The second time I met my now sister-in-law, my brother took us to lunch at one of those comfort-food Chinese restaurants where the portions are a’plenty and the ambience is as easygoing as pizza night at home. I tried to be an enjoyable human and not indadvertedly point bright flashing arrows towards my depression and low self-esteem. I ended up trying to make a joke about how aimless I was in terms of my career– having just moved on from a retail sales job to an executive headhunting/business development role I had no business being in because I have never ever been driven by sales and profit– to the complete dismay of my family.
Me: “Oh, I wish I was one of those people who knew what they wanted to be from a young age, then went to school and studied exactly that and now they’re a boring accountant!”
Future-SIL: “My sister’s an accountant.”
My bad. Goddamn, my bad.
But you get it. You decide on a career for its job opportunities, you complete the training, you apply to the jobs, then if you’re feelin’ fancy and adventurous, move onto another company and move up the ladder– but you’ve always got that one field to comfortably move around and adjust within.
The only job I’d ever declared from a young age was actor.
But for my parents sake I declared doctor– medical, not academia. No one wants an overeducated woman, I hear. From my mother. And the Bengali aunties who inform her of these things.
To my friends I declared myself a future med student by day, bartender by night. My head was mostly filled with tropes from ’90s blockbuster films and novels beyond my social comprehension. I’m pretty sure every twenty-something character was pulling some sort of sexy double-duty like that in a big city.
To myself, sitting in front of I Love Lucy marathons every weekday afternoon, I was reassured that my tendency to laugh too loudly and react too bigly was the best life I could ever live.
School extracurriculars to expand on this performing lust never came to fruition in elementary school. We moved constantly in the middle of school years. Singing publicly was being muddled within choirs. Acting was something shy-person me was never encouraged to try though I was desperate to feel it (until high school when my brother pushed me into it! What! Story for another time!). I remember one summer we learned American Sign Language and performed Mariah Carey’s “Hero” for an end-of-term school concert. Yes, I was registered for summer school in order to get out of my parents’ hair, but really, can’t begrudge ’em since when else would I have learned ASL?
While we were all signing the lyrics, one girl, Wendy, was selected to sing it. Long curly hair, supreme confidence, she jumped at the chance to sing solo and goddamn she sucked. Like, so hard. Thirty-six year old me who has now watched and applauded numerous gifted child singers is still horrified by how awful she was. I stood in the second row, my sad signing hands barely visible to our audience of parents, and seethed for not having had the courage to raise my hand when the teacher asked for someone to sing. I felt helpless in wanting to sing solo and so loudly, not along to the radio in my parents’ car, but loudly and proudly to this audience of bored adults.
But that’s who wins, that’s who always wins. The confident superhumans unaware of their own limitations. I bet when they hear the phrase “low self-esteem” their instant reaction is that iconic Mariah Carey gif. And why not, it’s such a pathetic way to face life.
It’s ok, we can say it. In fact I’ll say it first. I wish I was dumb and aloof. I wish I wasn’t aware of how I can come off. I wish my brain didn’t make me feel an everlasting wave of embarrassment the morning after a performance. Don’t worry, I have mentally fortified myself through my late-twenties and now into my thirties. I mean, after the wave of political and cultural idiocy we’ve been over-inundated with for a good few years now, we’re all done holding back. But to have spent so much thought and energy on holding myself down, it’s… it’s annoying.
I think I just want to leave it there. I’m only throwing out the facts here, as the analysis is the work I’ve done since and who I am now. Sometimes I ridicule myself/marvel over how I live my life, similar to how parents form their children’s lives– classes, projects, and practice time– but instead all entirely focused on the development of my own self. The self I’ve always wanted to be. If that makes me selfish, so be it. I can be aloof, too. Purposely, though. I can on purpose pretend not to care. And if you do it long enough you can sorta convince yourself you don’t.