Ride Your Unicorn To Work

When I was 12 I realised I was never going to be the prettiest girl in the room. So I promised myself I would be the smartest. And of course I was; more often than not.

(At 12 you don’t yet know that every woman out there thinks every other woman out there sees someone prettier in her mirror than she does.)

Only now, at 39, do I realise that had I made the same deliberate, conscious decision to be the prettiest girl in the room, I would have found a way to be her.

Why? Because we become who we decide we are. Who we define ourselves as. Who we believe we are.

Who needs beer when you have books?

At university I told myself I was a scholar. I sailed through with A+s in languages that made other students consider careers in fast food. University was easy for me. Of course it helped that I was the smartest kid in the class.

It also helped that I studied for 15 hours a day. While my res friends were waking up in strange men’s bedrooms I was falling in love with the Greek philosophers, enjoying passionate trysts with Feminist poets and taking moonlight strolls back from the library with Jewish mystics.

I was enamoured by their brilliance. And mine. My mother was less so; she offered to buy me beer if I promised to get drunk with my friends instead of hiding in my books.

I explained that the books were my friends. And told her no. In several languages.

I was, by definition and by the callus left by my fountain pen, a scholar, not a party animal.

How do I get baby puke off my keyboard?

Sometimes however life comes along and redefines us. That happened many studious years later when I became a mother. Suddenly my brilliant grey matter was replaced with a porridge brain. (I believe this is the medically accepted term for the stupidity that settles in with pregnancy.)

Having giving up copywriting for nappy changing I felt I’d gone from being the most intelligent person in the room to the one with the most vomit down my back.

Which is why, a few months into mommyhood, I found myself crying in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. The form I was filling in asked for “occupation” and I didn’t have one. My sleep-deprived mind was tempted to fill in “stripper” on account of the fact that I was flashing my breasts more than one. But I didn’t. I decided to fill in the thing I wanted to be most in the world. (Even more than cleverest girl in room or scholar.)

I filled in: “writer”.

“Writer” was what I filled in on every form after that. It’s what I told people I was.

I never told them I meant “aspiring” writer. I never added the word “unpublished” in front of the word. Because, I rationalised (as only smart kids can), that if I wrote, then I was a writer, whether it was published or not.

And so I wrote!

Hesitantly at first. When your body’s got more padding than your couch and your literary interests extend to a large purple dinosaur, confidence isn’t something that comes easily. But I worked it! I was a writer. I was writing.

Do angels read magazines?

The more I defined myself as a writer the more I wrote. The more I wrote the more I owned the right to be a writer. Then at some point it wasn’t enough just to write. I wanted to be read! So I started sending work out to anyone who would accept it.

Finally someone asked me to write for their library newsletter. Rate per word: R0. Audience: app 20. Fan mail: 1.

Yes! I wasn’t only a writer. And I wasn’t only a writer with readers. Turns out I was even a writer with a fan! Which put me roughly in the same bracket as Stephen King, except that my work is funnier and more niche market.

And then the magic happened and my words made their way from my keyboard out across the world to websites and magazines. For good money. To hundreds of thousands of readers.

Ride that Unicorn

Now that I’m older I’m finally clever enough to realise that we become what we define ourselves as. It doesn’t matter what it says we are on our degree or CV. It doesn’t matter what we do to earn money every day.

What matters is where our thoughts are. Who we dream we can be. Where we direct our energies to.

What matters is that every single day we do at least one thing that takes us one step closer to living the life we want so desperately. Even if that “thing” is just taking a few minutes to dream and remind ourselves that we are already the person we want to be, we just can’t see it yet.

At any moment, all around us, are infinite possibilities. Galloping like unicorns, still just fantasy, on the fringe of our vision. Once we can see them, once we believe we can own them, then we own their magic.

Right now I’m redefining myself again. Still just in whispers to myself. In eagerly typed words at four in the morning. I don’t know how long it will take before I see this new version of myself in the mirror. But I already see her in my heart. Because it’s easier to see what’s real and what’s not, up here from the back of my unicorn.