Monday, March 12, 2012

Alternate Reality

Yesterday at Sunday dinner my younger brother told me he was always surprised I never pursued any sports. He said I probably would have been a good dancer, because I was so coordinated and seemed to catch on to choreography quickly (Yes, I totally rule at Just Dance 3).

I laughed, but at the same time it made me a little...sad? That's not quite the right word. That feeling when you wonder how your life could have been if you'd taken another path. Not out of regret but just out of curiosity. Whatever that word is.

Because the truth is, I wasn't so bad at sports as a kid. I was fast, always in the top five running the mile. My single season on swim team, I went from horrible to one of the best backstrokers my age on the team. I liked to win...really, really hated to lose. I was pretty coordinated, and with more practice I might have been an athlete.

But then I...got boobs (and not small ones). I'm not even kidding. That's why I stopped doing sports. I got SO self-conscious because of my changing figure—and boys noticing—that I couldn't stand to move more than necessary. I stopped running and swimming, refused to dance in public, and never stepped foot on a trampoline again. I was just soooo embarrassed all the time, and it didn't help that I did get crap about the way I looked.

I do wonder sometimes what my life would have been like if things had been different. If I wasn't teased. If I didn't feel so self-conscious. If I just would have kept practicing. Not that I feel like I missed out in any way, but it makes me acutely aware that every little choice in my life has led to where I'm at now. And if I had made different ones, I could be a totally different person. I could have been a high school athlete instead of the girl who spent all extra hours in the art room. Who knows?

It's interesting to think about, and it reminds me of just how intricate a character can be. Every little choice we make in a book changes it. That is both cool and scary. Our stories aren't set in stone, and it's important to explore all the options as we write. Unlike life, we can explore all the paths and see which one makes for the most compelling read.

17 comments:

  1. I think about that too sometimes, what my life would have been like if I had made different decisions. And you're right, characters are very complex creations. I've been explaining some of this to my oldest son who loves to write. Characters are so much more than we see. Events that happened to them earlier in life affect how they are now...just like real people. :D

    P.S. You can never watch too much anime. :D

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  2. Wow, Natalie. I actually needed this post today. You see, my twelve-year-old daughter is painfully shy, and it never occurred to me she could be self-conscience. She recently brought home paperwork to try out for dance. And like you, she's a natural at it. But I told her no, because she likes to quit activities too easily. And dance is quite expensive.
    However, I remembered how painfully shy I was at her age and how cheerleading brought me out of it. So I've been reconsidering the dance team, wondering whether it will help bring her out of that shyness.

    Your post has given me more to think about. So thanks for opening up and sharing. :)

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    1. Linda, that is actually the age I *stopped* most physical activity. I do wish at times that I'd been more active through my teen years. While it would have been hard at first, I think it would have made me more confident over all. And bonus, I would have been more healthy! Not that I was fat—definitely wasn't—but having a physical outlet would have helped with my stamina and, I believe, my anxiety. Now that I have gotten back into exercise, I see that.

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  3. Yep. I was heavily recruited by D1 teams for swimming, and I would be a lot faster right now if I'd pursued that. Instead I'm swimming at a non-D1 team where I'm able to be at the top of the national rankings, but also where I can be more than just a number, a time, some points. I don't regret pushing away swimmming to pursue writing, and having these different facets to me has allowed me to understand characters better.

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  4. Yep, I've had this feeling too. The nostalgia-for-something-that-never-was, the curiousity-about-something-that-might-have-been. I think writers can't help but be drawn to those possibilities. And I absolutely adore the way you relate such a small comment from your brother, and the subsequent feelings, to writing and characterization. It's so true. :)

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  5. I think that what you felt when you were a teenager is perfectly normal, because most teenagers want to fit in. Sometimes I wish I had the power to turn back time, because then I could go back and undo mistakes/wrong decisions that I made; I keep thinking that my life would be better as a result.
    I like how you related your situation to fiction writing. The fact that we can go back and change stuff in the story is fun; for one of my stories, I wrote alternate endings to see which one worked best.

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  6. Same thing happened to me. I got boobs in 4th grade before anyone else and I hated it. I stopped dancing (no leotards for me) stopped running and swimming. I wore a jacket all the time and retreated into a shell. I put on weight and wanted to hide even more. I often wonder what I would be like too, if I wouldn't have been so embarrassed to be a girl.

    Mary Campbell

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    1. Mary, I was early, too! Around 5th grade, and it was *awful* being one of the first. Bra-snapping, teasing, everything. I so get what you're saying.

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    2. Trust me when I tell you it's just as bad when you *don't* get them, lol. Love this post, btw, as I love all your posts.

      I've never considered how a character's development or non-development of boobs affected her life choices ... deep stuff. ;)

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  7. Ooh! I play this game all the time. Acutally, it's how I started writing. All a "what if I'd answered the phone that day instead of letting it go to VM." Which actually reminds me of the movie with Gwyenth Paltrow (Sliding Doors or some such?) and more importantly, KASIE WEST!

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  8. My daughter was 13 when she went from 34 nothing to 38 DD (or something like that). She loved to dance, play tennis, but those babies were always bobbing around. Still are.

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    1. Susan, yup. Sounds pretty familiar, lol.

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  9. This was a very interesting post, Natalie, thank you for sharing.

    As a one-time teenager who did more than my share of staring at the well-developed girls (but who did not say or do anything, at least there's that), I can say I certainly did not realize the attention might be unwanted. Rude is rude and there's no excusing it, but I think *most* boys are insensitive, not malicious.

    I am curious how the girls reacted to the girls who were large early, because that's something I don't remember hearing about. And I apologize for turning this into a boob thread.

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    1. Jeff, I agree that it's really inevitable. Looking back I get it, though I *hated* the attention and feeling of objectification I received very young (we're talking 11 and 12 years old here). It wasn't so much the avg boy noticing, but the ones who were verbal and gross about it. It's one thing to notice—and I get that it's hard not to!—but another thing entirely to be a pervy jerk about it.

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  10. I can see how this would have ended up playing against insecurities at that age. Very understandable.

    I was actually not into sports as a child, and not particularly now. I was clumsy and shy as a child, and my fine motor coordination was slower to develop then it should have been, so it took me time to catch up with things. To this day, I don't skate (yes, that's Un-Canadian, I know). And while I can watch certain sports and understand the rules, I don't follow them religiously.

    What I have gotten into as an adult is certainly a physical activity, but not a sport, since you're really not competing with anyone. I've taken to rock and mountain climbing, which definitely requires physical skill and effort. I'd say I'm happiest on the side of a cliff with empty space beneath me and the rock face at my fingertips.

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  11. This post made me smile, not because it's very happy but just because it's so honest and true. I had the same problems for opposite reasons. Um...no figure:P Had you been a star athlete brimming with confidence you may not be blogging today. So good.

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