Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Free to Be

Growing up, I wasn't a girl who imagined her wedding day. If asked I would have said, yeah, I planned on having a husband and children, and sure I’ll have a wedding someday. But if I'd been asked a single detail—location, attendants, kind of flowers, cake, dress, groom, color of flowers, cake, dress, groom—I wouldn't have had an answer. For an entire decade I couldn’t have even specified the sex of the “groom.” I’ve never been a big “imagine my future” kind of person. The main way I’m aware of having expectations of things—events, people, situations—is when they fail to live up. That way you get knocked flat on your ass with disappointment—totally unaware!—on a regular basis. And if you’ve never pictured the future, it’s difficult to know whether you yourself are living up. Living up to what? Exactly.

If a person doesn’t know what she’s working toward, how will she be motivated to get anywhere? If you aren’t clear on what you wish for, how will you know to jump up and down when it arrives? If you’ve never envisioned what you want in a mate, how will you know when the right person emails you on Before I met Dr. Fiancé, I dismissed such questions with a wave of my hand and a plugging of my ears. My parents raised me to be spontaneous, noting that life takes us in directions we never could have imagined. Careers will involve tasks and technologies not even invented yet, and friendships and love affairs will occur with people we couldn’t have dreamed up. It’s the creative writing approach ... what do you mean outline? (The plugging of the ears came from the nagging notion that other peoples’ ways through life are the right way and since I can be quite a good outliner, fully capable of making a to-do list and getting deep satisfaction from crossing things off the list—preferably with a fat Sharpie, maybe I was kidding myself thinking that the creative approach was the best one for me. That is to say, I was plugging my ears against something I didn't want to consider.)

Beyond college, I had no plan other than to “live my life,” whatever that meant. When I was in second grade everyone in class had to draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up. The drawings would be made into slides and projected onto the wall of the cafetorium as we sang “When We Grow Up” as part of a school-wide performance of Free to Be You and Me. My classmates drew doctors and pilots and railroad engineers. I stared at the blank page wondering, “How do you draw nothing? And will I get in trouble if I don’t make something up?” It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be something or was convinced I wouldn’t live to see 29—I just couldn’t put my desires into words, much less pictures. I wanted to be a mom, but that clearly wasn’t what the song was getting at. Beyond that I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up and I didn’t want to hem myself in. Also, I'd kind of taken the title of the show to heart and didn't want to become something so much as to just be myself. In the end, I drew a teacher.

Dr. Fiancé and I have been engaged for three months and besides the type and color of groom, I don’t have answers about what our wedding will be like. Other than the ridiculously poufy dress I bought at Goodwill, I haven't specified—can't even imagine—the details. This probably has less to with my penchant for not outlining my life and more to do with Dr. Fiancé and I having a lot of stuff to sort out before we’ll be ready to have—much less plan—a wedding (and by “stuff” I mean that we have to figure out whether we can find a way to resolve conflicts without giving each other an ulcer or a bad case of manic-depression). But maybe if I could picture the event—or perhaps the shared life together after the event—I could calm down and have faith that we will have a life together. Can I not picture our wedding because we’re going to break up and I’m psychic (who knew?!) and for a psychic to be able to picture an occurrence, the occurrence has to eventually occur? Can you imagine how exhausting it is being me? Can you imagine how exhausting it is being my fiancé?

I’m 33 years old and apparently grew up to be a writer—a writer who writes on a laptop—an image I couldn't have drawn in second grade because laptops didn't exist in 1982. I also, obviously, couldn't have drawn a blog because Al Gore hadn't invented the internet yet. In a few weeks I’ll be teaching creative writing to high school kids, and though I don’t have the semester planned out, I do know this: I will not ask them to write about what they want to be when they grow up. I will not ask them to write about how they imagine their life at age 33. I will not ask them to write an outline, and chances are I will not make them sing. I do reserve the right to ask them to draw things—just not things in the future. Unless they’re psychic—which will make for a very interesting year.

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