A Latecomer’s Dream

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| This is the 215th story of Our Life Logs |


I believe that an underrated statement is when people say the “mid-life crisis” can change your existence. I should know. Earlier this month I turned 40.

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When my parents initially immigrated from the Philippines, they traveled to Hawaii to stay with my great-grandparents where they found a nearly nonexistent job market. Turns out, picking guavas to sell at the local flea market made life unaffordable, so they moved to California. After settling in Sacramento, a city about two hours away from the Bay Area, I was born in the year of 1978.

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My mother and me, 1980.

I never felt like I belonged, even as a young child. One distinct memory occurred at seven years old, on a Saturday when my mom and I went to my cousin’s house. The adults started talking and they sent the kids to play in the other room. As soon as we walked into the bedroom the girls immediately started scorning me for no apparent reason. I bumped into the wall and a crucifix fell down. “You’re the devil! You’re a devil girl!” they shouted. Albeit a childhood memory, this one specifically gives way to many others; the kind that told me no matter how hard I tried to fit in, no matter what I did, I’d always be different.

My books gave me a place to hide when I had no one to play with, when my parents fought, or when I needed a break from reality. Books did not require the approval of other people, and I turned to them for comfort when I felt different, which was often. I read under the kitchen table, in closets, or in my bed with a flashlight until the faint hum of the “Star-Spangled Banner” played from the TV to signal that the clock had struck midnight.

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This love of reading led to a love of writing. When I began high school, I took a preliminary class focused on a five-paragraph essay. I had no previous instruction on how to write and got an F on my first paper. My writing teacher freshman year worked with me on structure and tone, and by the final assignment, I was able to score a prized A- for my writing. I knew at that moment I wanted to be a writer.

My words acted as a safe haven where anything that I wrote remained uninterrupted, untainted and uncensored by the outside world. I could massage the message multiple times, where it almost reflected my exact reality.

I started college by majoring in English, but by sophomore year, the noise of being different got louder. My friends began their upward ascent into internships and part-time jobs that supported their passions. The fear of moving back home and losing my independence started to sink in. What am I going to do for a living? What can I do with a degree in English? Maybe print journalism is a better choice? This fear damaged my idealistic momentum, and although my friends cheered me on, the sensible choice reigned supreme. I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Communication and a minor in writing. I kept the dream close but did not fully embrace it. After graduation, I worked at a public relations firm and a real estate consulting company; both jobs led to layoffs from 2000 to 2001.

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At 23, I moved home from San Francisco to Sacramento. I met a boy at a bar, who later became my boyfriend of three years. He was an engineer with linear thought patterns and suggested a career in teaching. You get summers off and you could write during your breaks. Being easily influenced (and smitten) I agreed with his idea and got a job at a daycare to see if working with children could fulfill the large hole growing in my heart. It felt like the right path to follow. I accepted an elementary teaching position after completing an intense one-year credential program.

In Fall 2006, an opportunity presented itself. Elk Grove Unified School District offered a fellowship for artists and writers. The winner would live at the Vermont Studio Center with other writers and artists for a month focusing on creative pieces in progress. The information session overwhelmed me with over 100 people in attendance. Paralyzed by fear, I did not apply.

Also during this time frame, I had conversed with my dad about my fear of failure. He smiled and said to me, “Do what makes you happy.” He always said it in a casual, earnest tone like it was that simple. I realized he was right.

And so, I applied.

And I won.

I couldn’t believe my luck! Vermont turned out to be everything that I—and probably every creative soul in the world—needed. Space, solitude, and like-minded individuals who all knew and understood one another. It felt as if similar energies were drawn to this tiny town with one main street. We each had individual studios to work in and other than designated meal times, absolutely no set schedule to adhere to. I began a long piece that still sits in a flash drive.

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The Vermont Studio Center in 2006.

After the fellowship, my forward progress stopped, and a different path began. I got engaged, married, and had two kids. I loved (and still do) my family, but the grind consumed the hours in my day. Writing became a daily fantasy instead of a concrete goal to be achieved. Mid-life crisis or not, responsibilities superseded my own selfish dreams.

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Then in March 2015, my cell phone rang during a reading lesson.

“I got in a car accident. I can’t get a hold of your mom. Can you call her?”

“Sure Pop.”

And that was it, the last conversation I had with my father. Fast forward to two weeks later, IV drips, different doctors coming in to say he had a 50/50 chance of survival. The last night with the last doctor stating they had one more option to try: one last medical intervention. The angry, sad voices rising, the last horrific words spoken to my family, and the quiet. The next two months proved to be a whirlwind. The funeral, my mom’s descent into madness and the end of the school year, pushed me into a different direction in life. A car accident and two weeks of battling health complications ended my father’s physical life in this world. What did he have to show for it? I began to think of my own life. If everything changed in an instant, would this be deemed a life well-lived?

I liked my job, the students, and the steady income. But was a life spent saying no to your dreams a life well-spent? Of course not! People often say that the mid-life crisis can change your existence and I believe that is an underrated statement. So, I decided to make a change and stop pushing off my dreams.

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I sat down with my husband and talked through my options. On top of my regular job, I had a part-time adjunct faculty job that needed full-time employees. Although there’d be a pay cut working for a nonprofit university, it would be worth it as the position had fluid work hours and I could pursue my dream while taking care of the kids. We discussed the gritty details of our bills; the kids’ needs, and everyday living expenses. The ultimate fear of letting down my family took hold. What if we lost our house? What if I’m not a good writer and I’m wasting my time? He hugged me. If you can make it work, do it.

I called my manager and she approved the full-time position. I sat, prayed, cried, wished, and dreamed. And I leapt. Although my income has decreased, I now have the flexibility I need.

After the first year of grieving, life settled down. I began pitching free publications and landed a few writing gigs. They were small, but each opportunity gave me a confidence boost. My friend that works for a local government organization helped me obtain a contracted grant-writing position. I hired a part-time writing coach who helped with creating a specific, outlined path to follow. I took a creative writing course to sharpen my skills and have made steady progress with a nonfiction short story. My freelance website is nearly complete. I’ve even enrolled in a freelance writing course specifically designed for a working mother with young children.

The dream is no longer deferred.

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I had kept my father’s advice close to my heart, but did not act on it for the longest time. These days, I see signs of his presence everywhere, a ladybug or a butterfly, reminding me to be happy, to keep going and to chase my dreams. It’s almost expected in society for a wife and mother to put herself last. Thankfully, I’ve always been different. Now, my greatest goal is to show my children that it can be done. Dreams are not only for dreaming, they are made for living.

 

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This is the story of L.L. Miguel

L.L. Miguel lives in Sacramento where she pursues creative writing. Growing up, she felt a strong urge to become a writer, but after reality set in, Miguel let her dreams fade in the background of her life. With the unexpected passing of her father, she forced herself to reevaluate and reorganize her life. She now has the best of many worlds where she can work from home, spend more quality time with her family, and most importantly, write. Although the transition has taken time, the fear of failure has changed into faith that everything will turn out fine. Miguel is an adventurous cook with a love of baking all types of cookies. Her next adventure lies in finding the perfect, lazy dog who will be her work companion during the day, who will act as a perfect sounding board for editing her work (usually filled with too many commas).

 

 

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This story first touched our hearts on November 7, 2018.

| Writer: L.L. Miguel | Editor: Colleen Walker |

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