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Coming to Terms with My Mediocrity

Posted on July 3, 2011 at 1:14 AM

 Not part 2 or the moron rant.


When we are children, we’retold we can be whatever we want when we grow up.  We spend our childhood dreaming of beingdoctors, firefighters, police, and astronauts.  We play games of adventure and fun.  We admire actors and musicians and storytellers,imagining what life must be like for those characters we see.  Some of us continue to believe this lie wellinto our adulthood.  Some few of usactually achieve their goals of being what they dream.


I was one of those whobelieved.  I’m 39 going on 23 and I fancymyself an author.  I have one book out, self-published,as many of you know.  Maybe all of you asI’m not sure how many actually read my blog or my webpage.  I have a few short stories out there in a fewdifferent places, Pill Hill, Wicked East, House of Horror, and the FlashFiction Offensive.  I continue to believethat if I keep up with it, my writing may still be read by others, perhaps apublisher, and it may be bought, bringing in the royalties of a well-knownauthor.


My husband thinksotherwise.  He’s a realist.  He’s told me many times that in all the timewe’ve been married, he’s seen me write, and seen nothing come of it.  So, by reason, he thinks maybe I shouldreconsider my position.  Maybe I shouldset writing aside for a while and get “a real job.”  Oh, and my cleaning every night isn’t a realjob, and it’s beneath me.  In otherwords, I need a real job that meets his standards for me.


All of this has methinking.  Why do we lie to ourchildren?  In today’s society, can anyonereally be whatever they want to when they grow up?  I see it everywhere in the inner city.  Our young black kids are being raised byparents, or in many cases, a parent who has been beaten down, told they’re notable to do anything, not able to be anything, so they aren’t.  In return, they beat down theirchildren.  Not physically, most of thetime, but with words.  Disrespect, everyone for themselves attitudes, what’s yours is mine, these ideas are expected, evenencouraged.  When loud rap music or hip-hopcomes out of nowhere, we automatically think, “Black.”  Moreover, we feel justified when the driverof the vehicle the music comes from is black.


We as a society believe Hispanicsare lazy and can amount to nothing better than backyard mechanics.  They are told so often that they can donothing that they believe it.  NativeAmericans too, told all they can do is expect to grow up drunks so often thatthey believe it.  Even women, since women’slib, being told they can only expect to be someone if they get married and havechildren.  Whenever someone breaks out ofthe mold, it’s as a celebrity, someone so untouchable that we idolize them.  We think, wow, they really did it.  John Leguizamo did it, but apparently, no oneelse can.  Tyrese Gibson did it, Ice T,Morgan Freeman, Cuba Gooding Jr. but I can’t. Wendy Williams, Tyra Banks, Queen Latifah, heck Jennifer Anniston, SalmaHayeck, Julia Roberts, they all did it, but we can’t.


They were special.  They grew up with money, power, they musthave or how would they have made it big? The white middle class family, average size four, mean income fiftythousand a year, they are the ones that seem to still lie to theirchildren.  They say to them, dream, youcan be whatever you want when you grow up. Most people reading this may balk at the idea that we would tell any ofour children, regardless of race or creed anything else.  You might call me a racist, sexist, whatever-ist,but I’m not.  I do believe we shouldencourage our children, regardless of race, creed, gender, or income to becomewhatever they want.  I believe we shouldencourage them all to become our future leaders, doctors, lawyers, actors,musicians, writers, police, firefighters, mechanics, architects, astronauts,and anything else they can think of.


I tell my children theycan become whatever they want when they grow up.  But I am a middle class woman, married withtwo children.  Oh, how I have fallen.  Is this really what I believe?  I think so. But, is it really?


When I was growing up, Iwas raised in a loving home.  My parentsare still married to each other.  Theytold me I could be whatever I wanted when I grew up.  I played at adventures, planned trips allover the world.  I wanted to explorecaves, deserts, and mountains.  I stillhave a wandering spirit.  I startedwriting stories when I was about nine, telling so many stories ofadventure.  I wanted to go.  I finally decided, after seeing adocumentary, that I really wanted to see Africa.  I wanted to see the Kalahari Desert.  I fell in love with the exotic languages ofthe indigenous tribes.  I wanted tobecome a doctor, to minister to them, to witness God’s love to them.  But then, out there all on my own, I’d needto be able to fix my Jeep, so I also wanted to learn auto mechanics.  I believed so firmly that that was what Iwanted to do, I too auto mechanics in high school.  I majored in biology in college.  It was after my own dark night, my own soulsearching, that I realized, yes I would love to travel, but really, what I lovemost is imagining.  I love writing, andevery idea that comes to my mind is an idea I have to write down.  But when I told my parents I wanted to bewriter, suddenly the lie blew up in their faces.  Suddenly “You can be whatever you want whenyou grow up!” wasn’t really what they wanted to say.  But by then, it was write or go mad.  Or maybe I was already mad and simply had towrite to live with it.  I’m not sure.


One fact is truethough.  I did not grow up with money, orpower.  I have never been in the rightplace at the right time.  I was born toolate to be at the beginning and too soon to be at the revolution.  I have seen the invention of the homecomputer and the advent of the laptop, and I have given up my pencil for a keyboard.  I dropped out of college with delusions ofgenius and superiority, and promptly failed to get published.  I fell into a depression, got a “real job”and tried to make my dream come true. Then I found a husband and had my two children, and now I’m a wife, amother, and a middle class American woman. I clean offices at night to supplement our average income, rather belowaverage income. 


Still I cling to beliefthat I can be whatever I want to be when I grow up.  And I want to be a writer.  I want to be published and read andremembered.  In a hundred years, I wantpeople to say, “Oh, have you ever read The Other Side?  No, the one by Jen Steffen.  Yeah, it’s almost epic, but wow.  That’s fantasy I can read.  No lofty language, lots of action andbelievable characters.  Yeah, theytotally need to remake the movie they did back when special effects were attheir advent.”  I want people see my nameand pick up the book, or rather at that time, download the book, just because I’mthe author.  I want to see my othertitles get picked up by a publisher, not because I’ll make more money, butbecause the prestige is greater than when I do it myself.  Being picked up by a publisher says to theworld that you’ve been read by those who know good reading, and they have foundyou worthy.  Therefore, if they like you,then the rest of the country will like you. Maybe even the rest of the world.


I’m probably justmad.  The voices in my head, the onesthat tell me stories, still cry to be let out, so I put them down on paper,even the ones I can’t make any money with. I’m a dreamer and an idealist.  Ithurts me to hear my husband say, “Stupid driver, must be black.”  Or my daughter say, “Yeah, some of the boyson the bus just wouldn’t settle down or listen to the leaders.”  And when my husband asks her, “Were theyblack?”  She nods sadly.  “Yeah.” This isn’t because their racist. It’s because they hear it from society. They’ve come to expect it from certain races, certain creeds.  And until we truly believe the lie, “You canbe whatever you want to be when you grow up.” And we truly pursue the deepest dream we have, and we stop falling shortof our own expectations, we will continue to live the stereotypes we’ve placedon ourselves.  I will never amount to theauthor I want to be, because I’m not good enough.  I’m not in the right place at the righttime.  I don’t have money or power orinfluence.  I don’t have a collegedegree.  So I’m fit to be wife andmother, and maybe an office assistant or a retail clerk, and I should set mydreams aside.  I should drop my loftyexpectations of humanity, especially those growing up in the inner city, like Idid.  I should let it all go and come toterms with my own mediocrity because that’s all any of us will amount to.


‘Sup, y’all.  Imma gon go hit up Target for some groceriesan maybe git my girl some new clothes. Then I gotta go to work later, clean a daycare run by morons.  Imma go in, git it done, and come home tosleep.  My husband will keep tellin methat I’m workin beneath me.  I need asmart job, one that uses my brain.  Um,what brain?  I’m just a girl, lucky me,and I just can’t let go of that lie.  “Youcan be whatever you want to be when you grow up.”  If you’re a doctor, or a lawyer, or a police,or a firefighter, or a mechanic, or a grocer, or anything that will sustain youin the real world, because dreams don’t come true.


But I want them to.  I need them to.  Please, can’t mine come true, just once?  God? You gave me imagination and the ability to write.  Can’t I use that?  God?  Iwant to be writer when I grow up.  And Iwant to believe that the world can be a better place because children aretaught to believe in themselves, and that they can be whatever they want whenthey grow up.  Obama did.  Tyra did. Neil Gaiman did.  Marion ZimmerBradley did.  They still talk about a guynamed William Shakespeare.  Can’t theytalk about me too?


I can’t give up writing,no matter how mediocre I really am.  So Ican’t give up on the lie.  I have tobelieve it’s true.  And if it’s true forme, then it’s true for you.  Are you ayoung black man or woman?  You don’t haveto stay in the inner city unless you really want to.  You don’t have to disrespect everyone andeverything just because that’s what you see. You can work for change.  You canbe whatever you want when you grow up.  Areyou a young Hispanic or Native American? The same holds true for you.  Areyou Muslim, gay, Asian, or poor?  Thesame is true for you.  If it’s true forme, it has to be true for everyone.  “Youcan be whatever you want to be when you grow up.”  You just have to keep believing, and keeppursuing.  Never give up on yourdreams.  When you start to believe it’s alie, that’s when you lose hope, that’s when the dream dies, and that’s when youhave to come to terms with your own mediocrity. And that would be really sad.

 

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