When I was in high school I wanted to be an archaeologist. I laugh now, fully aware how unsuitable that particular choice was, how incompatible the career path would have been with my distinctly quirky personality. My teenage goal perfectly illustrated how poorly I understood myself.
The part of the dream that fit was my yen for a simple rural life. But truth be told, I didn’t possess the patience to painstakingly brush dirt, grain by grain, from a square inch of fossil bed day after day, month after month. Still don’t. I’m a “cut a big swath” kind of gal. Give me a pair of monster clippers, a cup of coffee and a hearty breakfast and I will make neat work of a quarter acre of brush in a single day.
I never was a detail person, not in a “catalogue every speck of sand” sense. That was probably clear to everyone but me. I find it humorous now, that long-ago personal disconnect with my strengths and weaknesses. But it hobbled me for years, and brought a lot of pain. Only I am aware how long it took and what a challenge and a struggle it was to gain a modicum of personal knowledge about who I really am.
In retrospect, I was probably in love with the thought of seeking ancient truths. Mining the unseen. The romance of unearthing something hidden from sight for eons called to me. Old cultures, ancient people, different ways of life were a curiosity. Maybe I thought I could find a secret written a million years ago on the walls of a cave. On the other hand, I think I was simply wishing for an opportunity to discover the mystery of me.
I took five years of Spanish from eighth grade to my Senior year of high school – and I had a fair command of the language, a good native accent. I secured a position as an intern on a dig in Costa Rica, and a place as a starting freshman at College of the Americas outside Mexico City.
I made the arrangements all by myself, but in the end I couldn’t go. I was a big dreamer, an organizer who didn’t possess the follow through or the confidence to travel so far alone. I wasn’t able to implement the plan because I didn’t know what I needed to succeed.
That young person spent years digging up bones of another kind before she evolved into the adult incarnation of me. Now, as an author, my theory is that mining the depths of our character’s lives is easier if we’ve been able to delve deeply into our own, when we’ve stood on the edge of a sheer cliff and looked into the abyss, only to discover our dark side, down there, arms outstretched, begging our better halves to pull us back to center.
I didn’t start to write in earnest until well into the second half of life. It took that long to convert self-pity into compassion. That empathy – and understanding the difference – brought with it the ability to look at a character from all sides. To see what works in their fictional lives, and what doesn’t. To write their skill set from a narrator’s point of view.
It’s an odd twist, but my philosophy is that the closer our own lives come to balance, the easier it is to recognize when others – even fictional others – are spinning away from center. And maybe, with luck, we’ll know just what they need. And pull them back.
The End. Or is it?
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