#5: Acquired a Skill (Career Plan B)
You know your father is always right, don’t you? Though it took a few years and a little maturing to admit it, my father was sure right about one thing: don’t rely on a Fine Arts degree as a way to earn a living. Learn a skill.
Dad never discouraged me from pursuing a degree in painting, but he did encourage me to add graphic design classes to my course load. I was having none of it. I was determined to be an artiste even if it meant starving in a garret. Fantasies have a way of crashing into the hard wall of reality, however, and post-college I quickly realized my brushes and oil paints were not going to pay the bills. It’s a good thing that I had one ear open to my dad’s advice. During my college years dad signed me up for computer classes. I worked sporadically over the summers at his business doing data entry and sometimes (yikes!) answering the phones. I learned skills I was sure I would never use once my art career took off – but it turned out that I earned my living thanks to learning my way around a computer.
#4: Worked in Iraq
Sometimes you are fully in control of the decisions you make and sometimes decisions are made for you – no matter how much dragging, kicking, and screaming you do. This is one decision that was made for me. The last place I wanted to be in the spring of 2004 was in Baghdad, Iraq. Only a crazy person would volunteer to go to the Green Zone. Though I tried (begged and cajoled) to convince my then husband to rethink his decision to move us both to the Middle East, I thought by going I might at least save my marriage (see #3, below…), which by then was in its death throes. Instead, our move hastened its end and when I came back from Iraq, I was a completely different person – nearly unrecognizable even to myself. I sometimes wonder what my life would be like if I hadn’t had the experience of living on the grounds of one of Sadaam’s palaces; of lining up for the horrible chow each meal; of hashing through some really ugly stuff with my partner, and getting to know people from all over the world and feeling like in some tiny way I was bringing the message of freedom to an oppressed place. How bad could my life be when theirs was so terribly, terribly bad? Despite all of the negatives – I have this one profound thing for which I have my ex-husband to thank, though he might not appreciate how it changed both of our lives.
#3: Got a Divorce
It took me a long time to recognize that I was in a bad marriage. I had all kinds of excuses why most of the time I felt unhappy and trapped – most of which centered on what I was doing wrong. I also figured that maybe this was exactly what marriage was: some really nice moments rippled with anger and arguments, guilt, blame, and recriminations. On some days, my husband was my best friend. He was smart and funny and we had wonderful conversations, we traveled extensively, lived in interesting places and occasionally the sweet and soft person he could be shone through. But eventually the bad outweighed the good and the cost was too high. It took #4 to get me into to divorce court.
#2: Joined a Gym (and Moved to the Boonies)
Yes, joining a gym is great for your health (as long as you go to the gym…). In my case, it was also great for my love life. I’d seen Kel occasionally at my gym and thought he was darn cute and noticed (ahem) that he was also in fantastic shape. One day I gathered up my courage and – - smiled at him. That was all I could manage before scuttling, red-faced, to the safety of the pull-up bar. When I’d finished a few reps, Kel came up to me and asked me if I’d like to go sailing. Although it sounded to me like a close relative of “hey, wanna see my etchings?” he and his invitation were bonafide. Watching him work a sailboat sealed the deal. I wanted to hold this guy’s hand.
Joining a gym led me to Kel which led us both to realize that we’d had it with city life. Both of us had called major metropolitan areas around the globe home for most of our adult lives and we were ready to rip up our metro cards and buy some Carhartts. How we settled on Oklahoma is a long story, but it’s a move I don’t regret a bit. Instead of the roar of buses and cars, I hear birdsong and crickets and tiny frogs bellowing like web-toed Pavarottis from the banks of several ponds. Nighttime is its proper pitch black (except for the soft light from the moon and stars) and the air smells clean. Best of all, I don’t have to worry about the neighbors seeing me when I stroll outside in my jammies.
#1 Became a Runner (and then a Vegan)
I became a runner long before I gave up meat or dairy. I started running during a time when my diet consisted heavily of Haagen Daz ice cream, popcorn and chocolate pudding – and my belly was beginning to show it. Fruits and veggies? What had they done for me lately? I started from a very comfortable couch-potato position to a few slow and painful laps around North Boulder Park to becoming obsessed about running long distances. My days of running a lot of miles are over, but still, I cannot imagine my life without running – or at least walking really fast. Running is meditation, free space, alone time and it works my body like nothing else.
So what does running have to do with me becoming a vegan? Something wonderful happens when you run and you stick with it. You start thinking about how your body works and feels. You make connections between what goes into your body and how it functions on the next day’s run. For me, this connection led to me seeking the foods that would best fuel my body so that I could run better – which led me to a vegetarian diet. Now my reasons for going vegan are as much for my love of animals as for the love of feeling good and having a healthy and strong body. Giving myself the gift of health has to be the best decision I’ve ever made.
Our days are made up of many small and sometimes seemingly insignificant choices – and sometimes you are walloped with having to make a momentous decision that you know will uproot you from your comfort zone. I can say that for many of the life-altering choices I’ve made over the course of my life, some have been very painful, but all have moved me in positive directions and opened doors that I never knew existed.