When I Grow Up
By: Jo Edmondson
Most people who know me in my adult life, and even some childhood friends, probably think they know who I am. They likely think I have always been this fluttering-from-here-to-there, open, creative, earth-wind-fire kind of a lady. But it’s not all true. Who I was as a child and who my child self thought I would be as a grown-up are very, very different from who I actually have become.
As a kid I had my life all planned out: I would be a cheerleader, go to college and study something like business. By the time I was 24 I would be married to an investment banker. Likely to a man named Christopher or something equally generic. I would get married at the Greer Lodge during the fall and go to Maui for my honeymoon. I would have a short career as a high powered business woman in Chicago, where I would wear sneakers as I commuted from the train and then change into heels when I arrived at my office. A few years into this career I would leave and have my first kid, then two years later I would pop out another. A boy first, and then a girl. Duh. As a kid I always wanted to name my little boy Danny, my little girl Heather. I would drive a Chrysler minivan (just like my Aunt Debbie’s) and live in the suburbs--Gurnee, Illinois, in fact. I would make snacks for the soccer games and get my acrylic nails done weekly. I would have dinner on the table every night for Christopher and the kids. I wanted to be just like J.C. Wiatt from the 1987 film Baby Boom … also known as the “Tiger Lady.” The hectic, high powered, no relaxation, high heels kind of life.
After my first year of college I randomly took an art history class. One of the first slides my professor showed us was a Chuck Close self-portrait. I can’t describe what happened in that moment, but I was changed, the spark was lit. Maybe it was my professor’s black leather pants that inspired me… I got my degree in Art Education and minored in Art History. I interned and worked at different museums and eventually became an Education Coordinator at an Art Center. It took several years of work and dedication but I had my own office complete with a rolodex, I commuted, ran meetings, built programs. Still a far cry from that original childhood dream, but my parents were proud of me and I was paying my rent.
Eventually I found myself in a constant daydream. Focusing at work was hard because my heart was not fully there. Every hour I would let myself write in my journal for 10 minutes, a break from the mundane. I was good at what I did and I enjoyed my work to an extent… but after a year there, I ended up leaving. I remember my boss looking at me like I was insane. “You are leaving all this to move to Utah, to learn to cook, and you have never even been to Utah, and you don’t even know how to cook??” I took in the force of her words as she eventually softened and gave me her blessing to move forward. Several years ago I had a similar situation when I left my job at MASS MoCA as an Education Assistant to move into a yoga center for a year. Except at MASS MoCA my bosses basically filled out the yoga application for me, drove me to the center, and signed my name on the dotted line. They knew it was my real passion and knew without their support, I would never have gone.
I had never been to Utah before. The drive there was as magnificent as the moment I first saw the Chuck Close self-portrait. I was seeing something I didn’t know existed, but had secretly, unknowingly been yearning for. There had just been a rainstorm and the water was running down the slickrock, a gentle fog hovering above the highway. I stayed in Utah for two years, baking and burning things and garnishing plates, and perfecting the perfect poached egg. This December I realized it was now time to move on to the next thing.
This has become quite the pattern for me. Two or so years somewhere, then I get the itch and move on to the next thing. This seems appropriate when you are fresh out of college and trying to figure out “who you are,” but is it still ok for me to do this?
Two weeks ago I turned 29. I have no Christopher, no kids, no minivan, no burbs, no soccer games, no acrylic nails, and no dinner on the table. My career in museum education is over. The office, the rolodex, the cooking is over for now... no more poached eggs, or as I like to call them, “ghosties.”
I wonder at what point did these old dreams die? Looking back now I can hardly recognize the girl who wanted that so-called American Dream. But if someone would have come to me as a 12 year old and said, "Jojo, just so ya know, two weeks after you turn 29 you will be homeless, jobless, partnerless, and kidless, and to top it all off, you will be crashing at your parents’ house." Oh man, I would have slapped that bitch sooooooooo hard across the face.
But here I am… in my old bed, laying with my three legged dog, listening to my Dad breathe deeply as he paces around the house looking for his car keys and muttering under his breath about how I haven’t filed my taxes or renewed my car registration yet. I obsessively read my numerology and astrology reports for the coming months. I have a crystal in my bra, and tarot cards spread all over the bed. I have sticks that I collected from the woods that litter my bedside table.
My shit is everywhere, in two different storage units, in three dressers and two suitcases. My homecoming dress from my freshman year of high school is hanging next to my white linen clothing collection (That's all I want to wear these days. Be the light, people.). Old art projects are stuffed into drawers and crushed under snowboarding boots and passport paperwork. Family photos of my sisters and me litter shelves and boxes alongside my yoga and self-help books, and of course my prized anatomy coloring book.
I look back at the expectations I had for myself, the expectations that my parents had for me, and sometimes wonder how the fuck I evolved from that original vision. Whatever this is, this was not the vision. It feels selfish and lazy at times. This path of white linen and meaningful work, seeking fulfillment and… a paycheck. It's tough. I live in fear that I will never settle, that I will turn into a washed out loser, that I will still come crawling back to my parents when I am 40. Like, in a tie-die camper in their front yard. That my sisters will talk behind my back about what a burden I am and ask, "When will she ever grow up?" and tell my nieces and nephews, "It's ok kids, Aunt Jojie is just different… "
As soon as I turned 29 I started to hear the clock, tick tick tock. What I am doing?! Where am I going?! What have I sacrificed for this life of seeking? Will I regret it? Where will I go next? Will my Dad always be the only man that I can really count on? Will my Mom always worry about how I am paying my bills? Will my friends and sisters always have to take me in when I am in an in-between state? Will I continue to pack and move every couple of years, leaving the dust of my possessions in small towns, farm houses, and desert studios? Will this continue to be a solo journey for me, in a constant search for home? Will I ever learn to stay?
Most people who look at my life probably think, “You've lived so many places, you have so many skills, you get to do exactly what you want all the time, you are always learning and traveling and searching. You aren’t tied to anyone. You are soooooo lucky Jo! You can paint and draw and teach yoga and cook! And now you're are going to India, that is so incredible, you are so brave! I wish I could go to India!”
And most days I feel that way, too. I feel so privileged and lucky that I have been able to create and follow whatever path I want and somehow manage to support myself. But there are other days, days like today, when I am terrified. I am terrified of going to India. I am terrified of being too normal, too different, trying too much, trying too little, saying what I want to say, not saying anything, being in the front, being in the back, trying and failing, not trying at all. It's exhausting.
But at the end of the day, when all the time has passed with years, days, moments and seconds behind me, my face covered in a million wrinkles and my hips aching as I breathe heavy and pace around searching for things I've lost and muttering under my breath about tasks that haven’t been completed... I hope in that moment I can just be. Be, without that terrified feeling of not being or doing enough, of not letting anyone down, of not letting myself down. I hope to look back on my own life and see that I worked hard to make my own dreams come true and that I was really fucking good at it. I hope all the fear that has lived in the pit of my heart is shaped and transformed into a beautiful golden jewel of courage and strength and love and all that good shit.
Josephine Edmondson is a yogi, artist, and the original babelord who is currently traversing the deserts of Southern Utah.