Rasma Says

Musings, deliberations, flashes of unaccounted for brilliance…

Decisions to run or hide or pick up a pen

I am my father’s daughter. While growing up I HATED his tendency to start up a new enterprise at the drop of a hat. Tendency… no it was an obsession, a restlessness that possessed him and ultimately distracted him from fulfilling on many a great idea. He was an entrepreneurial junkie, and what he saw when he walked the dusty streets of Delhi or Agra or Lucknow dreaming of America was the possibility of supporting that habit. And habit it was. Rescon. Pribs. The American Journal of Clinical Research… those are just some of the corporations whose stationary we had stacks of around the house to use as scratch paper. He was good at making logos and business plans and ordering the letterhead on watermark rag paper. I hated him for it as a child, seeing it as the primary reason he didn’t have a regular job like other fathers, and the primary reason for our great financial suffering. 

Now I have to admit I can identify with the glee he must have felt when a chance meeting, a glance in the want-ads, or the mention of a new invention inspired him to action. Suddenly he would be talking about buying a children’s hospital, building a civic center, opening a dog farm… Then I blamed these schemes for the family’s day to day money shortage. But I see now that this was part of his imaginative and creative nature. He didn’t deliberately go about thinking outside-the-box. He was unable to think inside-the-box. It was who he was. 

I know this because by some molecular mystery I possess the same tendency. It has to be genetic and not environmental. The only environmental influence my father’s scheming and dreaming had was to make me do the exact opposite of him: prioritize a steady income. I have since age 16 sought out steady work, taken extra jobs, summer jobs, worked my way into higher paying jobs, all with the goal of never ever giving my children the same worry I had. I did marry a man who was like my father in this area, unable to hold down a regular job, but the worries weren’t there because I held us afloat as the steady breadwinner. 

So it is purely genetic inheritence that causes me want to grab at the hodgepodge of opportunities that cross my path. Most are of the pure dreaming variety: a piece of property for sale in the paper and before I have turned to the next page I have thought out how to turn it into an artist and writer’s retreat center. The difference between me and my father is that I don’t actually go out and borrow money to buy the thing. But I do have the thought… my father’s thought. 

Then there are the non-dreaming variety. The ones I act on. Such as last month when I applied to take a degree in writing children’s non-fiction. Why? Well, I am writing a children’s non-fiction book… and gee, it was a new study never offered before, one with high ambitions for making an impact on literary Norway and… well, why not be part of that if I can? 

So I apply. 

And I get in. 

And then am faced with the fact of my steady breadwinning job being in the way. 

My father would have dropped the job and gone with the course. This was a man with an MBA as well as a doctorate in biochemistry, a license to sell real estate, a franchise in EraseDirt cleaning liquids and another in SomethingSoft water softeners. He invented barbituates, served as his own lawyer in law suits, ran a rehabilitation service for former prisoners, served as a medical consultant to congressional commitees, ate dinner at the White House. His first job paid him more than his university professors were earning, and still he was, as my mother would say, the world’s lousiest provider. He stated once that where he came from the wife was supposed to run the finances and budget for the household. Growing up in a fairly well-off family of the Raj he had never stopped to think that the money said wife was supposed budget with must come from someone’s steady income. 

So no, I would never drop a job to follow one of my dreams. Except for the time I quit teaching cold turkey and set off jobless to reinvent myself in the naval of the world… but then being jobless was part of the reinvention. Before that, and after, I have worked, and anything else, like a degree in children’s literature, would have to come in addition. 

Sure, why not? I can do that. It’s for one year. I can study, work, be department chair, serve on the board of the writer’s union, and be a newspaper columnist. Sure, why not? 

Then another question hit me… why? 

The answer was clear to me… because it is there. I heard about the study, saw the opportunity and in an instant wanted to channel my life in (also) that direction. That is how I am like my dad. Like the kid in the candy shop who wants one of everything, cannot choose. Indeed he feels he ought to have one of everything and doesn’t want to choose. If an opportunity presents itself, there is no choice but to take it. That is the legacy I have from my father. My escapade to go off and study in Oslo while working and living in Bodø can be likened to my father buying a defunct children’s hospital in Miami while we lived in Tennessee and he was supposedly working in New York. 

I saw something else about myself, and maybe it was true for him too. That by going after that opportunity I was avoiding something else. That all the activity was a distraction from the quiet and solitary place I needed to be in in order to write. Not children’s non-fiction, but my stuff. The stuff that I don’t write because it is not tied to some external project-enterprise-opportunity. 

Is it possible to achieve great things and neglect the very thing that would make you great, because it is a thing that only you could have done? 

I wonder if my dad’s incurable restlessness as he flitted from one project to another without completing any of them was his way of not owning up to something great, truly great, that lay very close to his core. The stuff that comes from that place is powerful and beautiful and frightening. We do everything we can to not have to grasp it, risk actually failing, or succeeding, at rendering the raw material of ourselves.

That’s at least true for me. The thing is my story. The writing that only I can do and that won’t get done by heading off in the direction of specializing in writing children’s non-fiction. 

So I said no to the Children’s Literature Institute. Clearing up space, making room. My job is demanding, but I want room for it. It is a creative job. My column writing is demanding, as is my work for the writer’s union, and I want room for them. They give me an anchor in this vast foreign society. That’s enough, with just enough room left over to take on the writing projects that don’t come out of a study program, but originate in one location: my desk. They demand as much time and effort as I would give to a course of study. Can I muster what it takes without having the the framework that a degree course would impose to make me do it? 

I think so. 

I do have an impetus. 

I have promised someone that story. That is enough of a framework, schedule and deadline. A pact she and I made once, maybe an eon ago. That is my true work.

Should I mention I went by the university this morning to talk about a PhD program? Nah, it’s nothing really. Just an idea. A haidriesque sidestep. I probably won’t take a PhD. Unless… well, we’ll have to see how it fits in with the … other. 

The thing I shall do if I do anything at all. 



This entry was posted on 20/06/2012 by in Uncategorized and tagged .
Trish Hopkinson

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