On Twitter, someone posted about a six-year-old who, when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, said “I want to be a weird person.” It dawned on me: That’s what I always wanted to be.
I’ve succeeded, though not without some bumps and sidetracks along the way. Being weird is not considered a viable career or social path, something I’d already figured out when I was six, so I didn’t admit my desire to others or pursue it as directly as I could have.
Not that I haven’t always been weird. It’s just that there were some years there where I tried to be both normal and weird, which is not an easy task.
I remember as a kid wanting to be an artist of some kind, wanting to be surrounded by the paraphernalia of art. Musician, painter, dancer, and ending up on writer because it was the one thing I knew I was good at.
I also remember wanting to be a beatnik. I did grow up to be a hippie. (I’m glad to have had those years and also glad I didn’t get stuck there.)
As a teenager, I remember wanting to live in a garret in Paris or a walk-up in New York City where I could hang out with other artists (or maybe philosophers, since I went through a spell of reading de Beauvoir and Sartre). My sister moved to New York City to dance. I was always jealous of that.
Instead of doing those things, I went to law school. That would have been the extreme opposite of weird, except for one thing: when I did it, it was still weird for women to go to law school.
In addition to wanting to be weird, I wanted to do things that women weren’t supposed to do. And I wanted to use law to make change. My weirdness had its radical and political side.
It occurs to me now that combining work in the inherently non-weird profession of law with being not just a woman in a very male-dominated field, but also a woman with a personal weirdness that was both artistic and politically radical, was not an undertaking destined for success. Especially since I didn’t completely understand either myself or how the world worked.
Perhaps if I had been content to just push my way into the legal system, without regard for who I worked for, I would have been more successful. I might be a federal judge today. Or I might be like the smart and charming woman I know who represents fossil fuel companies for a big law firm. (How she lives with herself in this day and age I do not know, except that lawyers are good at compartmentalizing their lives.)
Instead, I stumbled around trying to find my place. I did end up doing a lot of legal work with co-ops of all kind, and I’m proud of that work. Eventually, my legal education set me up for a good job as legal editor, which gave me time and mental energy for doing the things that mattered: fiction and martial arts.
I sometimes look back on my life and think about how I might have gotten around to my true passions by more direct paths. But some of what mattered didn’t exist at the right place and right time, and the things that were going on in that place and time influenced me, as they do. Even if you’re weird and aspire to be weirder.
These days I feel like I’m following my own weird path, writing more fiction and essays, teaching and advocating for empowerment self defense, and getting involved in more co-ops. I don’t live in a garret, but I do live in an exciting urban area and I’m doing art and feminist and political things. My kind of weird.
So what did you want to be when you grew up? And if you’ve grown up, did you succeed? Or did you find something better?