The Back Door

“I think the thing in our own experience is the person who in youth has the sense of a life to live, and then Daddy says, “No you’d better study law. Because there’s money in law.” No, I mean it! I think this is exactly the counterpart. And you meet these people later on, and they are the ones who have climbed to the top of the latter and found it’s against the wrong wall. They have not lived their lives.”

Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey


I have spent a lifetime entering life through the back door instead of the front entrance to go after what I truly want. For years, I have said “Yes” to many things in my life —may it be career choices or relationships—when in fact, deep down inside, I truly meant a resounding “No!” My life has taken many detours because of the denial of this simple truth and my unwillingness to assume responsibility for the outcomes of my decisions. I became addicted to the victim story that I was ultimately creating for myself. But as one of the gospel songs says “I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey.” I had to go through it, to come out of it.

I grew up in a middle-class family of hard-working, self-made parents who valued integrity above all. “One’s reputation and knowledge are all one has,” they would often teach us, and I took that to heart. I worked hard to be one of the top students in my class and always made sure not to put myself in a position to bring shame to my family or to myself. My fears of disappointing my parents were reinforced by social pressures. In Haiti, a woman’s fragile reputation hangs by a thread, often dependent on the perceptions of venomous gossiping tongues, the cold rigidity of family acceptance and the taming expectations of a patriarchal society. Therefore, I went above and beyond to please my parents and to push down my own personal desires. I excelled at school, in ballet class, in piano lessons, in countless extracurricular activities and became an exemplary student in and out of the school yard. I sought to please, to be validated, to be irreproachable in action and in character by my parents and others.


I would push the boundaries of moral integrity to its extremities, transforming humility to become self-effacing. I self-censored myself so much, the few times I would act-out were so far in-between, that my parents would seldom punish me. But they didn’t have to, the pain of my own self-shame or self-sanction was worse than anything someone could have inflicted on me. But, why was I so hard on myself? Why was I so determined to make myself small and go through the back door for everything?


Because, for as long as I can remember, I knew I really wasn’t what my parents wanted me to be, I knew I was different. I was someone my parents could not understand, explain…accept. I always knew I was a writer, a creative…an Artist. “Ah, Artist!” the forbidden word! It was viewed as sinful and disgraceful of a lifestyle choice as being a prostitute or a beggar. It was the nightmare of any respectful family in Haitian society. I would hear it a million times at family gatherings and at home “I feel bad for so and so’s family, he/she is an artist!” they would say, “There will be no artist in my family!” they would continue. Artists were seen as marginal members of society, unpractical dreamers that had their heads in the clouds instead of their feet firmly planted on the ground. There seemed to be numerous examples of fallen musicians, writers and painters that could barely rub two nickels together, that could not seem to navigate or integrate society or whose lives went astray indulging in the temptations of newfound fame with drugs, sex, and alcohol. There were a universal pack and understanding between parents and children, “Don’t become an artist and disgrace the family!” Like many parents, my father and my mother wanted my siblings and I to have what they deemed to be respectable jobs —such as doctor, lawyer, or architect— so we wouldn’t know the feeling of “wanting” and be able to provide for our families, build a home and be model members of society. They wanted us to have a “better life” than they did or at least a decent life like theirs. But what is a better life? Nevertheless, even at a young age, the status quo did not sit well with me and my inquisitive mind was always seeking; seeking for answers, for what felt right, for what felt true, for the doorway to my dreams.


“Ah, Artist!” the forbidden word!

The truth is, I fell in love with books when I was 3 years old, beginning with Martine—the children book series by Belgian writers, Marcel Marlier and Gilbert Delahaye—that my godfather used to send to me from France. In elementary school, I would have the great fortune of having teachers —Mr. Guy and Mrs. Desmangles —who believed in me and would emphasize the importance of reading, writing and developing my grammar so I could express myself and my ideas. My mother and godfather further encouraged my voracious appetite for books by introducing me to authors such as the Countess de Ségur, Jean de la Fontaine, Victor Hugo, Jules Vernes, Barbara Cartland, Alexandre Dumas, Danny Laferrière, Jacques Roumain, and Simone de Beauvoir, to name a few. My love for writing grew when my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Desmangles introduced us to calligraphy. I would take pride at sending my godfather handwritten letters to showcase my new skills. Ever, my cheerleader, he sent me customized, traditional calligraphy kits to practice my penmanship and I would imagine myself as a 17th-century writer, working on my novel with stubborn ink stains on my fingers as proof of my dedication to the art. I can still remember the pivotal moment when my parents bought me my first journal. It had a lock with a key which made me feel like that whatever I wrote, —my thoughts, my dreams, my fictional stories, my secrets — was protected and that I had the freedom to be completely transported by my imagination. Later on, my love for expression would expand to my interest in music, dancing, theatre, movies/acting, drawing, fashion, and photography. Nevertheless, the more I grew up, the more I would hear the negative connotations associated with being an artist. So, I began to repress my natural inclinations —in my mind anyways —but despite my best efforts, it would show in other ways from the way I dressed to my choices of friends. I always sought diversity, a cut outside the mold, and found comfort on the fringes of society. I sought to be surrounded by contrast so I may live vicariously through others. I was rebellious in spirit and in my imagination, but not in action. I excelled at hiding my truth passing through the back door to please and make others feel comfortable.


By 11th grade, I was eager to go to college. I thought it would be my entryway to freedom of self-expression and self-identity. The place where I would learn to make choices for myself and unlock the need to please others. Nevertheless, when I graduated high school, although I had succeeded in ensuring my actions were irreproachable, I had constructed a monumental habit of self-repression that made me lose all self-confidence and would affect me into adulthood. I had lost the compass to my true North, the key to the front door…Me.

I remember it like it was yesterday, walking into the Marketing Department Chairman’s office of the university with my request form to intern at NBC Studios in New York. It was an opportunity I had dreamed about for so long; me walking in the hallways and in-between the cubicles at NBC’s headquarter office in New York, learning about scripting and TV production around the writers' table.


“I’m sorry, but I can’t sign the authorization papers. We require that you take an accredited Internship Course while you intern, and according to our records you opted out from the course,” the department chairman explained to me. It was my senior year in college, and my ambitious self-had already more than five internship experiences under my belt. Just to be ahead of the crowd with work experience when I graduated, I jumped at internship opportunities as soon as I started school in New York. In many of these experiences, I was nothing but a paper filer and coffee maker. Few of the associates and managers really wanted to teach anyone about the business. Interns were just there to do the work no one else wanted to do. By my senior year, I was burnt out from my internships and was ready to look for a full-time job. I opted out of the Internship Course and took another elective for my last semester.


“I’m sorry, but I can’t sign the authorization papers," he told me.

A few months later, by chance, I attended a career fair at the university and unbeknownst to me I actually clicked with a recruiter from NBC. Shortly after, she reached out to me and invited me to an orientation. What I thought was a job opportunity, was actually an internship orientation, a no-holds-bar presentation of the career possibilities at NBC Studios. This was it, I had to get in! At the end of the orientation, they gave attendees forms to fill out and stressed the importance of getting it approved by our respective schools. I thought for sure if I presented this great opportunity to the Registrar Office, they would be glad to assist and accommodate me to seize this chance.


The chairman gave me back the forms, the decision was final, “No course, no internship” regardless of what company it was. I was baffled that the school wouldn’t make an exception for me and decided to call the recruiter at NBC to make my case. Nevertheless, she explained due to company policy she could not accept me as an intern without formal consent from the school. Something deep inside me knew that she had seen something in me and that if I had persisted a little more, she would have made an exception for me. But, I folded like the many times I faced adversity and was told I could not have what I wanted. At that moment, I accepted the notion that I wasn’t worthy of entering through the front entrance, that it wasn’t made for everybody. “Be practical,” I told myself, “start from the back door like everybody else and maybe, just maybe, one day, you will be one of the lucky ones to be invited through the front door.”


With that in mind, I actually went through my last year of college doing the opposite of everything I wanted to do. I decided to major in Marketing instead of writing, thinking it would please my parents, who worried that I was going to a fashion school to become an artist. I thought it was a more practical field that would still afford me some creativity and allow me to earn some good money. I wanted to make sure to pick something where I could find a job immediately after graduation to show my parents that I “made it,” to make them proud and let them know that they had invested well in my education. I also wanted to show off to people back home in Haiti; show them how I had defied the odds; the little introspective, quiet, quirky, “good girl” grew up to become a success in New York, one of the toughest cities in the world. “I just need to get my college degree to make my parents happy, and then I will have time to think about what I really want to do,” I told myself. However, when I graduated and was left on my own in the doorway for a chance to open a new door to my own future, I felt completely lost and unable to let go of the back door to my conditioned beliefs.


I spent the next years jumping from one job to another, switching career paths every two years and found a million reasons and excuses for not being able to hold on to any of them. I was in constant search for something else, something more. As soon as I would start a new job, frustrations would creep in, and instead of investigating the real reasons I wanted to leave, I would quickly search for the next opportunity, convincing myself it was because the job wasn’t the right fit for me, that I wasn't worthy or ready. I was motivated by the notion that I needed to be practical, to make lots of money, to gain material wealth, to impress others with my intellect, my ability to abide by the rules…my strive for pleasing perfection. This mindset made me feign strength, resilience, ambition, courage...control. Nonetheless, I had the luck of the gods, I was incredibly successful at reaching for and achieving whatever I put my mind to —even though it was never geared towards what I truly wanted.Whether it was climbing the corporate latter or entering exclusive institutional circles, I thrived at work and earned the respect of my colleagues and management. Nevertheless, I was never satisfied with what I did and believed that maybe it was just the anxiety of my ambitions. But it was a much deeper discontentment. I faked it until I made it; I faked perfection and excelled at what I hated. I denied and disguised my desires until I really believed I had no idea who I was or what I wanted to do. Until I couldn’t tell the difference between the back door and the front entrance.


I was lost and confused and began taking odd jobs to make ends meet. “Come back home,” my parents urged me over the phone, “this is the time for the family to be together.” I was lured by their proposition. It was 2011, I had returned to New York after the devastating January 12th earthquake in Haiti while visiting family over the holidays.I was struggling to regain my footing in the city. The U.S. was in an economic downturn and I scrambled to make ends meet. They sold me on the idea that Haiti was on the verge of rebuilding just as I needed to reorient myself. Going home, escaping through the back door was appealing. So, I jumped in.

I couldn't tell the difference between the back door and the front entrance.

I was “living the dream!” I was thriving once more at work and had gotten engaged. My fiancé and I were riding high, getting paid top dollars, working in top companies in the country. We were driving brand new cars, living in a brand-new townhouse, traveling every three months, surrounded by those we love. What more could I ask for? But…Why did this “happy” life feel so insincere?I joined many people in life in keeping along, head down, hurrying to work, to school, to employment agencies, telling myself: “I can hold off my dreams a little longer, there’s no need to realize them today because I have to earn some money first.” I was selling off my time, like everyone else. Doing things I didn’t want to do, like everyone else. Putting up with pain, like everyone else because as they would teach us growing up and in Sunday school “if the road is hard and rough and you’re suffering, then you are on the right track.” Telling myself that I still didn’t have enough or was too busy right now, like everyone else. Handing my precious energy in the name of a future and looming next opportunity that never arrived, like everyone else. Until one day, I cracked. I couldn’t fake it any longer, the lies weren’t holding me together anymore. I realized I had climbed to the top of the latter and found it’s against the wrong wall leading to the wrong door.

My fiancé had loved the self-assured corporate executive that climbed the ranks, made resolute decisions and worked relentlessly to get the job done, in and out of the office. He was falling in love with an image I had created of myself. I worked hard to be “perfect”; to multitask, to keep our home pristine, to keep busy, to clock-in weekend social hours so we could have the appearance of a balanced life. I aimed to please. I went from trying to please my parents to pleasing my fiancé. Nevertheless, just as we were in the middle of planning and paying for our wedding, I had a breakdown. My childhood armor fell apart and I was naked, having to face some deep truths about myself in the worst timing of my life. How did I get here?Why was I feeling like a stranger to myself? I thought maybe I was having wedding jitters, but the pain did not go away with my self-denial, it only increased.I snapped. I quit my glossy job, sold my car and decided to make a career shift in a matter of a few months, without consulting with my partner. What felt like an epiphany and breakthrough, soon after left me stranded in a hallway with no doors, alone, to face… myself.


The hard truth is, whatever was going on, everything that was happening to me and the consequences that were created, WAS ALL MY DOING. “Pain is frightening when it shows its real face, but it’s seductive when it comes disguised as a sacrifice or self-denial,” wrote the writer, Paulo Coelho. Whatever pain I thought I was hiding behind closed doors all those years, boiled up to the surface and spilled over every aspect of my life. My relationships, my finances, my confidence, my weight, my… SELF. I had to come to grip with the reality that I was the one who created my own pain. I made myself believe all those years that I was doing the honorable thing of sacrificing my desires and myself, to fit in, to please, to be loved and to feel validated. I was addicted to my victim story, it helped me to justify all my shortcomings, the reasons I succumbed to my fears, and most of all, it was a glorified excuse for not taking responsibility for my own life. I wrestled with the truth —and still do — because it was scary to see what it truly said about me and what I had allowed myself to become. But as I learned to accept the pain for what it was, I found myself opening my first front entrance door.


Everything is intertwined. To be able to go through one door, you must shut the other door behind you. I had to forgive myself, my choices, my circumstances, my parents, society and others for falling prey to our conditioned beliefs in order to be able to transition to the other side. I had to learn to UNLEARN a lot of the belief systems I grew up with and the subconscious habits I developed as a defense mechanism to cope with life before I could build the confidence to own my truth. I had to understand that all the odd jobs and career choices I made, in fact, serve a purpose: they taught me how to connect with people, listen to their stories and share in their experiences so I could find my voice. I had to relearn how to follow that subtle intuition that has always been there; crank up the volume so I can hear it better as it continues to guide me. It is not easy. Finding out what I love to do is not a utopic fairy tale, where just knowing makes everything magically fall into place. It is a beginning, half the battle won. In my own experience, even after my breakthrough, I made another last attempt to go after my dreams, and used yet another career path as a decoy to get closer to opportunities to work as a writer. I opened another back door, thinking the longer road would once again take me to where I really wanted to go. But with each passing day, I felt my soul die, exasperated from having to give any more of my energy into something I hated. It’s a journey, it’s a process. Old habits die hard. I think I am still working on my knee jerk need for instant gratification, that is another story. But I am realizing that for anyone, doing what you love to do is an act of courage. It is seeing what can’t be seen, feeling what can’t be touched, heeding a call that can’t be heard and breathing-in a will power to keep moving forward. I am working through some internal and external resistance; questioning myself over and over again; constantly getting distracted, deterred, tested, crushed and having to dig deep to rise up again with resolute determination each time. I am also realizing that not everyone —even family, friends, spouse and yourself at times —want to accept that you deserve to be happy, to succeed, to be free because they are afraid of what it might say about their own shortcomings? What it will say about their own inability to see their dreams through ‘til the end? What I know for sure is, other people’s desires aren’t my responsibility to fulfill like it isn’t there’s to fulfill mine. I am closing the back door…


Today, I have taken a leap of Faith, I am now pursuing a career as a writer. People often ask, how do I know this is what I am meant to do? And for me, the only way I can describe it is… it is pure joy. I feel pure joy when I write. Being able to write, is rewarding in and of itself. I look forward to doing it every day. I write chance I get, day in and day out, at any hour of the day. I am eager to learn more about it, to practice it, to explore it further, to edit, to rewrite, to make mistakes and to try again. I have an unfailing desire to see a story unfold as I press my pen against the paper. I watch as continuous story plots, characters, scenes, and my own life experiences dance through my mind whispering tales to be written. I embrace the freedom, the responsibility and due diligence that comes with it. Words cannot describe how humbling it feels to be able to share my work with others and to have people read and relate to my stories. I am brought to my knees when I hear of anyone that has been impacted by anything I have written. This has been the biggest reward, which encourages me to open the door to…


Ring. Ring.


The sound of the telephone interrupts my stream of thought…


“Hi Chérie”

“Hi my Love”

“What are you up to?”

“I was just writing a piece. How are you?”

“You sound so happy! I am so proud of you! You have no idea.”

“Thank you, my Love. It means a lot coming from my husband,” I respond with a smile.


A NEW CHAPTER BEGINS.


With Love,

IA



Artwork by Alexa Masucci