blue Cross this afternoon to make sure our policy covers him while he’s abroad.