Be happy; find your own path

Roxanne Sadovsky

Friends keep giving me a hard time for comparing grad school to Club Med. In fact, the other day when I was doing office hours in the rec center, a colleague threw me the look of death when he spotted me sucking down a strawberry-mango smoothie with a thick orange straw. “Are we having fun, yet?” he quipped, without breaking resentful stride on his way upstairs to the machines.

Later that same day I was working on a paper, waiting for my class to start, when an acquaintance shouted to me from her side of the room that she “spotted me around noon” in the rec center. “You looked so cozy there with your feet kicked up, reading your novel.”

“Yeah,” a smart-ass friend added sarcastically, “Rox lives in the rec center.” This is the same woman who chastised me for complaining that life was so much fun there was barely enough time for meals. “Well,” she huffed, “if you weren’t in the rec center 24-7.”

I beg her pardon. I happen to spend plenty of time in other parts of campus. When I can’t make it over to Dinkytown to go shopping, I tend to roam around the Weisman or the big medical buildings. Now that Coffman is open, I also like to check out the frozen yogurt flavor of the day at the way-conveniently-priced convenient store. If there’s time, I also enjoy a pleasant run from the East to the West Bank, because, after all, the Mississippi River is absolutely exquisite this time of year.

What’s it to them if I wax the epicurean pleasures of life at Resort-UM?

On one hand, I can see their point. Perhaps this is the reason I still have recurring dreams about failing high school, why almost weekly, I find myself trapped inside the dilapidated gray prison-scape that is the L.A. Unified School District. Like most youths in the 1980s, I ditched all my afternoon classes and finally decided to just not go to school on Mondays or Fridays.

With few exceptions, it was more of a risk to my intelligence to actually attend school. Ultimately, I decided I would learn more getting high at home and listening to The Moody Blues than hanging outside of 7-11 with the cool kids and licking their sneakers. But the kicker is I always got “As”; I just didn’t need to show up to get them. I cheated and bribed the geeks like everyone else did, but what of it? How else were we expected to pass chemistry?

And sure, I stole packs of Bubble-Yum and lifted the occasional T-shirt from overpriced boutiques, but I never worked in retail. Instead I earned extra cash during lunchtime piercing ears in the girls’ restroom for two dollars per hole and by night, moonlighted by writing English papers for my classmates. In the summer, I worked as a vendor at Venice Beach.

I was always one of those who did things “my way.” Others would complain and accuse me of being difficult: “Well, it’s your way or the highway, is it?” they would threaten, arms folded into a defiant line across their chests because I had no desire to go to prom or hang out at Carl’s Junior with the popular crowd smoking cloves. Of course I cared what others thought of me. I, too, was influenced by peer pressure and even sunk so low as to hairspray my bangs into a congealed fountain, my hallmark loyalty to Duran Duran. All the same, I did these things in order to be cool and stand apart from adults. Like everyone else, I thought, ironically, wearing combat boots and fish nets atop a fuchsia neon shirt that said “choose life” would accentuate my feminine side. But unlike the rest (and undoubtedly the reason why I never quite made it to the “in crowd”), I could never quite get it right. I was always slightly off kilter, showing up to homeroom, for example, in long underwear beneath my skirt instead of colored tights.

While I was a troubled youth, I can see how this attitude has continued into my adulthood. While I have toned down the wardrobe, I still aspire to be the coolest kid on the block. Human nature ensures that we do and wear outrageous things in order to fit in. The difference, though, is that “being different” is no longer what motivates me to duck out of sewing circles. Being “different” (or “difficult”) just happens to result from choosing to do things with clarity and certainty. This does not make me unafraid to wander from the beaten path, nor does it mean I am not unwilling to stand alone. In other words, I am motivated by choosing the road that enlightens me along the way, not the familiar one that will eventually lead to Oz.

Naturally, this is where I run into problems. In high school, my heroes were apathetic outcasts like the mentally ill disguised in the repulsively unattractive underbelly of the alternative rock scene. My heroes now all look totally normal but want the same things as those unfortunate pretty-boy millionaires: to love, earn love and do what they love in life. Makes sense, but when I reassure myself with this valuable mantra, I still wonder if I am doing something wrong because it seems so simple. I cringe at the thought that this is some sort of excuse that might actually make me similar to my ex-husband, who would drive four miles on the shoulder or in the carpool lane, entitled, because he claimed he was getting off at the next exit and didn’t want to wait.

On the other hand, I always get the job done. I live responsibly and try not to hurt anyone. It’s more a matter of doing the things I need to do in a way that I want to do them instead of not doing them at all. Whereas this used to be called “cheating the system,” it now feels more appropriate to refer to it as making choices. Such as: I choose to be a freelance writer so I don’t have to work nine to five, but sometimes that means I don’t buy

groceries for the month. I choose not to attend certain “important meetings,” which causes coworkers and colleagues to socially ground me from their privileged perks. I choose not to go home for the holidays and sometimes that means my family will get “mad” or be “disappointed.” I choose to spend time with people who are weird, but sometimes this shows up in my lack of social graces. Still, all of this beats nine to five.

Yet why, oh why, do some of you insist that because I am happy, I am somehow cheating? Why is doing what I love “not fair,” not right, or not serving the community? Better it be I should slouch over a pile of nonsense paperwork while sipping from a flask? Better it be I should sit quietly in meetings and nod my head because that’s what everyone else is doing? I suppose there’s nothing at all wrong with these things, so long as they are the healthiest tool for one’s life passion. Some people are really into data entry. Hats off to them.

Me, I prefer a morning jog, yoga at noon and an endless afternoon of writing and reading that rarely sees the sky fade to quitting time. Happy hour works just fine at home.

Roxanne Sadovsky’s biweekly column

usually appears Thursdays. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]