I got assigned to the Curriculum and Scholarships committee in my department. I was not sure *why*–I, unlike my colleagues, do not have a degree in Theatre. I don’t even have a degree in the arts–I have a BA in Government and a Master of Public Administration. I like to remind my boss that even though I am the most qualified person to ever be Department Head, I can’t be because I can’t become tenured faculty. It turns out it was an interesting meeting and the Scenic Designer, whom I like very much and who would be described as irascible and grouchy and intimidating by many seemed to think I had intelligent things to say. At one point he told me that he would be happy for me, or the resident designer, to speak to a class we are talking about creating. I thought, “Right. I’m not the resident designer, so who would let me come in and talk about design?”
It kind of hit me the next day; a day when I came home early to work in my studio and instead did the things I needed to do and then had to soak in a hot tub in the hopes of my left ankle and wrist calming down since I could barely use either. I was so angry about losing the time to create, and then thinking about how hard it is, at 44, to be losing things so quickly. I had no idea, in high school, that there was such a thing as Costume Design. I didn’t sew yet, and I thought that Theater was what all my annoying actor friends did to get attention.
I was unaware of costume design or my talent for it until 3.5 years ago when I got this job. Now, I look at our student designers, and hear about the grad schools competing for them, and I think, “I could really do this. I could go to grad school and get a job as a Costume Designer, and I’d be really good at it.” Two of my three children are adults, and the last one at home is 12 going on 37 anyway. I could go school and become competitive in this field.
Have you ever done something that you knew you were really, really good at? Where you knew you had a unique perspective and stellar skills and that other people found you amazing? Finally, in my life, I found that. But I found it too late. I cannot be a costume designer. I cannot have a national reputation or make good money or be more important than my husband. I have to fade away, now, before I’ve come anywhere near my potential.
I can’t get a theatre degree when I can’t participate in two-thirds of the education; I could not do Stage Craft because I can’t lift anything over ten pounds or carry anything or hoist anything. I couldn’t do lighting because I can’t carry anything or lift anything or climb anything. I can’t work on a crew because I can’t manage the hours, or haul the shit and lift the shit and run up and down the stairs.
Yesterday, sitting in the tub in broad daylight and then getting dressed in “comfortable” clothes before it was even dinner time, I found myself profoundly sad that I will not get to realize my abilities. I won’t get another turn, I won’t get better. I will stay where I am until I can’t even stay there any longer; a costume shop manager in Southern NM who makes a pittance that is less than what they take out of my husband’s paycheck. I started crying at the dinner table explaining this to my husband, who feels helpless to do anything because he is. There’s nothing to be done.
I am utterly phobic about death, I cannot stand the idea that I will ever have to stop. I cannot bear the idea of ceasing, of no longer being or creating or making things or even thinking. I am not religious but hope for an afterlife where I know there is none. I cannot understand why I should have the skills and talents that I have and to have arrived at the really exciting point only to have to stop so far short of what I could have achieved. Not turned away for a time, but forever. I have never wanted to be ordinary, or unnoticed. To quote the play that we are running right now at our theater, “I would never have been happy being just a person.”
I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, even after I grew up. I didn’t know who I could be for a long time; and had not known that I was, actually, a costumer. I am on the very edge of the greatest thing I could ever imagine doing, and I am deeply afraid that I will go no further. For years I’ve been convinced that I failed a set of psychological tests because when they asked if I thought I would be famous, I said yes. I’ve always been sure that I shouldn’t have said that, but some people do manage it. Maybe it’s just wrong to think so, or plan on it, or expect it. It’s probably wrong to want it, but I did and do want to be known as really good at something longer than the few minutes that I get to be on this planet.
Physically, though, I will not be able to do this. I will not be strong enough or pain free enough or healthy enough. It is so unfair, and my path right now has stopped me so that I might contemplate that fact. It’s not a happy place, but it’s the only one I can be in right now.