Fame, happiness and going back to school

When I was a little girl I always wanted to be famous. Actress, model, dancer, pop star: it didn’t matter which, as long as everybody knew who I was. Famous people were happy. Like April – who also wants to be a pop star when she grows up “because they’re so beautiful” – I thought that attractive rich people must have the best lives, full of fun and excitement, with no regular boring responsibilities to ruin their days.

Around the time I got to university this goal changed. It might be a result of a failed modelling career and dozens of rejections at acting auditions. It might also be that I had decided, after winning a playwriting competition at a theatre in Toronto, that I should be a writer and share my intellectual brilliance, rather than my beauty, with the world. (I was clearly a very modest eighteen-year-old.)

I decided that I no longer needed to be famous in the tabloid-headline, magazine cover girl sort of way. I simply wanted to be known and respected in whatever field I chose to work in. I would be a brilliant academic, or a best-selling author. I still, evidently, had something to prove.

Ten years later and I’m not famous, I’m certainly not rich, and you know, I don’t really mind. I do have a family: two busy daughters and a husband I love more every day. I also have recognition of a sort: my friends, family and the odd unknown reader, who like what I write and how I live my life. I get to travel and write about the things I do and think. I get to spend time with my friends, practice yoga, and gaze at the ocean or hike up mountains or simply spend afternoons reading or playing with my kids in the park. I get to eat delicious food prepared by me, or Josh or sometimes by some good person at a restaurant or a market stall. I don’t get to spend money lavishly on things I don’t need, but then, I don’t mind that so much.

As a result of growing up, or maybe as a by-product of living well, my goals for my writing have changed. It’s no longer about self-aggrandisement. I don’t want people to read my articles and essays and books and say, “Wow, that Lauren Jane, she’s so brilliant. I wish I could be as brilliant as her!” What I want now is for people to read what I write and say, “Hey, she’s doing cool and interesting things. And I can do them too!”

I sometimes feel like I’m way off track. I look at my peers and see the impressive resumes they are building. Brand managers and lawyers, entrepreneurs and film producers. People who’ve gone to Harvard and Oxford and work for companies whose names I can find printed on products all over my house. But then I have to think, “If that was me, would I be happy?”

And I know the answer. Although writing can be a slog, and I often wish I had someone else to market me and sell my ideas, I know that it ultimately gives me the freedom to live the life I want. I want to travel, learn about other cultures, ways of life, and write about them. I want to write articles and travelogues, but more than anything, I want to write a novel about events and people who have touched my life.

As such, it looks like I’m going to go back to school. When we started planning this trip to South Africa, I knew that one of the end-results would be a new life plan. Josh was already talking about getting out of the restaurant/cooking business. He is passionate about sailing and yachts and wanted to find a way to integrate this into his career. We were both getting restless in Montreal, needing a change of scenery and pace.

Four months later, and two weeks from flying back to Canada, we know what we need to do. Josh and I both want to go back to university, and it happens that the school with the best programs for both of us is UBC. Mechanical engineering for Josh, who wants to design and build boats, and creative writing for me (who needs help with structuring ideas and time). The University of British Columbia is based in Vancouver – where Josh grew up, and where his dad and sister live. Since April was born, we have spent less than a handful of days with Josh’s family, something that will definitely change if we live near them.

Now for the reality check (Mom!). I know that going back to school, especially with two kids, is going to be hugely challenging. I also know that this is the best, if not only, way for Josh and me to achieve our intellectual and career goals. We will have to save a lot of money over the next eighteen months, pay off debt and find scholarships and part-time jobs for while we’re at university. We will have to find new schools and childcare for the kids, not to mention moving our lives across the continent.

But we’re up for it.

As for fame? Maybe one day I will be famous. Maybe, when I finish it, my book about our road trip will be a huge success. But maybe, even if it is a hit, nothing will really change. Money and success can’t buy time or happiness. And even with a whole lot more money, I still don’t think I’d do anything differently.

Langebaan beach

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