Stuff I Learned the Hard Way: “Assassin” is NOT a Socially Acceptable Career Choice

WHAT’S PLAYING: Jimmy ReedFound Love

Lesson #5: If a representative from the State Board of Education asks you what you want to be when you grow up, DO NOT say assassin.

I was five for goodness sake! Still, I had to talk to a couple of mental health professionals before they would let me back in school.


Notes to Self: Change Is Rarely Good, But Usually Necessary

WHAT’S PLAYING:  Kate Nash “D******d”

“Do I dare disturb the Universe?”

– Excerpt from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot

My great-grandmother has a saying: “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.”

It took me a long time to figure out what she meant. Change equals growth, and growth – no matter how painful – is a necessary part of life.

That doesn’t mean I have to like it.

I hate change. I like being comfortable. I like pretending that the fragile bubble of self-delusion I’ve formed in my mind is impenetrable armor able to withstand the slings and arrows of fate.

Growth is painful. It temporarily weakens you, challenges your preconceptions, takes you out of your comfort zone, and forces you to adapt or die. Suddenly, you’re faced with questions you can’t answer – questions you didn’t even know to ask until that moment – about yourself and your place in the world.

Confronted by these terrible questions, we do what humans have been doing since the dawn of time. We stall. We hesitate, mull it over, and try to find a way around them. We don’t want to upset the fragile peace we’ve found within ourselves.

Disturbing the Universe takes a special kind of courage that I’ve lacked until very recently. From embracing social media to major career changes, I’m learning to confront the person I fear the most: myself. I’ve learned that there is a big difference between happiness and comfort. Comfort implies stagnation, loss of momentum, while happiness…well, that’s a post for another time.

In his book “Story Engineering,” Larry Brooks talks about the three layers of character. The first layer is the persona we show to the world: the way we consciously choose to dress, act and speak when we’re around other people. It’s the shallowest level, concerned only with what other people see on the surface. The second layer involves backstory. Our tragedies and triumphs, heartbreaks and victories, all figure into why we behave the way we do. Then, there’s the third layer, the deepest one, where our decisions and actions define who we truly are as people. It’s how we think and behave under stress, when it counts.

It’s the third level that frightens me the most, the one very few people get to see if I can help it. But I’m learning that third level Jacqui, though sometimes difficult to live with, is a survivor. She’s the one who sees me through the hard times and who reminds me of better days to come.

What about you? What do you find when you reach your own third level of character?

Will knowing all of this make me a better writer? I don’t know, but I hope that it will make me a better person. I believe that, while our past may influence us, it doesn’t define us. But taking a breath and trying to see things from other people’s point of view might make me more tolerant, more understanding. Maybe even a better writer.

So how about it? Do you dare disturb the Universe?