This piece was originally performed at Greetings, from Queer Mountain, an open mic night in Austin, Texas, in August 2015.
We don’t always finish what we start. Society tells us that quitters never win, but sometimes what we almost do or almost become can define us as much as anything else in life. Sometimes, the only way to know what you want is to keep crossing off the things you don’t want until there is only one thing left.
I’ve always had a variety of interests. Growing up, my parents thought it meant I wasn’t serious about anything. But really, it meant I found too many things too interesting to be able to choose effectively between them. Even now, if someone asks me to name my favorite food, or my favorite book, or my favorite TV show, I can’t pick just one. It’s too hard to choose a clear winner when each has its own unique merits.
I doubt many of us end up becoming what we imagined we would be as children. I remember gathering rocks from the railroad tracks across the street from our house with my sister and pretending we were archaeologists digging up fossils. Inspired by Indiana Jones, we imagined discovering secret treasures where others fail to look or are afraid to tread. But soon I realized that dirt and sweat were not my forte, and so the almost career never manifested.
Next, I discovered an interest in photography. I would take pictures of birds, flowers, the branches of trees, and document family occasions – often to the despair of my older teenage sister. My parents wouldn’t buy me my own fancy camera, but I was able to borrow one from my grandmother. At the time, it hurt they didn’t take my interest seriously, and I blamed their lack of support for my dwindling passion. I still take pictures of food, or my cat, or to record memories on vacation, but I no longer make a habit of taking walks in nature just to photograph it. Another almost.
Some almosts come from a burst of passion which wanes over time. Others come from trying to live up to the expectations of others. My father was a band director, and so it seemed natural for my sister and me to join band at the first opportunity. I chose clarinet because my mother said it was easy to play – it was her chosen instrument in high school. It wasn’t, or not as easy as I’d hoped. I never found the initiative to practice enough to really excel, but did enough to get by and please my parents for a while. I could never master playing and walking at the same time, so I faked my way through parades and football games in 7th grade marching band and became drum major the following year to avoid the embarrassment. I played piano off and on at home from childhood and throughout high school because I could sing at the same time, and that love helped me discover more theatrical pursuits.
From the time I was 16, I wanted to be an actor. I loved being the center of attention, being emotionally expressive, and felt it would solve the problem of never knowing what I wanted to do when I grew up. I could be a nurse one day, a Queen the next, and perhaps even an archaeologist after all, with stage dirt on my face. My parents would not allow me to attend the Fine Arts high school across town, and so I ended up at the high school for our geographic location, known for its love of football and not its support of the arts. I loved reading passages aloud in English class, and finally got a non-extra part in our annual school play my Junior year. I was Juror #8 in our gender-neutral rendition of 12 Angry Men.
Minimally supportive of my passions yet again, my father had me enroll in college on an Education track in Speech Communication & Theatre. I knew I didn’t want to be a teacher – they wanted me to have a fall-back plan. I ended up getting a BA in Theatre (to my parents’ horror) anyway, and applied to MFA acting programs after graduation. Knowing I would never be the ingenue, and not wanting to be forever relegated to the fat best friend, I decided to explore all my options for graduate work, and see what stuck. I got accepted to the MA program in Performance Studies at Texas A&M. Soon after, I was accepted to the MFA Dramaturgy program at NYU. I almost didn’t move to Texas, but A&M would pay my full way and NYU would only pay half, so here I am. My future as a dramaturge another almost.
Some people know what they want to do with their lives from the start. Others stick with the first thing they try, whether from lack of drive, family and societal expectations, poverty, or the fear that anything else amounts to failure. Then, there are people like me. Those of us who try on all the hats in the store – some more than once – until we finally settle on the handful which suit our features and match our wardrobe the best. If I wasn’t willing to try something new when my current path became unsatisfying, I wouldn’t have moved to Austin. All my almosts brought me here, to this stage, with you.
The things you cast away can teach you as much about yourself as what you eventually keep. I learned that I prefer intellectual work to physical labor, experiencing life instead of documenting it, using my body as its own instrument, and surrounding myself with people who are invested in my growth and development as much as I am. I learned that I won’t be satisfied living out someone else’s expectations, or not feeling in control of my own destiny. If I hadn’t stopped at almost, maybe I wouldn’t know any of those things about myself. They say quitters never win, but its just that you don’t win that particular race. It doesn’t mean you can’t win another. Turning back before the finish line gives you more energy for the future.
Our culture tends to value things that last – whether it’s a career, a relationship, or a cultural tradition. Almost can feel like failure, and sometimes it is. But failure means we’re learning. People say, “Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” But I disagree. All the things I almost did made me who I am today. Maybe I would have made a good archaeologist after all, but I’m happy with where I’m headed. To me, it’s the journey that matters, not the destination.