My chiropractor started his own practice when he was 30. He never wanted to do anything else with his life. He finished chiropractic school, then worked for someone else, then opened his own shop. That was 19 years ago.
I’ve been going to him for 17 years. I’ve seen his business evolve from its rocky beginnings into a thriving practice. Our small talk has evolved from weather and weekend plans to deeper topics: I like asking him about the crazy stuff that happens, like has anyone ever had a sobbing meltdown in here? Or, have you ever treated patients that knew they were terminal? I’m curious what it’s like to work on people in such an intimate way.
I’m also curious about something else. Yesterday at my appointment I asked, “Do you have any friends who are still trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives?”
Hah, yes, he says. He does. One of his friends is 58, lives rent-free in a building his parents own, and is currently helping the Indian couple who moved in down the hall expand their waterproof lotion business. Which, my chiropractor estimates, he’ll probably do for two years until he finds something else that interests him.
So then I ask, “You’ve had this practice for 19 years. Do you ever lie awake at 3 a.m. thinking, ‘What am I doing with my life?'”
He laughs, no. I pretty much knew what I wanted to do in my twenties, and then I did it. He’s quick to assure me he has 3 a.m. worries, just not of the variety in question.
“Can you identify at all with people who still have no clue what they want to do?” I ask.
Sure, he says. He knows people haven’t had as easy a path as he has figuring it all out. In a way, he feels lucky.
“What about you?” he asks. “Do you feel like you have it all figured out?”
I feel like time is running out, I tell him. I’m already 7 years behind the ability to have been doing anything since I was 30.
“When you’re at a wedding,” I say, “and someone asks what you do, you tell them you’re a chiropractor. And people just get it.”
When people ask what I do, right now I tell them I’m a marketing consultant, but I don’t feel like that’s the whole truth. Sometimes I say I was a journalism major who ended up in marketing, but even that leaves out large chunks of my life that don’t fit that narrative. I can’t be summarized in a single cocktail intro!
“I always just thought of you as a writer,” my chiropractor says with the simplicity of someone who has listened to my bullshit for 17 years and forgot all but the important parts.
“A writer?” I ask, flipping over so I can get my neck adjusted. My chiropractor thinks I’m a writer, but I haven’t had a byline anywhere since 2013. Not that I’ve tried.
“Do you still write?” he asks.
It’s a question that at once annoys and reduces me, because it’s a reminder that no, I haven’t written anything in a while. Not for pay, not for fun, either.
But of the tens of thousands of words that I’ve submitted to the scrutiny of anywhere from 1 to 100,000 readers, I’ve probably only been paid for 10% of them. So why did I stop writing the other 90%?
Because I tried to tell myself that other hobbies were more practical. Safer.
Because it’s so much simpler to put a piece of macrame into the world and not care what anyone thinks about it. Because a piece of macrame won’t receive comments like, “what business does this person have making macrame when there are so many other people whose talent and life experiences qualify them to have made a better piece of macrame?” Because no one ever says, “This piece of macrame doesn’t have all the answers.” Because no one ever says, “This piece of macrame was constructed by a person who comes from a place of privilege, and therefore it has no merit.” Because no boss or potential client ever looked at a piece of macrame and said, “This is a good piece of work, but only because it reveals your true feelings about the work that you are currently engaged in, which are negative, so we will not hire you.”
So let me hide behind those safe hobbies that I have no real talent for or interest in, and tell myself I just need to make more of a commitment to them in order to improve. After all, I’m too tired to write a 1,200 word personal essay after putting my toddler to bed. All I have to do now is convince my chiropractor — and the world! — to un-see me as a writer and instead view my personal brand through the lens of successful marketer and macrame artist.
But fiber arts isn’t the outlet through which I construct my understanding of the universe. People criticize Lena Dunham and her female essayist ilk for not having lived enough to have a right to report anything back to the world, but I disagree. Some people simply process their surroundings by writing about them, and I am one of those people.