This weekend we went to a jazz festival up north of Dallas, in Denton, near the University of North Texas. I attended this university for one out of my four years of college so I’m aware of its famous jazz program and the unbelievable talent that comes through those doors.
My husband and I found a small patch of grass amidst the endless lawn chairs and blankets, crowded by the people who’d been camped out since breakfast to absorb as much music as they could. My hat shaded my eyes (and sometimes impeded my view) as we sat down and clasped our knees under the branches of a sturdy, swirling tree that was blowing in the wind two stories up.
We relaxed and we listened to the UNT jazz ensemble on a tiny stage shrouded in green and white (university colors). I was captivated by the A Cappella sounds of a tune reminiscent of 1940s harmonies, which later transitioned into doo-wop, a piano and a cello. These were sounds that gave me goose bumps and that wrapped me with joy, but that also carried me back to an earlier time in my life that often feels buried in practicality.
The singers and musicians were between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-two, most of them about to graduate and step into the rest of their lives. And they reminded me of the person I used to be at that age. The person who was once in college and studying the arts (literature for me), with the whole world in front of me, with dreams brewing, and with a desire to do something out of the ordinary as I walked on this planet.
But then life hit and plans went askew, as often happens when we realize the idealism of our young minds isn’t actually the reality of our existence.
I think we remember our youth as we age but that we forget it, too. We may not forget the things we used to love but sometimes we forget how much we used to love them. And in doing so, we forget who we truly wanted to be before bills and life and responsibilities got in the way.
Many of us walked across that university stage and picked up our fake degree (the real one comes in the mail later) and we believed that the fervor would continue. That the love we had for our subject matter would land us in a job we'd love, doing something we love. That our life would be extraordinary and would continue along the same path we’d started forging.
I watched those college kids singing their hearts out and I knew they were churning the same idealistic thoughts. I saw the joy in their eyes and the real talent in their solar plexuses, and I couldn’t help but wonder if they’d get lost in the swirl of life like I did. If their music would dissolve into a mundane job that paid the bills and allowed them to take care of their homes or their kids or their cats. If their artistic gifts would fall back into the shadows, because our world is not one that supports the arts.
I’ve been in a good place recently where I’ve decided to grab my life and force it back in line with where I'd hoped it would be. I’ve been focusing on my personal creative work for the first time in a long while, and I’ve been demanding a creative path in my career endeavors.
This means I’m no longer allowing myself to fall into the grayness that is work I don’t want to be doing. Yes, I have bills that aren't going away and I do what I have to do. But no, I won’t accept the idea that gray work is all I’m allowed to do. I don’t care what anyone says or how many people get in my way.
Arriving in this place happened when things got bad earlier this year and I turned inward, listening to myself for an answer on which turn to take. And what I discovered was the college kid I’d lost touch with, sitting quietly in observation. The one with the hunger for stories and discourse, with the talent for the written word, with the professors who encouraged her to go to grad school (but she declined due to massive burnout).
I found that kid who wanted to do something meaningful and special with her life before everything got in the way.
I'd seen her from time to time because that part of yourself never leaves and, I think, always strives to break free from rational constriction. But I just hadn't paid much attention to her whispers because my life was so utterly full of turmoil for well over a decade. I couldn't hear anything but the loud noise of my mangled existence.
So this time when she started speaking again, I grabbed her. I snatched her. I held her close and I refused to let her fade into the background again. And I'm going to empower her with a voice (not a whisper) and urge her to step back into my world. To be heard. To participate. To thrive like she did in my younger days.
These writings are part of that process.
And I wonder how many of us have forgotten the person we truly are? I wonder how many of us ignore those whispers from our younger selves. The ones that float in when life feels off course, but that we ignore because of practicality?
I'd like to think that it doesn't take a catastrophe for us to listen to ourselves again, but maybe it does. Maybe that's what catastrophes are for. Maybe that's what life shifts are for. Maybe that's what turning points are for.
Maybe that's what everything I've been through is for?
The Big Pause