Full Disclosure: I am an expert in nothing other than knowing what I am supposed to do right in this very instant.
As a corollary to that first disclaimer: I am very good at knowing what I should do. Not so great at always actually doing it.
I spent a year in France after high school. I then floated through college unsure of what I wanted to do with my life.
You are never going to use that
When I decided on Communications as a major in college, it was because I was intrigued by interpersonal communications. How people talk to one another. Studies in dialect development and how siblings form languages and vocabularies only they understand were, and remain, fascinating to me. I loved accents and the human voice.
However, I quickly realized that I am too much of a creative to be able to focus on just one area of research, like the origin of each regional US accent based on where their settlers came from in Britain. I could be fascinated by this, but not pursue it for years, much less a lifetime.
I then became interested in Broadcast Communications. My professors were pushing me to pursue as a career as a TV news journalist. Why? I apparently had the look. I had the repartée. I had a theater background. I had a pretty convincing anchor voice when I wanted to. As tempting as it was having credible adults in my life encourage me towards a career path in the limelight, I couldn’t see myself on TV. My sense of humor was too offbeat. I was too much of a storyteller to just read the news. And I was incredibly uncomfortable with the way I looked.
I ended up focusing on Marketing Strategy for non-profits. This put to work my love of storytelling and my interpersonal communications skills, also permitting me to imagine a career of planning amazing parties. I was offered a job by the Cleveland Orchestra to work in their fundraising operation before I graduated. This was a dream come true for a musicophile. I had all the Communications credits needed to graduate, I just needed a humanities class.
So I took an Art History class to complete my core requirements.
Instantly, my world fell to pieces. I fell in love with Art History, thanks to Dr. Cathy Thomas. Finally, things started to click in my mind. I had always loved pretty things and looking for meaning in them. I found a kindred spirit in Dr. Thomas, who was incredibly fashionable and enthusiastic about my enthusiasm for the subject matter. Dr. Thomas taught me that every little choice an artist make can have meaning–it can also have none–but it is way more fun when their choices have meaning.
She taught me the historical meanings of some of these choices, often rooted in Christian symbolism, but also in mythology and ancient history. She made me feel like a genius. Once I had the keys to unlocking the meaning of certain colors, symbols, animals, flowers etc in art, I saw meaning everywhere.
Dr. Thomas set this as an example even in her own wardrobe. She was like Margaret Thatcher and the brooches. Nothing was left to chance. Everything had a meaning.
Much to the dismay of my classmates, I declined the job with the Cleveland Orchestra. I got a degree in Art History, which everyone said I would never use. I proved them wrong by working as an intern tour guide at the Walt Disney Animation Studios in Orlando as my first job out of college.
Yes, I have had a rather interesting life. There is way more to tell, but I want to keep things simple for now. This background should get us where I want to take us.
My metaphorical bags of gold
The story I told you up top is the beginning of my bags of gold story. I have no real gold, rest assured. My family of scalawag adventurers and I live on a modest teacher’s salary in a small apartment. But I feel rich.
I feel rich because I have been able to recognize, throughout my life, what it is that I enjoy doing. What we enjoy doing is part of the divine spark we were born with. It is part of who we were meant to be and is an echo of God’s plan for our lives.
I have loved writing and telling stories since the day I could hold a pencil. I have always loved pretty things. I was born with a voice that I do not deserve. I have, by some miracle, DNA from some of the most beautiful people who ever walked the face of the earth.
Those are my bags of gold. At various turning points in my life I have been faced with a choice: What am I going to do with those?
Sing. With my voice. With my feet. Just sing.
As a youngster, I had this dream of performing on stage. I wanted to grow old on a stage. I wanted to take my last breath on the creaking floorboards of a stage.
I wanted to sing all the volcanic eruptions of emotions that roiled inside of me. I discovered very very early on that when I sang, people felt things, too. Somehow, my voice translated the both the achings and joys of my soul.
I sang with an opera company at the tender age of ten. It was then that I learned I had a gift for musical improvisation: as a way to keep us young people occupied while we were not on stage, our chorus master sat down at the piano and had us improvise an entire opera, creating the storyline as we went. This was, needless to say, right up my alley.
But I was afraid of failure. When my Broadway dreams refused to materialize, I stopped singing altogether. Not even humming anymore. If I couldn’t be a star on the stage then no one would ever hear me sing again.
But do you remember this story about a little boy named Pai who told me to sing while we took a harrowing walk through the Ugandan mountains? I don’t know how he knew I could sing. He couldn’t have known how deeply his words would touch my soul when he told me to sing. As if his was the very voice of God, calling me back to my first love.
So when two years later the lady with the red hair approached me (she has later said she thought I was some kind of alien) to sing with her group, I knew that I had no excuse. God had told me, through a little boy who kept me alive on a life-altering hike, that he liked it when I sing.
So I had better start singing.
Write like my life depends on it
Because it does.
Like I said yesterday. I have written several novels that will never see the light of day. But there was one I had shared with a few people about ten years ago, because I was really proud of it.. The response was encouraging, but then…you know… life happened.
After my second scalawag was born, my husband made an offhand comment about one of the characters from that novel. I got so mad that he dared find fault with the character that it lit a fire in me to go back and fix it. By the time I was done fixing it, I realized I had about nine novels I could write, all in that same world I had created. And it became an obsession.
Sharing it with the people around me was mortifying. That novel contained the very song of my soul. What if they judged me? I would just have to crawl in a hole and die. Or at least go live in a cave in the Gorges of Ombili (wink wink). But the people in my life did not judge me. They asked for more!
Submitting the novel I had slaved over to a publisher was terrifying. But, with a well-timed (I’m going to go ahead and say divinely inspired) encouragement from my MIL, I realized that keeping that novel in my computer out of fear of rejection was the equivalent of burying it in the backyard.
Start existing in corporeal form
I mentioned yesterday that I learned very early on that attractive people were unlikable. This created a dissonance in me, too: I loved lace and pretty clothes and fashion and makeup and hair. I also wanted to be liked, which meant that I could not indulge in my shallow passion for fashion or getting dressed up out of fear of being disliked.
Having a creepy prof in our TV broadcasting class tell me I could make more money in porn than I would on TV (#MeToo) didn’t exactly help the very real shame I already felt about having good genes.
I had beautiful clothes, things that were modest and not at all thirst-trappy, but I was so afraid of being looked at and being judged as too “showy”. Acknowledging that I existed in corporeal form was a dreadful prospect.
Something snapped into place in the middle of my mid-life crisis. I had a come-to-Jesus moment about my body. If God created me, he loved every single part of me. He knew me, every single part of me. The creator of the universe loved my body. I needed to stop pretending I didn’t have one. Period. New paragraph.
These are not perfectly obvious bags of gold to be hiding in the backyard. But I was doing it anyway. I was refusing to multiply what was give to me.
A brand new life
I was willing to dust off my proverbial coins after I unburied them from the back yard.
It took faith. It took counseling. It took a midlife crisis and some pretty tough lessons. It took being vulnerable with unlikely people.
Today, though, even though I buried my coins for a time, I believe that the Master who gave them to me, when he returns, will see that I did what I could to buy back the time I’d lost. Given the circumstances of life, my pride and my errors, I think he’ll approve. I think he’ll lower his sunglasses as he passes, with a smile and nod.
And really, his smile is the only reward I really want.
What are your bags of gold?
You have them. I guarantee it. They are the little things that make your soul vibrate. They are your secrets. They are what you get geeky over. They are the things that, when you start talking about them, you cannot stop.
When you find a kindred spirit, you feel like the planets have aligned and you could be painting a bedroom (I’m looking at you, Wease!) or scrubbing out a shower before a move (I’m looking at you, Reb!) and time stands still.
You have them. We are all born with them. These bags of gold will not make you rich. But they will make you feel rich. They will make you feel whole and complete and content.
I really want to encourage you: there is a place in this world for your brand of quirky, IF you are willing to dig up what you’ve been hiding and bring it back into the light.
This article is part of a series called Bags of Gold. If you want to get caught up:
Part One: The Shame of Plenty
Part Two: My Bags of Gold (You are here.)
Part Three: What’s in a Name?
Part Four: On Heaven and Dinosaur Poop
Part Five; Just Blame Me, Okay?
Part Six: You used to Sparkle
Part Seven: She Sparkles, an interview with Izabela Rabehanta