Blogging is old enough now to have grown some traditions. One of them, that mostly irritates me, is memes because they usually take time but not much thought without revealing anything useful or entertaining. But now and again…
Claude of Blogging in Paris has tagged me for a When I Was Young… meme that instructs participants to list five things in life they never thought – at age 25 - they would become. I've added the thought, "or would happen".
This one is interesting, especially for elders, because it requires us to compare our young selves to our old selves, and has the potential for surprises – if not for readers, for ourselves.
- At 25, I had been married for a year and expected it to last a lifetime. No divorce, like my parents, for me. When I initiated divorce after six years, I shocked myself, but it hadn’t been like any marriage I imagined and I was miserable – all day, every day. I believed the only way to save my soul was to go my own way.
After a couple of years of healing, I thought I would eventually marry again; that was how girls were raised to think in the 1950s. But if you don’t count four years living with a lovely man named Barry, I didn’t marry again. In time, I came to see that I’m not much cut out for it. I like to be alone too much and unfortunately, with the exception of Barry, I’m attracted to men more cerebral than practical which means I always paid the bills, fixed the toilet, did the laundry, hung the pictures, took out the trash and every other bit of the minutiae daily living requires.
So I decided that if I had to do it all myself, I’d rather do half as much. It saves a lot of anger and it suits my sometimes contrarian nature to live differently from the world I was raised in where a woman was considered a failure if she didn’t marry - which, fortunately, no longer applies.
- These days, no self-respecting kid – of either gender – is allowed to grow up without considering what kind of career s/he will choose. In my day, girls were not encouraged to think of much more than wife and motherhood except for nurse and teacher, and I never got beyond the (futile) dream of being a ballerina and, sometimes, a writer (see below). So unlike today's young people, I had no career goal.
I worked at various office jobs in my early twenties until I began producing radio programs, then television and, in my fifties, websites. It was all accidental and I loved all of it. It took me to parts of the U.S. and the world I would never have visited otherwise and was always fascinating. None of it was on my radar at 25.
- In between imagining myself dancing Coppelia and the Sugar Plum Fairy with the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo, I thought I’d like to be a writer, to tell stories. Then, in high school, when I’d written a fantasy for class about my home having a funny personality, the teacher gave me the only D I ever received. “Houses don’t have personalities,” she wrote on my paper and I, interpreting it as a negative judgment on my writing rather than the cramped thinking of an unimaginative teacher, gave up the idea of being a writer. It was a rough time in my life, I was only 15 and I didn't yet have the self-confidence to dismiss a grownup's spiritless assessment.
Beyond writing letters, I mostly forgot about that dream until my television years when producing required me to write a lot of what people said on the air. Although no one every complained about my scripts or threw them back in my face, that teacher was always whispering in my ear that I wasn’t any good at it.
I’m into my fourth year now, writing every day for Time Goes By and am as happy doing it as I was at the best jobs I had. I'm asked to write for professional publications too and that's enough for me to give that dream killer of a teacher a "so there" raspberry from half a century in the future.
- When I was five years old growing up in Portland, Oregon, I began dreaming of living in New York City – the Metropolis of Superman, the Big Apple, the most exciting, sophisticated city in America, the place where everything wonderful happened.
The idea never left me, but even when a friend who had grown up in New York invited me to go with her when she was returning to her home town (we were about 21 or 22), I backed off, afraid I couldn’t make it in a place so big, so crowded, so different from what I knew. I thought then I'd be lucky to ever visit, but I'd certainly never live there.
Then life pushed me to New York when my husband got a job there in 1968, and it was every good thing I had expected. I loved it immediately and for 38 years, I considered myself a New Yorker. It was MY city. I knew every nook and cranny of Greenwich Village, if not the whole town, looked up the history of every street and building, and felt connected to it as though I’d been born there. Home. I’d be there still but for the next item.
- Like many children, I often heard, “Not until you’re older,” “When you grow up” and “You’ll understand when you’re an adult.” I took this to mean that I’d get smarter as years went by and more capable, and in the world I lived in then, that would make me a more valuable person - at least in the workplace.
Even when I got to be 40 and then 50 and bit beyond, it didn’t occur to me that I would become less employable due to my age. I thought I’d be seen as experienced, knowledgeable and, therefore, sought after.
So it was a shock on two occasions, after being laid off in cutbacks, that my young colleagues found new jobs in less than half the time I did. Not to belittle them, they are smart people, but so am I and I have a lot more experience. Sometimes, in looking for work, the discrimination was obvious, face to face in interviews. Nothing you could prove in court, but anyone who has been there knows what I’m talking about.
My mother and my great aunt Edith both worked until they were 70 and stopped then from choice, not because they couldn’t do the work or were fired for age. I expected to follow in their footsteps and am angry still, when I think about it, that I was forced out of the workplace. When I was 25, no one could have convinced me that anyone wouldn't be able to work in their chosen field until they wanted to stop.
I'm not going to tag anyone for this meme, but if you take it up, do come back here and give us a link to yours. For readers who don't keep a blog, you're welcome to use the comment section here for the When I Was Young meme. There's no limit on length, you know.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, David Wolfe tells how he he thwarted his remarkably mean siblings in It's a Wonder Some of us Survive Childhood.]