How I Got Here

by beccaborrelli


Laylah Ali. "Illustration for MOMA, NY" 2002.

*** I was fortunate enough to be offered the position as graduate student writer for UT’s blog: Longhorn Confidential. The interface will be up in a few weeks, but I started drafting my first post today.

As I wrote, this beastly thing came out of me I think I’ve been wanting to write for some time (maybe since starting this blog), and I realized it would be better posted here on TBT.

Maya Angelou was quoted as saying that “there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” This is one of my untold stories. It’s long, it’s conceptual, and it felt really good to write. May or may not be your thang… but writing it sure made me feel awesome.

***

Dear Brazen,

How did you come to be here?

Well, the short answer is:

I moved to Austin from Ohio last August. I used to be an art teacher in an elementary school, and now I serve tables at the Four Seasons Hotel, while working on my M.A. in Art Education.

Of course it should be noted that behind every short answer is a long one. The best long answers usually require a bit of faith- in that unlike the short one above- the path is a mystery. Long answers require patience, but can be infinitely more interesting.

Have faith and walk with me here.

***

This particular long answer starts with a psychic reading I splurged on this past June with Joe Nicols– voted by the Chronicle as Austin’s “best psychic.” I admit the endorsement got me. Really? The best? I’ll bite.

Halfway through the reading, while looking at my palm he said:

 “Up until a few years ago you had no clue… but you’re coming out of your shell like a rocket now girl!”

A freaking rocket??

I would like to acknowledge the vagueness of his sentiment, as well as point out that any business model- psychic or otherwise- tries to avoid making the client feel like poo. I certainly wouldn’t be forking over more cash to discover I’m about to enter a period of cluelessness… which according to Joe… was the type of reading I might have gotten had I visited him at age 21.

Of COURSE I’m a rocket. Ninety dollars for 45 minutes means the news will be good.

Yet whether by psychic gifts, or economic considerations- Joe hit the nail on the head.

When I told others about this reading, most scoffed.

Everyone except my mother.

When I told her on the phone one day- I could practically hear her silent nod through the phone.

***

Most people thought Joe was mistaken, because practically speaking, I was (and am) far from clueless.

I was an elementary school art teacher in a respected Ohio school district. I was very proud to work with some incredibly talented and passionate educators. Name-dropping my place of employment automatically earned respect from strangers in happy hour conversations.

Aside from the prestige (or whatever that amounts to when you’re up to your elbows in plaster with five year olds), I also had enviable health insurance, a retirement package, a stable living environment and a savings. I had proximity to loving family and friends, participated in an array of hobbies- road biking, an art studio, and of course… blogging.

How was I clueless Joe?

Well for starters this enviable life was exhausting.

I wasn’t special. In fact, I was depressingly cliché. Nearly fifty percent of new teachers will not make it beyond five years in the field. This is a statistic colleges don’t share, but one you can find via a Google search quite easily.

I wasn’t just exhausted physically, I was a little very angry. Four years of undergraduate theory and practicum in art education had bestowed upon me some empirically sound ideas about what mini-humans need, and most days I felt like the kiddos could be served better. Much better.

I was exhausted from Ohio weather. I was exhausted from failed relationships one after another. I was exhausted working two jobs to compensate for my salary. But most of all I was exhausted from living a life that didn’t feel like my own.

Oh Lordy I’m like a bad Oprah episode.

***

As it turned out- I wasn’t clueless in my ability to create a sound life.

I was clueless in my ability to create a life that belonged to me.

I drank the adult koolaid passed around in childhood pretty heavily. Gallons people.

Degree… job… new car… gym membership… new apartment with Bed Bath and Beyond… find a husband… get a mortgage… have some babies…. I started to check off the list, and stopped after apartment shopping.

All of the above were things I hoped for- so feeling this nagging sense that I didn’t want them at the same time was baffling. At 31 I started asking myself questions like: Who was I? What did I want?

I once confided this to a friend and his response was bluntly:

“Aren’t you too old to be thinking about this?”

Crap.

And while this statement was inaccurate on so many levels, it stabbed into the heart of my fear:

“I am behind everyone else my age, and they are judging me for it.”

What does this sound like?

A school culture you say?

***

Last night working at Trio– the upscale little place I was fortunate to gain employment a few nights a week while in graduate school- I had a conversation with one of the bartenders.

She came to Austin- a town of flip flops and dreadlocks, from L.A.- a town of Louboutins and Botox. I appreciate her unique perspective on things.

“I never would have thought L.A. would have affected me… Living in a place changes you, even if you don’t mean for it to…. Like I knew a girl whose mother thought she was getting overweight, so at 15 she had her daughter get gastric bypass surgery…. Even now as I see the look on your face, I see how insane that is… but living there, it’s your reality you know? You just get used to it.”

I do know.

***

When I was a child, each day I went to a building that measured me against my peers. If I performed the right tasks, I was rewarded with high marks. If I failed at them, I was punished with low marks. If I displayed aptitude regarding school material, I was treated as complete. If I displayed failure I was treated as incomplete- in need of remedial work.

It is eerie how this transitions to my adult existence.

After all, I’m 31 years old, I live in a tiny apartment north of campus with a guy I just met a few months ago through the graduate school. My furniture is no nicer than the 19 year olds that live above us. My saving account no bigger. By material standards I am very far behind. My schooling taught me to look at my neighbors and try to figure out ways to catch up.

Why the f*#$ would you leave your stable life then Brazen??

“Even now as I write this I see how insane that is… but living there, it’s my reality you know?”

***

This answer is a long one, but also a happy one. Joe Nichols said I was a rocket. Ha ha…

I’m not ten years old anymore. I am free to leave L.A. anytime I want in order to find my Austin.

And so I did.

It has nothing short of transformed my life.

And that, imaginary readers, is the long answer of how I came to be here.

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