“No, no,” voices scream from crammed intersections, a cacophony of blaring horns and indignant chalkboard wails, “we would have preferred having been born rich(er), and naturally, more handsome, beautiful, healthy, intelligent, charming and talented, and with a few hugely influential family ties at our disposal. Moreover, this state of our existence is not due to us, but to God/society/responsibilities/our addiction to meth/the devil.”
I grant some truth to the foregoing. But still—we make choices. Every day, every minute. I am a writer and doll artist because I have juggled, made deals with myself, consciously chosen lower income and a part time job as a writing instructor so I have the time to pursue my own creative projects. I have done this for about thirty years.
There are other jobs I could have chosen, even while I was in Saudi Arabia where there is a paucity of jobs for Saudis themselves and certainly for foreign wives (who have to work illegally—read Sylvia Fowler’s fabulous memoir, The Red Sea Bride, for more on that bizarre experience). I could have been an aerobics teacher or photographer. Why not? I used to do a lot of jumping jacks. I had a camera. I could have started a kindergarten. Hell, I could have been a clown. Three American ladies in Jeddah formed an illegal clown company. (What a way to thumb one’s nose at a government! Be an illegal clown!)
I was always writing something, moving that pen, typing on keyboards, playing with words.
The acclaimed American writer William Vollman used to hide under his office desk when the end of the work day came, sleeping there, so that he could use the computer (being too poor to afford one himself) to write his first novels.
Sometimes I get mad at myself. Should have been a radiologist, I mutter in my head, could have had a far, far better income. That doubt returned to me a couple days ago when a lovely young student revealed she gets twice as much (if not a bit more) in a monthly government grant to take six units as I get to teach six units.
At first I felt bad. I went to the doctor (not for the jealousy, for a nasty cough). He saw me with a book on my lap (by Vollman, that’s why I am thinking of him). “I consider that such a luxury,” the doctor said. “Totally self indulgent.”
My doctor, a very intelligent man, doesn’t get to read. He (has to, cough, cough) work six days a week. Last time I was at his office, I had a school textbook, so he was more—how can I put this—supportive. But with Argall, Vollman’s innovative literary approach to the history of Captain John Smith and Pocohontas on my lap, my doctor clearly felt jealous—of my cushy life, my time to read. Though he probably earns ten times a year what I make, he can only take off about three weeks to travel to exotic locales. He has a lot of patients. We are all waiting for him to return. And that is what he chooses to do: return to his patients.
I felt a lot better after seeing him. The cough medicine isn’t really working and I may need antibiotics, but he made me grateful for having followed my heart and for having made choices consciously, willingly. I paid for the freedom to write, and I have it. If I tell you how much fun it is, you will be jealous.