Sunday, August 23, 2009

Interior Designer

Many years ago, when I was in high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life once I graduated. So I went to see a school counsellor, who advised me to take an aptitude test. The test was intended to help me sort out my likes and dislikes, in terms of potential careers, and to identify what I might be good at doing.

Surprise, surprise, the results of my test showed that I had the greatest interest in, and aptitude for, interior design, although I'd had no experience designing anything to that point.

At the time, I was confused with this result--and conflicted.

On the one hand, I was happy that the test registered a potential career choice that would require me to be highly imaginative and creative. I'd always thought I'd be involved in work of that nature. It certainly beat the hell out of working in a bank--that, ironically, I ended up doing for twenty-eight years.

On the other hand, I can't tell you how many times I looked at the results sheet from that test, the asterisk beside interior designer registered way over in the column, far beyond those opposite nearly every other potential career choice, indicating a strong ability to do it and to be successful at it. As thrilled as I secretly was that the results showed a line of work I should give serious consideration to and that intrigued me, I knew there was no way I could pursue a career as an interior designer.

There may have been other reasons why I knew I couldn't pursue a career in interior design--like could you earn any money doing that type of work?--but, by far, the most compelling reason was because the men who were designers were assumed to be gay. Just like hair stylists, or make-up artists, or anyone else in the arts. Remember, this was the mid-1970s. Go ahead and get a job as a designer if you want to, but, be warned, the world will think you're gay. And your personal life will take a course you couldn't have imagined.

Choosing a career traditionally held by women and gay men was unacceptable to me. As a kid, who'd been teased through most of grade school for being gay, I'd fought as hard as I could to prove everyone wrong. Hell, I'd gotten the message loud and clear that being gay was sick, and disgusting, and offensive. No matter how motivated I may have been to act on the results of my aptitude test and to pursue a career as an interior designer, I was motivated even more to prove to everyone, and especially to myself, that I wasn't gay.

I bring up all of this because I think it's remarkable that, in my own way, with the various places Chris and I have lived in over the years, according to a number of people, I've demonstrated an obvious aptitude for interior design. Of course, I've had no formal training in the field, I just seem to have a sense for what works and what doesn't, what looks good and what doesn't. Numerous people over the years have suggested that I should be an interior designer, and that I missed my calling in life.

More than design, I've wanted to be a writer ever since I was a little boy, composing stories, recognizing the power of words. Other boys I went to school with had the physical power and strength I lacked, which they aptly demonstrated through their prowess on the athletic field. I may have been a lot of things, but an athlete wasn't one of them.

Instead, I believed my strength was a way with words. I've always thought, since as far back as I can remember, that if I was going to make a mark in life, it would be through my writing, through expressing my ideas using words. I still believe that.

But you know what's so great about life? I don't have to be a writer only. I can be an interior designer too. I can be both if I want to. And I can add anything else to that list as I see fit, as long as I'm prepared to do that work. (Chris has suggested porn star and slave driver, not necessarily in that order. But that's another story altogether.)

The realization that I can be whatever I want to be, and that I can be more than one thing at a time, has been liberating. Of course, the logistics of being both are daunting, but there's still the possibility, right?

Which makes me laugh because I appear to have come full circle in some curious way. All those years ago, when the results of my aptitude test told me I should pursue interior design and didn't seem to have caught up to me. Now, I find myself exhibiting the talents for design that were identified on a chart thirty-plus years ago, and only now have I begun to give myself permission, after being out of the closet for over twenty-five years, maybe to pursue it and to see where it might go.

Imagine, just imagine, where I might be today as an interior designer, if I hadn't been concerned then that people would find out I was gay because of the type of work I did. The world is filled with famous interior designers, and I might even be counted among them.

Of course, it isn't healthy or realistic to go back and to imagine what might have been. But I can't help but think about the hand of fate that saw me give arguably the best years of my life and career to a company whose jobs were routine, and regulation-driven, and regimented, requiring virtually no imagination or creativity, certainly not in the way design would.

Isn't life funny sometimes? Who knows why someone who loves and respects words, and the effect they can have on people, ended up in a career focused almost entirely on numbers. There must have been some reason for it, although I don't have enough perspective on it just yet to know that reason. But the irony hasn't been lost on me.

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