Last weekend, my husband and I watched Hamilton for the first time.
I was swept away by the music, he giggled at Jonathan Groff’s over-the-top performance as King George.
And we have been happily humming along to the soundtrack each morning ever since.
Great art always leaves me both ebullient and depressed.
As a creative person who pursued a career in the arts and failed.
And then made straight-and-narrow professional choices to compensate, I look at artists’ achievements and ask myself, “Why couldn’t it have been me?”.
I replay all the turning points in my life where my creativity was squashed or my commitment waned.
My parents are mercurial.
Growing up, they were at turns supportive or undermining, depending on their moods.
I’ve always loved writing and on good days, my mom would edit my school assignments for grammar and punctuation.
One bad day, my dad peeked over my shoulder while I was struggling to finish an essay about a stroll through the woods.
He read a few lines and said, “Wow, that’s terrible. Let me fix it.”
I thought he would rework the sentence about a squirrel traversing a tree branch, but he ended up rewriting the entire essay.
“It’s good enough. You don’t understand the assignment. Please stop,” I begged.
“Stop interrupting me and just let me finish,” he growled.
I also enjoyed singing and hoped to become a performer.
I wanted to be a singer-songwriter like Jewel and my dad bought me an acoustic guitar for Christmas.
I was nervous about singing in public and finally summoned the courage to try out for the spring musical during my senior year of high school.
My dad spent most of that year passed out on a couch in our living room, so I turned to my mom for feedback.
I sang my audition song for her
After I finished, she paused and said, “I have no idea why you want to waste your time with singing.”
“But my voice, Mom, what did you think about my voice?”
“It’s fine, I guess.”
During my audition the next day, I choked and nearly vomited.
Salvia kept pooling in my mouth and I couldn’t get a note out.
I didn’t even make the chorus.
Under my parents’ tutelage, I lived within a disorganized maze of encouragement and discouragement. It fostered just enough hope for me to keep following my dreams but not enough self-confidence for me to achieve them.
I vacillated between majors I thought I should pursue (genetics, biology) and majors I wanted to pursue (journalism, film).
In the end, I chose English and Communications Arts with an emphasis in Film, TV, and Radio with plans to become a screenwriter.
Post-graduation, I hedged my bets on securing a fellowship that would have granted me internships at three major studios in LA.
It was a memorial fellowship in honor of a student in my program who had recently passed away.
At the end of the fellowship, one of the three studios would make a job offer.
I made it to the final round.
The selection committee acknowledged that I had the strongest application. T
he parents of the deceased student were on the committee.
The other finalist reminded them of their dead son.
The fellowship went to the other finalist.
I received the news a couple of weeks before graduation.
I quickly secured a full-time position as a production assistant at the local cable access station.
The day before my college graduation, my dad had a stroke
I rushed to my hometown to be with him as he teetered between life and death.
He remained in a coma for weeks. I stayed with him.
After two weeks, my supervisor at the television station called to say that they could no longer hold my position for me.
After a month, my dad emerged from his coma with limited mobility in his legs.
He needed physical therapy.
My mom worked full-time and couldn’t take him to his appointments.
My younger sister had just discovered that she was pregnant and was preoccupied.
I decided to stay at home.
I worked at Panera Bread and as a front desk clerk at a motel — both positions offered flexible hours.The months accumulated. My dad’s mobility improved. The pride I had felt as the first person in my family to graduate with a four-year college degree faded. I couldn’t see a way out of my hometown.
After a few months, I became friendly with my supervisor at the motel
He was a private man — and educated New Yorker who had mysteriously landed a job as a motel manager in Rochester, Minnesota.
I eventually learned that he had grown up near the Adirondacks and loved the outdoors.
He dreamed of running a ski resort in Northern Minnesota; the motel was just a weigh station for him on his journey.
I shared with him my failed dream of becoming a screenwriter. He encouraged me to revisit it.
I arranged meetings with a friend who had established herself in LA and a couple of other alumni in the area.
I road-tripped from Minnesota to LA to see them in person.
Although my friend and I had planned for my visit weeks ahead of time, I never got to see her.
After two no-shows, she said that she was sorry but she was too busy to see me.
I met with another alumna who had been a star in our program.
Surely she would inspire me to move to LA. She arrived looking like a ghost of her former self.
She had been working 80-hour weeks for the past three years, mostly at unpaid internships.
She had hoped her hustling would manifest into a job opportunity, but nothing had materialized. She gigged and waited tables to earn money, but it wasn’t enough and she depended on her parents for rent. Our meeting was brief. “Don’t move here. It’s not worth it.”
A meeting with another alumna was similarly unfruitful
She boasted about her success and connections but was reticent to share any meaningful advice or opportunities.
She felt that I needed to earn my keep on my own.
I returned home.
My parents’ marriage was in shambles.
With his new lease on life, my dad had begun dating other women and my mother was heartbroken.
My sister had a full-time job and my baby niece to care for; she stayed out of the fray.
My parents kept our extended family at a distance.
I couldn’t turn to my family for advice about what to do with my life.
In college, self-doubt consumed me and my associated histrionics alienated me from my close friends from high school.
My friends from college were surface-level.
They came from stable, upper-middle-class families and had landed in graduate school or professional positions.
They couldn’t relate to my struggles and I was too ashamed to reach out to them.
I updated my supervisor about my trip. “Have you ever thought about the Peace Corps?” he asked.
Peace Corps — a way out. If I couldn’t be a screenwriter, at least I could fashion myself into a “good person”. I followed this vague notion of acceptability. I served in the Peace Corps. I went to graduate school for public policy. I worked at non-profits and in education for 15 years.
About a year ago, I left the workforce
With my daughter’s birth and my employer discontinuing the academic program I supported, my departure made sense.
Despite these challenges, I remain optimistic.
With my daughter in my life, everything seems sweeter and more precious.
A few months ago, I began journaling for the first time in years.
A couple of months ago, I started writing short essays.
Last month, I published a few of those essays.
Now, I see writing not as an insurmountable task, but as a practice, I can enjoy every day.
If my writing resonates with anyone, it’s an added bonus.
I’m not writing to seek approval.
I’ve disentangled my writing from my sense of self-worth. I have no great aims.
Lin-Manuel Miranda needn’t worry that I’ll be usurping this throne as the king of theater.
My partner and I have agreed upon a tentative plan for me to return to work in a year or so after the dust fully settles from coronavirus.
It’s a year for me to focus on my daughter and my writing.
It’s a year for me to see if I can turn my writing into my work.
I’m writing like I’m running out of time because I’m not throwing away my shot.
Shanna Loga, she is a mother, writer, and biracial butterfly focusing on race, culture, identity, and parenthood.