Aug 24, 2011

How I Became Tumerica, The Changer: A True Story


You are a little girl. You have a little curl, and yes, you are alternately horrid and affectionate, and all that rot. You are the indulged youngest of five in a noisy, Catholic, intellectual household, deep in the mountains of western North Carolina. Two of your sisters will go on to become professors, but you are a little bit wild and undisciplined, what might be called creative on a good day. You will go on to become, well, you do not know at that time--but you will have glamorous aspirations.

You will sail through school, having as much fun as possible, causing only occasional bouts of trouble, and milking the reputations of your good older siblings. You will go to college and realize, “Hey. Someone is paying for this. I better shape up.” You will make stellar grades and graduate at the top of your class with highest honors, blah, blah, blah. You will be certain you are destined to be a famous sex therapist and will plan your advanced degrees in psychology. You will read Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask in fifth grade, and will subscribe to Psychology Today in high school. You will take the psychology portion of the GRE and will surprise even yourself with your high score. You will fill out your application to graduate school at UC Berkeley and then you will come to a screeching halt. Wait.just.a.minute. You want to have fun before you get all serious and locked into your career track.

Being more adventurous than sensible, you will pack a couple of suitcases and fly to Tokyo, Japan, where you plan to stay for six months, but end up living for five years, flying home only when homesickness and enough yen will allow you. You will get sick from eating bad sushi and will almost die. When you recover, you will refuse to blame your new country and will keep right on eating sushi. You will explore all over Asia and in so doing, you will become disenchanted with psychology, which you will find to be oh-too-Western-centric. But you won’t know what grand scheme will take its place.

Along the way, you will go through your artist phase, and will go to art school in Tokyo, but will realize the ordinary people on the streets of Japan probably have more visual ability than you do. You will go through your musician phase where you will perform in several bands, singing, playing tambourine, and wearing out your ears and your vocal cords trying to be heard over the electric guitars and drum sets. You will also, and with much greater joy, sing in quiet, smoky bars, accompanied by acoustic guitar or piano and will learn much of the old Jazz standard repertoire of the 30s and 40s. You will even audition for Columbia Records Japan, but they will not like you because you are not kawaii (cute) enough and are past the age of 20—practically middle-aged in Japan.

You will eventually tire of your glamorous life in Tokyo and will plot your return to your fatty, funny, spontaneous home country. You will bring home an enormous wardrobe of freaky-cool clothes and will realize with dismay that most of that will not work in the jeans-and-tee-shirt culture of the USA. You will also break it off with your Japanese fiancé and be utterly befuddled about what you will do with your life now that you speak Japanese, know how to sing, but know practically no one in this Rip-Van-Winkle-ish country that has changed so much in the five years you have been away.

Trying to fit in, you will join a low-key community band (thus meeting your future husband—who can resist a cute guy who plays sax, anyway?), will work out at the local fitness club, and will spend a lot of time in the downtown library combing the stacks for clues as to what you might do with your life. You will end up working as a secretary, a game tester, a research assistant, a graphic designer (which you will abandon because, although it is fun, you can barely pay the bills with the proceeds). Over the years, not wanting to become too self-absorbed, you will volunteer as an AIDS Buddy and the manager of a homeless shelter. You will learn way more than you ever wanted to about poverty and addiction.

Then, you will finally, finally find work as the managing editor of a tiny science journal (in which you will write, edit, and do graphic design). You will love your job so much, you will walk to work the day after a major blizzard just for the joy of being there. You will continue to love this job with a desperate and proud passion until the day you are laid off, only to find the owner’s college-aged daughter taking your place.

But never mind that--voila! You are a writer now--the perfect profession for those who dabble in everything and who do not wish to make up their minds what profession they will settle on. As a writer, you could end up writing some compelling ad copy for a fitness shoe that promises to firm your butt simply by wearing it. You could write a 250-page tome that teaches gazillionaire financiers how to keep track of their transactions. You could end up writing a book review in which you have to admit that the much-loved guru who wrote the book spent the entire 300 pages rehashing his previously published ideas, cobbled together with lots of snazzy, new photographs. Having to call this out in public will keep you up at night and make you wonder why you became a writer after all. Clearly, writing comes in many flavas, and you will want to sample them all. And you will love your newly discovered profession. It will make you sing in many ways.

Lastly, you will lose track of how many blogs you have created, but will end up writing assiduously for two--a left-wing political blog (this one!) and a foodie blog (WhatEye8.com). You will keep up with the political blog because it will cathartically help you survive the madness that has overtaken the country for the previous two administrations, and the food blog because you will realize it both helps you find your elusive recipes, and because it seems to organically be growing into a cookbook. These blogs will give you great pleasure and almost no spending money.

You will even publish the occasional article about how to increase personal creativity, the occasional poem about lust, or the quotidian stuff of life, or even the power of boobs, and you will audaciously pen articles that offer to help other writers hone their craft.

And during all that time, you will find yourself being the wailing wall, the giver-of-advice, the shoulder for so many friends that you will be dubbed The Changer by one of your best girlfriends, who will assert that you attempt to improve and change and help everywhere you go. She will send you the silver totem of The Changer goddess (you will not even know there was such a thing), and you will realize your friend is exactly right.

Over the years, you will become, well, me. An only slightly frustrated non-sexual therapist writer-woman. A passionista. A changer.

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