Back when I was younger, I always listened to what “they” said.
“Don’t wear orange,” they said.
But I like orange, I thought.
“Pretty girls don’t wear orange,” they said. “Pretty girls wear pink and lavender.”
So I wore pink.
I like pink, I told myself.
“You don’t want to be a writer,” they said.
But I like to write, I thought. It’s part of who I am.
“Writers are weird. Nice girls aren’t weird.”
So I decided to study other people’s writing instead.
It’s okay, I thought. I love language, so this works, too.
“You want to be scientist,” they said. “Smart people are scientists.”
So I got a degree in a field where I could both study language and be considered a scientist.
I did what they said. I abided by their rules. I kept trying to be who they thought I should be.
And then, one day, something changed. I had children.
What “they” said still mattered. Until I realized I didn’t want my children to listen to them like I had. I didn’t want my babies to be constrained by what others thought they should be. And that I didn’t want to be like them.
I’m a writer, I thought. So I wrote. I started writing a romance novel.
“When are you going to write something someone will actually read? No one will read that,” they said.
I kept writing my romance novel, because I liked it.
“You’ll never get published,” they said. “Don’t do it anymore.”
I kept writing my novel. I submitted. Got rejected. Submitted some more.
In less than a year, I got published.
“Well, no one will ever read it.”
Meh. Some people have read my books and most people haven’t.
So I’ll keep trying.
I’m a teacher, I thought. And I’m good at it. So I started thinking of myself as more of a teacher and less as a scientist. And I discovered I never needed to feel bad about doing what I love and what I’m good at. I don’t need to be ashamed that I’m not working in a hospital anymore; I can say, “I work at an elementary school with children with autism,” and be proud of that.
What they say shouldn’t have mattered, but it did. It shaped who I became, until I took me back. Until I realized that I can wear any color I want. Until I realized I could do what I loved and be proud of it. Until I realized that everything that makes me a writer–the wild imagination, the penchant for daydreaming, and sure, the quirkiness–had always been there, and would remain there even if I never put a single word on paper.
I don’t want the kids to listen to them. I don’t want them to give up on their dreams because of what they say, because the great and powerful they say a lot of things that are, simply put, shit.
As long as the kids aren’t hurting anyone, then whatever they decide to be will be just fine by me (I do put caveats on the dreams and aspirations, because well, there’s Dexter and Breaking Bad. Some dreams and aspirations I just can’t get behind). I don’t care what the kids do, so long as they’re doing what they love, with people they love who love them back. I hope they don’t forget to chase their dreams. I hope they know that today’s failure is just a temporary set back. I hope they know that the only real failure is in not trying at all.
So today, the kids and I wore orange.