Resolved

My life is no longer a giant cloud of possibilities…so how do I make sure it’s all worth it?

Me and my dad, and a big Scarry book.

I never used to make New Year’s resolutions until I moved to San Francisco, away from home. Now I go back for a week or two over Christmas, and when I return, everything feels new and different and refreshed–maybe it has to do with being 40 degrees warmer? I don’t know. But it’s the perfect time to declare a change.

So I started making New Year’s resolutions. Like everyone else, I’ve stuck to some and I never started others. I resolved to read more during my commute, and I did. I resolved to cook one new recipe a week, and I didn’t. New Year’s resolutions are now one of my favorite parts of the holidays. The list-making, the hope, the determination to rise up above your guilt, the decision to be better instead of resigning to sameness.

And I think I have a really good resolution for this year: I’m going to write a book.

Lately I’ve been thinking about an article I read years ago called “A Short Lesson in Perspective” about work and life and death (you know, a light read) by Linds Redding, who worked in Advertising, like I used to, and wrote this before he died of cancer:

Countless late nights and weekends, holidays, birthdays, school recitals and anniversary dinners were willingly sacrificed at the altar of some intangible but infinitely worthy higher cause. It would all be worth it in the long run…

This was the con. Convincing myself that there was nowhere I’d rather be was just a coping mechanism. I can see that now. It wasn’t really important. Or of any consequence at all really. How could it be. We were just shifting product. Our product, and the clients. Just meeting the quota. Feeding the beast as I called it on my more cynical days.

So was it worth it?

Well of course not. It turns out it was just advertising.”

This notion of worth, which seems to be everywhere lately, from Radiolab podcasts to mustachioed woodworking actors, has me thinking about what it means to live a life that’s worth it to me.

I was recently joking with a friend about how we’re old enough now that there are some things in life we know we’ll never do. I’m never going to be a backup dancer, for example. I’ll never play an ingénue on Broadway. I’ll never become a jazz pianist. Some things I’ll never do because of my age or my looks, and some things I’ll never do because I’m honestly not taking any steps toward doing that thing (intro piano lessons, for example.)

When I was young, nothing was totally off the table. I had been told my whole life that “anything is possible” and “never say never” and “you can be whatever you want if you put your mind to it” (so please stop blaming Millennials for this mindset…we’re just doing what we’re told.) I knew I had time to change my mind, and if I suddenly decided to become an opera singer, I could grab the nearest Viking hat and set off. I allowed my future to be a giant formless cloud of possibilities.

But it’s time I came clean with myself: some things just aren’t going to happen. I’m not going to be a movie actress, because I have no plans toward taking acting lessons or moving to LA or auditioning for roles. And since no one actually gets discovered in grocery stores while singing along to the loudspeaker music (don’t care, still doing it), I’m not going to act with Meryl, I’m not going to thank her in my Oscar acceptance speech, she’s not going to blow a loving two-handed kiss to me from her seat when I look down at her with tears in my eyes, and she has tears, too, because she’s come to see me as a daughter-figure, and she’s just so proud of me.

I'd make a joke and she'd be all

I’d make a joke and she’d be all

It won’t happen. And that’s okay.

Because life is no longer about all the possibilities. I whittled those down for myself, just like everyone in the world does, because no one can really do ALL the things, not even Beyonce (oh I said it. Come and get me, Beygency). It’s no longer about all the possibilities happening some time in the future, it’s about my possibilities, the ones I haven’t whittled down, that could happen now.

Maybe I’m having all these thoughts because I turned 30 and I can already feel my frail, decrepit body crumbling around me. Maybe it’s because I have a coworker who keeps saying she expects me to do something big (I’m starting to suspect she’s in cahoots with my parents and their friends). Maybe it’s because I want to have a kid someday, and according to everyone in the universe, I won’t have free time after that happens. Maybe it’s because of the New Year, and the air of possibilities. Or maybe it’s because, more clearly than ever, I can see my way forward. I can see the things that I want to do that make me feel like my best self.

If I’m not going to win an Oscar, then what am I going to do? Writing a book is something I always saw in my future, but I’ve never taken steps toward doing it. It’s always been a “one day I’ll do that” thing. But, while I don’t have to win an Oscar to declare a worthwhile life, I do feel like I need to write a book.

So all that free time I guess I have, long coveted by new parents and grad students everywhere, which I often spend writing here, will now go toward writing a book. A Young Adult book, to be specific, with a funny female protagonist. That’s all I’ve got. So far so good, I think. Probably should watch 10 seasons of Friends to celebrate my hard work.

Will the book be good? No idea. Will it even get published? Not likely, from what I hear. Do I still envision the New York Times knocking down my door with their bestseller lists and my adoring fans begging me to write the sequel? Obviously.

While I focus my typing fingers on that endeavor, I hope you’ll forgive any lull. I’m not sure what will happen. I imagine I’ll keep writing here, if I find myself with something extra to say. But while I’m taking stock of my life and what I want it to become, I have one clear thing standing in my way, and it appears I need to write myself through it.

How Creative People Become Internet Trolls

This week a friend sent me this amazing collection of photos by Queenie Liao, placing her baby in a series of imaginative scenes like this one:

Photo by Queenie Liao, via www.boredpanda.org

Photo by Queenie Liao, via http://www.boredpanda.org

While I scrolled through the photos, each more creative, colorful, and delightful than the next, I was surprised to realize how quickly my thoughts turned vitriolic:

“Aren’t you supposed to nap when the baby naps?”

“How many of these were ruined with the baby waking up?”

“Well I’m glad you have all kinds of free time and colorful cloth but some of us have jobs.”

“If I had a professional camera I could do that, too. Except I don’t have a baby but…you know. I could use a teddy bear or a sleeping cat.”

These thoughts are rude and assuming. The strangest thing is, as I was thinking all these things, the photos were making me chuckle. I was smiling at the sheer brilliance of it, but inwardly thinking, “How dare you be so creative? How dare you do something I technically could have done?”

Therein lies the problem. I’m not bothered by someone’s success when they do something that I know I can’t or don’t want to do (like climb Mount Everest, paint the Mona Lisa, what have you). But when it’s something I technically could have done—I technically could have thought of that cool idea, I technically could have put those sheets in that position—I get jealous.  And that jealousy spits out of me, lashing at the creative person who has done nothing wrong.

Maybe this sounds crazy or maybe you can relate, but when I get that jealous feeling, suddenly I feel like this person has done the last creative thing and has left nothing for me. There is no space for this person’s awesome creative idea and MY future awesome creative ideas. They hogged it all and now I am left with nothing. It’s not a rational thought, of course. But my irrational jealous brain is terrified that I’ll never do something as cool as what I’m looking at right then. This is why I lash out: if I can take down this person’s creativity, if I can make it seem less great, maybe there is still space for me and my own work.

I imagine some parents looking at these photos feel less worried about their own creativity than their own abilities as parents (my sister recently shared an article about this exact thing, so I will defer to that). As for me, I’m sticking with the creative jealousy track in this post.

If I know internet commenters (and I think I’ve watched enough YouTube videos to say that I do), I was pretty confident that I’d see more than a few trolling comments to Queenie’s photos. I hoped I was wrong and everyone would say only nice things…but I was right. In fact the very first comment is, “mom obviously had nothing else to do LOL” (Don’t you just love passive-aggressive LOLs?) followed by a number of people saying the baby looks dead. Which…what? Have you ever seen a sleeping human being before?

Thankfully, most of the comments about these photos are positive and encouraging. And that is what Queenie deserves. But for perhaps the first time, I think I understand the trolls. I know why they said those things.

I should only be thinking how amazing these photos are and how great they will be to look back on when the baby is older. But instead I can’t help but think, “Well well, Ms. Moneybags. Looks like someone must have stayed up pretty late to make sure these photos looked perfect.” Not only is it mean-spirited, even if it’s in my own head, but it doesn’t help anything. It doesn’t make me more creative. And it also doesn’t give my own creativity any credit, because it’s totally fear-based. Other people can be creative and I can still make something awesome. There is room enough for all of us on this big creative earth.