By Tammy T. Stone
I distressed my father by choosing to take creative writing instead of physics.
When I was in high school, I tried to force myself to be interested in chemistry, mostly because I loved my teacher; a gentle soul who did his best to render the periodic table and compounds interesting to a bunch of hormone-addled, distraction-prone teens.
I sort of liked biology because it taught us what we’re made of, though I didn’t love dissecting a pregnant cat (true story). I had an aversion to math because I couldn’t figure out what the numbers, which formed their own little world so neatly, had to do with us.
I ended up doing pretty well in chemistry, because I was generally a diligent student. One day, near the end of the year, my teacher pulled me aside, “I thought your strength was in science, because you do quite well in this class, but I just heard you got 100% and placed best in the city on your English final.”
“Doing well in many areas is a gift and a curse,” he continued. “Choose what to do with your life wisely; it’s not easy having choices.”
Talk about omens! While I’m not the type to agonize over which shirt to buy or what to order in a restaurant, I have a very hard time limiting myself from life’s array of choices.
My mother recently showed me the scattered remnants of my childhood collections: napkins, frog things, cow stuff, erasers, matchbooks, stickers, journals, anything Tom Cruise and Beatles-related. I wrote in diary after diary. I wrote poems. I took photos. I sketched. My sister and I used to have competitions over who could draw our favourite actors best; we both won, according to ourselves.
Everything, more or less, fascinated me.
Journalism was a natural course of action, since as a journalist, we can learn and write about virtually anything. Though, for some reason, I ended up doing many assignments covering the relatively non-eventful happenings of the small Nepean, Ontario police force.
However, I discovered that I felt utterly ill-prepared to enter the working world, despite encouragement from friends and faculty to become a journalist. I just couldn’t fathom settling into life and pretending I was an adult who actually knew how to be in the world with any degree of intelligence.
So I went to grad school and started studying Film Theory. I loved every second if it, until I got stuck on my thesis on the use of colour in film, which took me on a journey through art history/theory, design, neuropsychology, the mechanics of vision, neuroscience, Buddhism (!), and music theory. Employing an arsenal of disciplines was heaven for me. My mom would interject here and say, ‘That’s why you should have been a professor!”; she also spent years compelling me to channel my argumentative nature into a career in the law.
Around this time, the mantra I kept hearing was, “You have to choose something. Pick something.”
I crumbled under the weight of indecision, and sank into a depression.
The words haunted me. Choose something. The world is enormous and the things we can do, dauntingly vast. How to choose just one thing? I spun. I moved to Thailand, came back, simplified my thesis and finished my Masters, and started to work while doing my PhD part-time.
I still wasn’t choosing.
Of course, it’s important not to get lost in the not-choosing, and not to miss out on the passion and fulfillment that come with completing something we’ve started. But it nagged at me: why have we been encouraged to believe that that passion and fulfillment must come from just one source?
For some, of course, it does, and I truly admire this.
John Lennon, for example, was a musician, but why does that mean he also wasn’t a gifted sketch artist? History is filled with famous masters of one field who are lesser known for equally brilliant achievements in other areas. Why are we so comfortable putting people—and ourselves—into boxes?
Do we really have to choose?
More and more people are changing careers mid-life, and listening to the voice within guiding them away from a path chosen too young, or for any number of reasons that no longer seem valid, and they are trying a different way. This is so heartening, and so sensible, to me.
While I’m now listening to my inner voice and gravitating toward putting the puzzle pieces together doing the things I love best, I can also say that I still haven’t chosen.
Not choosing does not mean being irresponsible.
Not choosing means taking our precious time and cultivating those parts of our selves that may not seem consistent with the story we tell or have heard over and over about ourselves, but that strongly attract us. Creativity is not about compartmentalizing, but is an open door to all aspects of the imagination.
Not choosing means I’ve been able, after years of being too scared, to travel, for longer than was initially comfortable, and start learning about things that definitively tear me away from my comfort zone. I’ve learned about meditation, and the mind-body-spirit connection, and about the vital importance of opening the heart.
Not choosing means I’ve been able to sit in exotic cafes and decrepit buses, and scribble poems onto anything I could get my hands on; unknowingly working on what would eventually become my first book.
Making a book comes with a whole host of other things: earning a living teaching English to Japanese students, working on my photography and reiki, writing about wellness issues, and meeting beautiful, like-minded souls who also haven’t chosen to stick to just one thing, but are sharing so many gorgeous aspects of themselves.
In not sticking to one thing, we’ve been able to discover ourselves as we change, create anew, and come together in community, sharing our hearts, passions and aspirations for a better world. Our lives are meant to be creative, whether we are so-called “creatives” or not. We are meant to honour the creation that brought us here and express our unique, harmonious relationship with a world that is in a constant state of regeneration.
The world is always in transition, and we can bow before these changes by listening to our deepest hearts telling us that what we have to offer the world will not always come in one neat package.
Let’s choose again and again, and always respect what we have chosen. Let’s create wildly, effervescently, divergently. Let’s listen to the whispers of our eclectic and evolving hearts, together.
Tammy T. Stone is a Canadian writer, photographer and chronicler of life as it passes through us. A wanderer at heart, she’s mesmerized by people, places and all of our wildest dreams; the world is somehow so vast and so small. She feels incredibly lucky to have been able to work, learn and live abroad, writing, photographing and wellness-practicing along the way. She invites you to see her photography and to connect with her on her writer’s page, Twitter and her blog, There’s No War in World. Her first book, Formation: Along the Ganges and Back Again, published by Prolific Press, is available on Amazon.
Editor: Alicia Wozniak