"Five hundred a year stands for the power to contemplate,...a lock on the door means the power to think for oneself."
The world of the modern woman is a spinning monstrosity of scheduled events, obligations and responsibilities so consuming that by the end of the day it is easy to lose sight of little-girl aspirations. That promise of emancipation whispered over our pink gingham cradle bumpers by our bee-hive coiffed mommies is a sad echo in the recesses of our frenetic thoughts. The “you can be anything you want to be when you grow up” mantra becomes a hollow loop in our souls. Somewhere amidst the cacophony of corporate gunfire, needy teens, and unending pairs of dirty white socks, there is that transient memory of a girl with a pen and a notebook. While her other friends dressed Malibu Barbie in the latest denim-and-daisy couture, she was creating volumes of iambic pentameter interspersed with fanciful prose. Scant chance she has now to scribble a line before another series of interruptions rips the inspiration from her emotional page like a gardener plucks the yellow heads of dandelions from a cultured lawn.
Let’s face it. I’m a woman for the ages. I have a home, a yard, a family, barking pets and a middle management niche dug out by sweat and tenacity tempered by my child bearing maternal tendencies. Perhaps, I should be grateful for those luxuries afforded me in the modern world. While I slurp congealing ramen from a Styrofoam cup and gulp day-old coffee at my desk, it occurs to me that I should be reveling in my success. Only two generations past, my grandmother left each morning before dawn to labor in a local grocery store cutting cattle and wild game in a freezing concrete-floored meat locker. Shackled by financial lack, she simply accepted the daily pain that shot through her arthritic shoulders at each heft of the five pound chubs of ground round. The winter morning she slipped on the ice, unable to bend her diseased knees back far enough to rise from the frigid Michigan ground, she waited defenseless in a parking lot until some stranger came by, well after dawn, to return her to her feet. Her children grown, her husband buried, she finally retired when her abused body would no longer allow her to take care of anyone but herself. If she had any dreams, they dissipated unrealized as she began slow descent to dementia. Her dreams and days were never her own. She passed from this life leaving only a box of ashes, a few pieces of costume jewelry and the residual imprint of a life unrealized burned into my heart.
While I love my dear grandma, I bristle at this legacy I share with so many of my gender. What do I bring forward from her ashes? What markers will be left in my passing? Should I find my destiny as the faceless cog spinning in someone else’s machine, or choose change for my family and my future? Certainly the three years I spent, toddler on knee, keys clicking at the computer to obtain that thing which sets me apart from other workers as a “degreed professional” was worth the added monthly student loan payment and the lucrative career to which I am now inescapably chained. I am reminded of this sacrifice of time with every student loan payment I make. Amidst the blare of the TV and the drone of my family, I learned to amortize, categorize and theorize. I learned to eat fast food from a paper wrapping while dressing a three-year-old. I have developed multitasking abilities to a fine art. I have learned to tune out anything that would distract me from my goals, except the staccato beat of my own heart begging for change.
Yes, truly my life is nirvana for the independent woman. At the end of my ten-hour day, I return to domestic bliss, concocting something palatable in a pan while correcting the tween’s ever-present homework packet and commiserating with the spouse about banalities of the day. And the end of me there is still time to chuck a few towels in the dryer and fall into snoring, drooling oblivion before the lather-rinse-repeat routine recommences. I barely have time to make sure my shoes match, let alone give thought to that incessant fire burning in my gut. Passing it off as emotional indigestion, I rarely consider the possibilities of true sanctuary that a locking door and a salary independent of the corporate, soul-sucking machine would provide. Occasionally, the thought of a place of peace in which I could take time to breathe life into the myriad characters jostling for attention flickers in my spent synapses. Once in a while, I consider the dream of a sanctuary where a story line could coalesce beyond a rapid-fire email sent to myself between bites of a lukewarm bologna sandwich. Sometimes time stops as I stare from my corner office window that won’t open to let in the day, and I crave some small escape. While I wring the life out of every ticking second, I know intimately that time can only be spent, not saved. The all-consuming career is supported at a price that rises every year faster than the benefits it provides. While my ability to properly state the financial position of any company is of service to my employer, my impact is transient, minimal. Like my grandma, I find myself powerless against that mechanism that puts food on my table, fuel in my vehicle and clothing on the backs of my children. I am un-renewable energy for someone else’s dream.
There are those peers who malign my little writing hobby as a foray into self-indulgence. I should see myself as successful with my marriage and my two children and my three weeks’ paid vacation. Unlike grandma, I don’t have to hose down animal carcasses to bring home outdated white bread and bagged elbow macaroni. Other mothers and coworkers advise me politely that dreams that are meant to be will wait while I raise a family and complete my lucrative career path. Like a thoroughbred turned out to pasture after the horseshoe rose wreath withers, I can have my illustrious run before retiring to spend my golden years with my face in the grass and the sun on my back. In twenty five or thirty years, I can jump from the dusty track and focus on the dormant dreams in my heart. With every innocuous platitude from the kind but clueless, I see the image of grandma before my bleary eyes. I know there are no guarantees that I will reach that bluegrass paddock with health and dreams intact. The present dreams are my only vision of freedom.
My personal definition of success is not embodied in the obvious accumulation of job tenure, personal property, and swaybacked, grazing bliss. For the little girl in my head who chews violently on her pen to keep from screaming, true success would be found in a room of her own, behind a locking door, with money independent of the demands of others. I crave the solace found in the steady flow of words from mind to paper. I long for the freedom to write my soul without guilt. For a moment, I treasure the vision of a place where the chaotic demands of so many others jockeying for my limited time and attention could be muffled by four walls and a pocketed key. My current course only offers the next generation a residual imprint of a life unrealized. I have so much more to give than ashes, costume jewelry and tears. The lasting words percolating in my head are locked down, waiting for a moment in which I am free.