For hours, I read and reread those two books. It may sound silly to you, but having those two books in my possession for two straight weeks had a huge impact on me. I decided three things then and there:
-I wanted to become an archaeologist.
-I wanted to travel the world.
-I wanted to meet interesting people.
So I set about becoming the nerdiest of nerds. I owned a microscope and a collection kit that I used frequently in the woods by our house (imagine my delight the time my neighbor and I found a shell---a real shell buried in the mud in the middle of our Pennsylvania dwelling!), I read Archaeology magazine and National Geographic cover to cover every month, I kept journals of the odd, the intriguing, the beautiful, and the strange. I even wrote to the head of the Department of Archaeology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in my hometown of Pittsburgh and he actually wrote back. He sent this huge packet that included the most amazing letter to my (by that time) eleven or twelve year old self with copies of his dig records in places like Iceland and Australia and Africa. And pictures! I nearly swooned. Then, my uncle took me on a surprise trip when I was 13 to meet the Curator of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (all the way in Philadelphia!) and I got to interview her. I had so many questions; I had so carefully written them down in a very specific order so as to not forget what else might come up mid-conversation. She laughed and said it felt like the most important interview she'd ever done in her life. She then took me back to the "hidden collections"---the pieces that were not displayed or the pieces that were being worked on to display soon. She pulled out drawers and we step stooled up onto shelves, she let me put gloves on and touch anything I wanted. I touched pottery that was thousands of years old and cradled a mummy's face, while she reverently stood by. Even though I was wearing gloves, I could feel the touch of the hands of all those people who'd lived so long ago. I was in a walking dream state for weeks after.
I was a bit annoying, to be sure. There I was, between the ages of ten and ultimately 15, and all I did---no make that all I did was talk about archaeology. I even obsessed about its spelling. Are American or British archaeologists right, I wonder? Is it Archaeology or Archeology?
But then I stopped.
Because no one believed me. Or should I make that, no one believed in me?
You see, childhood is a funny thing. We don't give children enough credit; they know themselves better than well, we do. They are so sure of what they like and don't like----who's ever met an indecisive toddler? Do you know a kid who doesn't know what their favorite color or food is? Or if they enjoy swimming or not? What their fears are, what their deepest desires and inclinations might be? No, no, children know. They know.
You don't just "humor" children. You fucking take them seriously, even when you're laughing inside, because you know what? They're not messing around with you; they really do want you to listen as they tug on your pant leg. They really do need you to turn off the TV and help them discover the answers to their questions. They really do need you to shut up and listen sometimes, stop slapping your jaws together like you've got all the answers. Because you're older than the world's been around for all they care; they need to figure it out for themselves and the funny thing is they know that and you forgot it already.
So what happened to me? I didn't really stop, if that's what you're wondering.
I was kind of gently [strongly] pushed toward more practical careers and reminded constantly how writing and relief medicine and photojournalism and helping the poor weren't really a way to make a living.
Well, we all know that, don't we? But what about a Life's Work, a 'calling', so to speak? Are we really only meant to make...money?
I ended up leaving behind the myopia and joined the military straight out of high school to become a medic. After serving 5 solid years of my life I finally went to college, my dream come true. I took archaeology classes and decided I'd rather study living cultures rather than dead ones, so I majored in anthropology, archaeology's mother. I went to Africa to do a community health internship that shaped my goals in a most precise and clear way. And all along the way, I've been privileged enough to meet, photograph, and document the stories of some of the most interesting people.
What I'm trying to tell you is that no one will believe you. Oh, a few might. But they'll be few and far between. Some will laugh, some will attack, but most will be indifferent---and those are the ones you've got to watch out for the most: because you could all too easily sink into that sandpit and become like them: Bored. Broken. And worse: Boring.
I was obsessed with the violin as a child. I drew pictures of it, made one out of cardboard to play on. It didn't sound right. I wanted the real thing. My cousin played, she let me hold it and slide the bow up and down the strings one time; I still remember the feel of it in my hand. Years later, as a preteen, I knew a girl who had started down The Indecisive Road, and so because I was always dying to play she got her mother to not just rent, but buy her a violin. She couldn't make her own dreams so she borrowed mine; hey, that's a start. But it sat in the corner of her bedroom, gathering dust as I eyed it enviously. Her mother sold it back to the music shop months later.
This weekend, I start my first violin lessons. Yes, I'm a 32 year old mother who probably doesn't have the time for this hobby. But that's what I said about a lot of things, like learning Swahili and embroidery.
Don't get too comfortable. We're not meant to be dead until we die. I always tell people how there are some people who don't live, they merely exist. Do you know a lot of people like this? I do. It appears they are sleeping when they could be wide awake.