For a long time it bothered me that college didn’t lead me where I expected it to. In fact, I didn’t even finish college. A year and a half in school turned into a stint in the Navy. The Navy turned into menswear sales, which turned into culinary school and professional cooking, which turned into a stretch in California state government. There are more turned-into’s after that [You can read about some of them here] but I think you get the idea.
The point is that the straight line of a life path I envisioned when I was 18 became more like the flight of a bumblebee. I’ve been, literally and otherwise, all over the place.
I made grudging peace with my reality but the acceptance didn’t come easily and it’s still an effort not to feel like I did something wrong. So-called normal people of my generation went to college, started careers and families, and lived so-called normal lives. I can’t count the number of times I wished to be normal.
I tell people quite convincingly now that my all-over-the-place-ness has enriched me, that the challenges accompanying every course change have empowered me and prepared me for the inevitable changes still to come. Much of the time, though, it’s myself I’m wanting to convince with the mantra.
A perfect (or, when the mosquitoes are biting me, imperfect) storm of circumstances and choices led me recently to leave Los Angeles, after 15 years there, and move to Mississippi. Rural Mississippi. Crawfish-by-the-pound on every corner Mississippi. Sit at a stop sign for half a minute ’cause what’s the hurry Mississippi. Goats in the road Mississippi. “How yew doin’ hon” Mississippi. If ever a course change required adaptive skills, this was it.
The tea and people here are sweet. Folks trade suggestions of catfish restaurants like stock tips. I hadn’t seen a cardinal on a magnolia branch since leaving my homeland of Texas long ago and it’s a pretty picture. After 15 years in southern California I’d forgotten what being rain-soaked felt like.
My time in college and my military training and culinary school and seven years at a desk in Sacramento don’t make for the likeliest path to selling appliances at a Mississippi Home Depot store but it’s where I am. It’s reality and it’s my reality. Coincidentally, or maybe not, it’s a lot of fun. Who would’ve thought?
How I describe my situation – as something I created or as something that just happened to me – might vary depending on the extent to which I’m admiring magnolias or swatting mosquitoes. Whichever, I’m here, and it’s now absolutely my choice to gripe and fret or to adapt and – knock wood – learn from the experience and grow a bit.
I don’t expect to acquire a taste for crawfish guts anytime soon but for the most part this new situation and the experiences that come with it are a hoot. I’m richer for them.
People talk about going with the flow and rolling with it, whatever “it” is. Easy for them to say when I’m the one on the remotest Interstate 10 in a rental truck with a husband, two cats and everything we own. We were the Joad family in reverse, I found myself thinking a couple of months ago, somewhere east of Tucson.
I know better than to believe there won’t be more curves in the road for me. Some might be a lot of fun and some will surely be just awful. But they’ll be mine as much as my green eyes are mine and my bald head is mine. And if I’m smart I’ll look at it all with an open mind.
1. Expect surprises – plans will blow up and stuff will happen.
2. Let yourself feel – scared, angry, annoyed, whatever. Silver linings are nice but they don’t exist without the clouds.
3. Ask for help. It’s ok.
4. Remember where past off-ramps have led you. Call it life lessons, call it scar tissue, but every one of your previous course changes has helped to prepare you for new ones.