In Korea, there is a tradition at the baby's 100th day celebration to put three objects before a baby and whichever one he/she crawls toward and picks is supposed to designate the bright future. Usually, the choices include things like "doctor" (stethoscope), "incredibly rich" (a dollar bill), or "so smart" (a really really heavy dictionary). Of course, we tend to neglect the seedier other possible outcomes of people's lives (I was going to name a few of these possible objects, but that got dark real fast, so I decided to desist)...which would really solve a lot of problems in retrospect if the 100-day fortune-telling extravaganza had any sort of actual power.
When we're in kindergarten, we're asked "what do you want to be when you grow up?" as if kids have any idea at all. My sister said she wanted to be a chemist, mostly because she thought it involved mixing pretty-colored liquids and poofing mysterious clouds out of beakers. Which, actually, might be true. I don't 100% know what goes on in the labs of chemists.
The whole idea of being a part of some team to save the world always appealed to me. And it was always in the realm of possibility. It didn't help that in the Captain Planet theme song, they chant "We're the Planeteers! You can be one too!" My five-year old self would jump up and say "Yeah! How! How?" I didn't get at the time that they just meant, "Hey you can be a Planeteer by recycling and taking care of the Earth like us!" How boring. I just wanted a cool ring imbued with elemental powers.
"What am I doing with my life" is certainly a litany I've repeated many a time in the past few years. Sometimes in our lives, we put ourselves on a plan that has one track and concentrate on finishing that to the best of our ability because we're scared to think of what happens if we get off track or when the tracks end.
I hate being asked what my five-year, ten-year plan is. I also hate being asked that if I could be doing anything right now, regardless of money or any other factor, what it is that I'd be doing. I don't hate these questions because I think they're irrelevant or idiotic. These are legitimate questions and it's good to set goals or have some sort of direction in your life, even if it's as vague as saying you want to be happy.
I think I hate these questions more because of a fear. It's a fear that I don't actually know what's to come. And it's a fear that my life right now is not satisfying. The asking of these questions always seem to come with an implication that there is something lacking in the present...And I'm not good at feeling that way. I'm not used to caring how other people view my life. I'm a generally happy person and sometimes I don't understand why I'm being asked about a five-year plan or what I'd rather be doing right now other than what I'm actually doing.
I've found that what I want out of life doesn't come down to a cottage by the sea or an early retirement or a prestigious position in an orchestra. It doesn't come to the fulfillment of my degree or the assurance that I haven't wasted my time and money in an art school. It doesn't come to a life of living well to spite someone else.
This is what I want: I want to find out how I can capture that fleeting beauty I see in the world and share it with people, whether that means it's words, music, or time. I want to immerse myself in books and writing and transcend anything I could accomplish on my own. I want to talk quantum physics and traverse those unseen dimensions and transfigure myself through literary and imaginary rabbit/wormholes. I want to give more in relationships. I want to acknowledge "ugly" emotions and round out my character. I want the joy of sprinting and then taking a flying leap, arms stretched toward the sun. I want to play music with people and connect with them, our bodies moving in unison -- moved by the unseen (dimension?) and losing my tone inside of their note and creating a blended sound that wouldn't be possible alone. I want to stand before a tumultuous applauding crowd and take an unironic, sweeping bow. I want my mom to be happy. I want to be present for the crisp inhalation of autumn air that contracts and makes my lungs feel alive. I want to be present for those summer nights where the Seattle skyline gets closer and closer while we drive across the bridge and I can put out a hand to grasp the wind.
I want someone to sit and talk with when I'm 86 and I can complain about my old joints with. Maybe talk about how great Mario Kart N64 was (is and always will be) or the time we thought Twinkies were gone forever. I want those quiet moments on the bus at night, where I'm watching the streets go by and listening to the hum and slice of the streetcar wires above me. I want to learn how to ride a bike. I want to do things I didn't think I liked, to find the pleasure of proving myself wrong. I want high-fives from strangers and food in my stomach. I want humor and outbursts of too-loud laughter, good memories that aren't tainted by bad moments, and bad memories that aren't corrupted by regret but a realization of who I was and who I became. I want to smile often. Drink coffee. To mean it when I say (and say often), "I'm happy to know you". "I'm happy to see you". "You make my life better".
I want to continue teaching through the non-profit I work for, giving kids music because I never would have had flute if I hadn't been on the receiving end as a kid. I want to find like-minded people to play music with. I want to be excited about being in green rooms. I want plans for myself and for plans I wouldn't have thought of to be shared with me. I want to be captured beautifully in a photograph once. I want to capture so many people beautifully in photographs. I want to be irrevocable at one instance. Someone's instance, maybe. I want to make people laugh and be happy and be able to see happiness in themselves and find value in who they are and what they do. I want to resonate.
I do realize though that my desire to be satisfied with who I am may very well be limiting my life in itself. And perhaps all of these things are well and good, but obviously lacking in career or stable goals, or filled with a namby-pamby amorphousness that avoids the issue. Nor am I lambasting concrete future plans or disregarding the sort of responsibility life and taxes and rent all entail. Maybe the lack of concrete desire means there's no impetus or forward momentum to my life. Maybe I'm stagnant. Maybe I'm wasting my life or disappointing what I could have been. And there is something to be said for a life where I'm not living hand to mouth.
Next time you ask me about my five-year plan, I'll try to convey these things to you. Or maybe I'll give you a future step-by-step plan that sounds impressive even if I have little confidence to adhere to it.
I think a bit of fear and uncertainty in life is good; it means we dare. And to you, you reader, I'll say this: I'm happy to know you.