Thursday, June 23, 2011

To Live Would Be A Very Great Adventure

by Allison Pang

"On these magic shores children at play are for ever beaching their coracles. We too have been there; we can still hear the sound of the surf, though we shall land no more."

— J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan)

Incidentally, I'm not actually here today. Assuming all has gone as it should, I'm basking in the sun on an island down in the Bahama region. Quite possibly writing. Or not.

But back to the issue at hand.

I'm not even entirely sure what it means to grow up these days. I can count myself among the fortunate generations that hasn't really had to, I guess. Compared to my grandfather's generation, or even my father-in-law, for that matter, I've had it extraordinarily easy. My grandfather grew up during the Depression and I remember several tales of him being forced to steal from orchards simply to have enough to eat. He joined the Navy when he was 16 to become a gunner in World War II. About the same time frame, Dan's father joined the Chinese Navy when he was 12 (he was tall for his age.) His own father was the Minister of Rice for China during the same WWII era, and he remembered quite clearly having to flee to Taiwan during the Japanese invasion. Nothing quite like watching the servants loot your house to hammer home the fact that you probably won't be returning.

Anyway - not to put things in a depressed mode, but just to make the point that I've never had to live through something like that. I've always known where my next meal was coming from and money was never an issue for my family.

The beauty of that is that it left me free to dream. I was ever the consummate nerd growing up - I'd find a subject I adored, obsess over it and then move onto the next thing. Comic books, movies, cartoons, anime, whatever. Anything that helped me escape into an alternate reality for a time was good. And sure, I would write off and on. I was known as the spooky poet in school, but there was no internet in those days so the idea of becoming an "author" was a pretty foreign concept.

Besides, my mother would never have actually allowed it. A product of her own generation of money woes led to a severe practical streak that I've been attempting to outrun ever since. Even when I was five and said I wanted to be a paleontologist, she simply told me there was no money in it. And that was true for any other fanciful thing I wanted to do - including art or writing. I even won a writing scholarship in 8th grade to take a few college courses over the summer and she refused to take me.

It was all about the hard core maths and sciences, because apparently that was where the real money was. (And sadly, the average marine biologist probably makes about $7000 a year, so the joke was on me, I guess.) Toward the end of college I was really wavering about what I wanted to do, and the writing bug started to nibble again. However, I learned very quickly that I was not cut out to be any sort of literary writer, so I threw the dream onto the backburner again.

And I had no idea what I *did* want to do. My parents freaked and tried to force me to go to grad school, as if having a Master's in something was the magic bullet. And this time I balked, because honestly, you really have to have a passion for work in the sciences if you're going to continue to be educated in it at that level...and I didn't. I also refused to get my teaching credits, "just to have something to fall back on." My mother was a teacher and I'd seen what that was like. No thanks. Teaching also requires a certain amount of passion, and I didn't have it

So I bummed around for a bit. Certainly nothing all that spectacular as far as life lessons go. I played around with the idea of joining the Peace Corp, but that fell through and eventually I ended up in the middle of Ohio working at a Bob Evans as a hostess for about $4.00 an hour.

Didn't take me too long to realize I didn't want to be there either.

So I moved into the tech industry. I loved it. I was decent at it and it's still one of the few places you can make a *really* good salary without a higher degree. Practicality on my own terms, perhaps. (And when you're not worrying about where the food is going to come from, it's suddenly much easier to entertain those backburner thoughts of writing.)

I still didn't write for a long time anyway. There were fear issues at hand that I had to deal with (and still am). Marriage, babies and all the rest of the "real life" stuff got in the way.  I still don't handle most of the "grown up" stuff all that well - I don't cook. I don't clean. (I do play Warcraft, thanks. 'Cause, you know, it's all about priorities, right?)

But, now I can dream on my own terms. And that's worth an awful lot.


  1. I am ever thankful that I have been fortunate enough not to have to grow up too. Very few of us value dreaming as much as we should. I know so many people who rush around all day and pride themselves on their 'full' lives but I always think they are missing the point somehow. The thought of not even allowing myself half an hour a day to escape with a book or into my own dreams makes me want to weep. Some would call me lazy, I would call them shortsighted.

  2. Ech - restaurant work is the very worst. I firmly believe that.

  3. "I can dream on my own terms. And that's worth an awful lot."

    What a lovely statement Allison. Really.