March 13, 2013

on the life you didn't lead.

A few weeks ago, my acting teacher said something incredibly profound. In talking about character and motivations and what makes us who we are, he said, "To get to the very heart of a person, take a look at the life they didn't lead — the paths they could've taken but, for whatever reason, didn't."

I've been thinking about that ever since, exploring what I didn't choose.
And here's what I've come up with.
... I didn't choose acting. 

Despite loving to act like nothing else, despite dreaming of a New York theater life, despite feeling so frighteningly myself when I was onstage, I decided not to act. For years I'd pictured myself moving East and pursuing that theater lifestyle, but I chose to write. I chose to write because it had always been such a given for me, because writing in a journal and writing stories and writing lists had always been a very real, very innate part of me. Acting held my heart in so many ways, but writing felt inevitable.

... I didn't choose a school in the Midwest.

For college, I felt tempted to stay within my safety net of friends and family and places. I'd spent eighteen years with the same faces and I remember being terrified to leave them, but in the end, I was more afraid to stay. I chose San Diego. I chose sun, strangers, a beach house, ocean dips in February. I chose what felt like a four-year vacation because I knew I'd never find it again, because I wanted to revel in what I didn't know — and because, in my bones, California already felt like home.

... I didn't choose the hard love. 

Initially, when I felt that first, complicated love start to slip away, I fought for it, because it was a love with roots. Never before had I turned away from someone who weaved through the very foundation of my life, and I was afraid. There was fear and loyalty and something like nostalgia, so I struggled and hurt and desperately held on until I finally couldn't ignore the weight of it. And then my mother told me that sometimes, love should feel easy, and although it took a little time, eventually I believed her. Eventually I learned and I let go and I chose to find a love that felt light.

... I didn't choose goodbye.

In the wake of graduation, Radley and I knew we were at a crossroads: I'm from Chicago, he's from San Francisco, and we were either choosing to be together or choosing to say goodbye. We were young, twenty-two, and I felt pressured to walk away — pressured to strike out on my own, as if that were the more glamorous, independent choice to make. But things with him felt too easy to let go, too light, and I decided that the only way to know for sure was to hold on and see. And so I did.

There have been a lot of other paths not chosen, of course, but these are the ones that feel most significant, and in looking back, I realize that I didn't choose the clear, comfortable path laid out for me. Instead, I took a turn and climbed a hill to see the view from the top and when I finally got there, I liked what I saw, so I let myself roll and tumble and — eventually, when I got my footing — run just as fast as I could to this coast, this job, this love — the easiest choice of all.

I'm curious: Which paths didn't you take?


tiarenie said... [Reply to comment]

I love this post. I think love is what makes people choose things that they normally would never choose. Like you, I'm from Chicago, and ended up moving to Spain for grad school. I also chose love and chose not to say goodbye, by uprooting my life from Barcelona to the Dominican Republic because of love! Now I'm engaged :)

Liz Moody said... [Reply to comment]

this is one of my favorite posts ever. there are so many big truths here.

Lisa said... [Reply to comment]

Laura, I LOVE this post. It's incredible to see where the paths you didn't take ended up leading you, and I am going to be reflecting on this in my own life all day.

Laura Marie Meyers said... [Reply to comment]

@tiarenie Aw congrats on the engagement! :) And wow, we do have similar situations!

Laura Marie Meyers said... [Reply to comment]

@Lisa :) Thanks, Lisa — I'd love to hear what you come up with!

Niken said... [Reply to comment]

thanks for sharing this Laura.
and now you've provoked my mind. there are some things that already pass my mind. but i think i should contemplate it all first before i can be sure about the life that i didn't lead.

Sam | ashore said... [Reply to comment]

oh laura, this really got to me today. one of your very best posts (and what a thought, acting teacher!)

Lynsey said... [Reply to comment]

one of my fav posts :) now you've got my mind wandering!

Hannah Elizabeth said... [Reply to comment]

I love this. I've been thinking about this a lot lately and also what a life looks like in your head and in reality and how the two compare.

When I first read "the life they didn't lead" I immediately jumped to the life that they wanted to lead but couldn't for reasons varied.

Like now, I would be living in New York or LA or Chicago (fill in the blank with a big city) but because of so many different reasons I can't right now. I would be living in a house in the historic part of town but I can't. I would be opening a bookstore, but I can't.


But I also think about those things I didn't do that have made my life what it is. I didn't just let my relationship with my best friend go. I pushed through awkwardness and fighting and mis-communication and now my best friend is my husband.

I didn't, like you, continue to pursue acting and instead chose writing. I'm still not sure how this decision is going to pan out (I can only hope as good as your decision).

I like this post. It got me thinking. Maybe I should just copy, paste, and edit my comment for my own blog ;-) Happy Wednesday Laura!

Hannah Elizabeth said... [Reply to comment]

Also, I read this and it made me laugh, "If people winked in real life as much as they used the winkey smiley face the world would be a creepy place." Sorry for my winkey smiley face.

Nicole Marie said... [Reply to comment]

such a deep and profound thought. i honestly think more about the paths i DID take rather than didn't. but i guess they all have the same outcome.

i didn't stay at home for the first 2 years of college. instead i went to san francisco

i didn't go to france to study abroad. instead i went to italy. best time of my life.

... lot's more didn'ts

Alice said... [Reply to comment]

I love love love this. At the moment, I'm still a the point where some of the "didn't do"s are still regrets (in hindsight, I MASSIVELY regret not carrying on with French and spending a year abroad there), but the big one is- I didn't stay at my first university. And thank goodness I dropped out, because second time around, university was the best thing that ever happened to me, whereas first time, it was the worst. x

Lisa Bailey said... [Reply to comment]

I loved this post. I get anxious to check your blog every few days to see what topics you write on and this has to be my favorite! I'm always contemplating what life would be like if I did something different.


Laura Marie Meyers said... [Reply to comment]

@Hannah Elizabeth Hahaha this made me laugh out loud ;)

Maura said... [Reply to comment]

This is such a great post, Laura.

I didn't stay home for college, instead I lived in New York City and had the best 4 years of my life.

i didn't stay in the familiar after college but moved to Texas cause I just knew it was the right move for me.

thanks for making me think about all the good things that came out of my choices :)

Alissa Anne said... [Reply to comment]

Oh goodness, that part about choosing the hard love? Perfect timing. Thank you, thank you.

sara with an h said... [Reply to comment]

beautiful, beautiful post. You've got me's a wonderful way to look at how life is rather than how it could have been, a different take on the road less traveled.

The Recordologist said... [Reply to comment]

Your posts are always so thoughtful Laura. I can't think of many things, but here's what I came up with:

I didn't study abroad or moved on campus while in college, instead stayed home and worked to help my family financially. I didn't join the military after college, instead got a job and stayed at home. I didn't allow people to rush to stay in a resent relationship where I wasn't happy (there were no sparks, and I deserve sparks).... I feel like I won't be able to create the life I have always imagined unless I live on my own. If things go as planned, I will be celebrating New Years in my own apartment, and I can't wait.

Julia said... [Reply to comment]

This is a beautiful piece of writing, Laura. Today is the first day of my last term of undergrad and as I stand at many, many crossroads, the reminder to take a turn and climb a hill and then allow yourself to tumble and run is a reminder that I will hold with me in the coming months and years. Thank you.

Ang said... [Reply to comment]

I got chills reading this. It's beautifully written. Thanks for sharing!