Wednesday, April 18, 2018

On Having it All Figured Out

[This is another self-indulgent blog post about my life. You're welcome to read it. If you're looking for a good Youth-Services-related read, check out "There's No Room for 'Priceless' in My Advocacy" by Amy Koester.]

I’ve been spending time with 20-year-old me lately.

It started out because Caleb and I are writing a toast for a friend who’s getting married next month. I met this person in college and we became closer friends in Junior year. I thought that maybe I could dig through my old journals and see if there were any funny stories we’d forgotten about to share.

There wasn’t much of what I was hoping for besides stories we revisit any time we get the chance; because, of course, we are obviously the funniest people we know.

Crossword clue taped on a denim background.
Text originally said "Peggy Lee hit",
has been changed to say "Peg Leg hit*."
This is the front of my journal from 2003.

What I did find, though, were the musings of a version of myself that I hadn’t forgotten but I also hadn’t checked in with in a long time. And I came to a realization:

35-year-old me would scare the hell out of 20-year-old me in all of the best ways.

Speaking publicly about disability:
I’ve never been one to fit in many places, and a grasp on societal conventions has always eluded me in ways that it’s hard for me to pinpoint, exactly. Trying to fit in with groups only makes it worse. I’ve since been real at least with myself about personality traits and identities that can explain some of this. Masking my disability and historically seeing CP as something that is a negative thing has definitely been a huge part of it. It took me embarrassingly long to figure that out; it wasn’t until 2016 when I read “On Vulnerability as a Disabled Person” by @wadetheory that I thought, “oh holy hell this is it exactly.” I’d definitely been working on this in the past few years, but mostly unrelated to disability. But to see it laid out like this made me tear up at the Internet, which is something that rarely happens. And I look at A LOT corgis in costumes.

Now, I write about disability, give presentations about the disabled experience, and even teach a class I wrote about disability in libraries. I actually found a way to talk about disability in a way that's not "inspirational", and 20-year-old me would not even understand how that would work.**

Calling out my flaws and failures and vulnerabilities with rooms full of strangers:
20-year-old me was uncertain and invulnerable. This was a pretty tough combination to navigate. My only resolution was to keep risks low and not get hurt while I somehow figured out how I was going to Do Life, which had clearly already been happening but also felt as though it was rapidly approaching. It was always going to be different, right? There was going to be a time when I Had it All Together and I Had it All Figured Out. Sometime. In the future. Constantly feeling like a square peg(leg)*, I knew that a traditional life in the sense I understood it wasn't something I could even possibly perform correctly. I observed curiously as I involved myself in online romantic relationships with people who did not know me at all, even after months or a year. I was definitely a hard person to get to know; I still may be, but back then it was by design out of self preservation with a healthy dose of denial. I frequently referred to myself as a cyborg.***

Publishing "It's Always Been Done that Way" ranks up very high with the most nerve-wracking moments of my life. Tied up in it were feelings I'd held onto for years across multiple workplaces. This post turned into my first ever preconference and keynote. I basically spent all my 2016 extracurricular time telling people about all the things 20-year-old me would be ashamed to even recognize, let alone recount.

Saying "no" to professional opportunities:
At 20, librarianship was so far off my radar it didn’t even occur to me that it was a field to enter. It feels so odd, then, that as of April 11 I’ve officially been a “librarian” in title longer than I’d been an “educator” in title. Of course, my roles highly involve education, and libraries and education are indeed linked.

Professionally, I’ve always had one goal: be marketable enough to maybe actually get a job in whatever place I wanted to live. I had no idea what I wanted to do except that I knew I needed a job. So I was basically driven toward a goal I couldn’t name; but I was running, constantly. Couldn’t let a job or an internship or an opportunity pass me by. The sheer number of extracurricular projects I was involved in sounds exhausting to me now, but I somehow made it work. Reading about the poetry and plays I was writing 15 years ago, though, made me thankful that I found jobs where I could continue to write (even if I’m writing Memorandums of Understanding and curricula and grant applications rather than a scene inspired by Capote’s “Children on their Birthdays” where my interpretation of the assignment was completely off-base but HEY I ACTUALLY WROTE A SUCCESSFUL SCENE SO THERE, ARTSY KID WHO GAVE ME A WORSE REVIEW THAN THE INSTRUCTOR DID AND WHOSE WORDS I SPECIFICALLY REMEMBER AND YEAH I’M TOTALLY OVER IT).

Since I started my most recent job in 2015, I've been taking some time to take opportunities as they come. This, even, nearly felt unsustainable in 2016; but I got through that year of extracurricular work and now it appears that opportunities come in gentler waves. I've had to say "no" to some of them; and even adding the "had to" to the "say no" part doesn't really satiate my 20-year-old self who would argue that not pursuing every single professional lead is akin to giving up. 35-year-old me knows rationally that skipping a conference or not submitting a proposal and relying on invitations to mitigate my workload is Just Fine and means that I get to spend more time laughing with Caleb at our cats. But it's in these times that I feel as though I'm doing the scariest thing, to be honest. Melissa Depper's series on saying "no" really helps.

So, 20-year-old would be scared of 35-year-old me, but I hope I'd be grateful, too. I mean, 35-year-old me did the work so 20-year-old me can go take a nap. If there’s anything 20-year-old me was in need of, it is so very clearly a nap.

In 15 more years I’ll be 50. I have no idea what will happen or what I’ll be doing or where I will be. Maybe there’s scary things I will still actually do. Maybe I'll be like "WTF was 35-year-old me thinking." If there’s anything I learned from 20-year-old me, it’s that not having a clear picture of what that will look like is okay.

What I do know is, in the event I’m actually still alive, that 50-year-old me may not Have it All Together and Have it All Figured out, still. And that will also have to be okay.

*My undergrad nickname was Pegleg (or PL, or Leg), bore from a dream a friend had. I have a limp that becomes pronounced when I get tired, and in the dream my friend walked in on me treating wounds from an ill-fitting prosthetic limb; apparently I had told no one about the prosthesis or that it hurt. Embracing the subsequent nickname was the first time I tied my identity to my disability in a public way. If you ever want to get my attention in a crowd at a conference, "Pegleg" is the best to use. I know that Anna has done this successfully at least once.

**Someday I will go into how media, out of necessity, shaped my view of PWD and myself as a disabled person, but today is not that day.

***A couple months ago I was joking with Caleb and brought up being a cyborg. Funnily enough he ended up saying, "HA! I know better. And we're married." So I guess that's the end of that.

What are some things you're doing now that would surprise (or scare) Past You?

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