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On not getting what you want
When I lived in the Bay I would go for a walk around the neighborhood every night. It would always be right after the end of the day as people were coming back from work, pulling into their driveways, someone inside with the light on was always waiting for them and most of the time, children ran outside to greet whoever was stepping out of the car. For years I took these walks around all the different neighborhoods I lived in and every day I felt puzzled by this simple but powerful thing—a home with people in it.
I’d stroll past, watching this take place, the repetition, the pattern, the timing. I found it fascinating. The mundaneness of their lives was so obvious and I was also a participant in it—daily post work walks before making dinner, the one watching from the outside wondering how did those people get here. That was my own pattern. I’d observe them and catch them talking and putting forks up to their mouths and I wondered what they were talking about. What had work been like for the husband that day and how had the kids behaved for her and how did they do this every day and not lose their minds. Were they still in love? Were they happy? Is this what they chose? How could they manage this life? I both envied them and felt sorry for them. A whole world was outside and they were living out their weeks like this, work, dinner, kids, bed, tv, sleep, repeat. The houses became boxes to me and I thought, how strange that we live like this. And yet the only real difference between us was that I hadn’t gotten what I wanted, or at least what I thought I wanted.
I think most of us learn this the hard way but sometimes it’s good to not get what you want. I’ve wanted many things that in the long run would have hurt me and thank goodness they never came to pass. We grow up being influenced from our parents, our friends, what we see on TV and often attach our values to a desired outcome. If I can get X then it means Y. Maybe because I’ve just lost my job and am in the process of leaving another apartment and as such am living in an open ended question—what will happen to me and what will it mean. It’s perhaps not surprising that it’s made me think a lot about things I have wanted and haven’t gotten and how sometimes that can be the best outcome. What do we want and why? How much of what we think we want is influenced by old beliefs or toxic beliefs or ideas we had as children, or because we were taught that X held a certain value. As we grow older, what is most important to us also changes. Have you ever asked yourself not only what you want, but why you want it? What will getting it really do for you?
I’ve found a lot of what I wanted growing up I still do, the basic stuff most everyone wants I think–love, security, real connection with people who make our lives better and make us better, a fulfilling career that makes good use of my short time on this earth and in the best case scenario maybe makes the world a tiny bit better and that’s about it. But lately I’ve been thinking about what we think we want, and what we actually want. They are two very different things.
I’ve found like most things, there’s an under layer to what is top of mind for us and that lower layer contains all the real stuff, what we truly value. I’ve pretty consistently made choices that have led me to having a more adventurous less driveway kind of a life. As much as I’ve complained about this to myself and to some friends, I just want stability I just want x and y, so much of what I fought so hard for in my 20’s and early 30’s were things I wanted because I was supposed to want them, because I knew nothing else, because it felt comfortable to want X when really what I wanted was something I couldn’t envision or maybe even something I didn’t think possible.
I remember so vividly walking past those homes with the people in it and wanting to run as fast as I could. I wanted to run home, pack a backpack and go straight to SFO and get on a flight going anywhere, I didn’t care where, I just wanted be someplace else, to know that I could run, to be someone who didn’t take the same boring evening walks and ask the same questions. Of course now, years later I realize it wasn’t so much that I was wondering how they got all the wonderful things that they had, but was contending with the fact that in my heart I both wanted to be the woman with the unpredictable life and also the one turning on the lights from the inside.
So, as I pack up my books and belongings, I have no idea what will become of my life and as much as I complain about how scary this is and how frightened I actually am, there is a part of me that enjoys not knowing what will happen. I’m reminded of one of my favorite Leonard Cohen quotes that I read when I go through something really jostling and painful, “If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be seasick every day.”
As I’ve written about before, we are a future predicting species, one that for good survival reasons, takes great comfort in predictability and security. On the other hand, as I also write about in that piece, a fundamental part of life—not just on Earth but the nature of the universe—is chaos. Things devolve and it is the nature of the cosmos to do so. To some, chaos might look like a family around a table in the suburbs, or a writer packing up her New York apartment. Or maybe it’s just about what we want to see and why.