Monday, October 14, 2013

The Road Not Taken Isn't Always Paved

I do most things wrong. And I don’t really live in a world of right or wrong. But, empirically, I have made the wrong choice time and time again.

Upon graduating from Northwestern with a theatre degree and then an advanced degree from a prestigious London acting school instead of moving to New York or LA or even Chicago, I went to San Francisco. Why? Simply because I wanted to live there. It was not, in the early 1990s, a teeming metropolis of theatrical activity, but that is where I chose to start my career.

I did eventually make it to Los Angeles to work on a two-woman show with a college friend. When that was over I had a decision: stay in LA and do the LA thing, or move back home to Philly and save some money to move back to Chicago. Guess which one I chose? Fast forward 21 years and my college friend, Ana Gasteyer, who did the LA thing, has gone on to conquer Saturday Night Live, the Broadway show Wicked and continues to tear it up in TV and Movies. Me, I’m still in Philly.

As my “professional” life evolved I chose to specialize in improvisation, which I love and maintain will save the world one day. Now, you’ll notice that I put “professional” in quotation marks. Why? Because by and large, to be a professional means you get paid. And, by and large, to be an improviser means you do not. So yes, I have dedicated my life to an art-form that is “by and large” a volunteer job.

I chose to have children, and we all know how that one’s going.

I chose to marry a lawyer who chose to work for the city, which chooses to make fiscal decisions that prevent even cost of living raises for its employees.

I choose to go to the Acme instead of Whole Foods time and time again

I choose to eat more than one chocolate chip cookie a day.

I choose to knit over cleaning my house or feeding my ambitions.

I choose to read books that I’m embarrassed to recommend to friends because they are on the best-seller list instead of the Pulitzer Prize list.

I choose to feed my kids food with preservatives because they are cheaper and I work for free and my husband works for Philly(which is almost the same thing).

I choose to feel sorry for myself more than I let on.

I often choose ignorance over enlightenment because, quite frankly, I’m tired.

So, by most logic-minded, credential building, agenda-adhering, survival of the fittest humans I have made the wrong choice over and over again. And the thing is, when I made and continue to make most of these choices, logic rarely plays a part (except with the Acme, because Whole Foods really is over-priced). Most of these choices were made because I felt there was no other choice.  Wait a minute. I mean no better choice. On paper most of these choices look wrong, but at every step I chose what felt right.

As a result, I’ve gotten to do a lot of really kick-ass things. I’ve made some remarkable friends. I’ve discovered strength, resolve and vulnerability I never knew I possessed. And yes, I’ve mourned the things I will never get a chance to do.

I often say to whomever will listen (so not my kids then) that we choose the lives we have, the good and the bad. Circumstance and surprise are realities, how we react to them is still our choice, whether intentional or instinctual. They are not always easy; they often lead to the bumpy path not taken; but they are the choices that we can live with, that we are ultimately proud of, and which, by and large, define who we are.

And still there are those days when everything feels wrong, and I often wonder what would have happened if I made that choice instead of this. And then Captain Regret comes knocking. I’m not gonna lie, sometimes I invite him in and we have cookies together. But then I choose not to let him stay in my guest room and leave his wet towels on the floor. I bid him a good day and get on with the next choice, which usually involves whether to work out or not.  And you can surely guess which way that one goes.

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