As a child the concept of “my future” was regulated to questions like, “what do you want for lunch?” or “Would you like to go to 31 Flavors after school today?” The future seemed not that far off, like Disneyland. I knew it was nearby, but I couldn’t tell you exactly how to get there or how long it might take due to traffic. The future was often a suspenseful thing, like not knowing what was going to happen next week on Dynasty. The only time I recall being asked the standard “what do you want to be when you grow up” was in school and being forced to either write or draw about it. I learned quickly that being honest in these situations would just mean doing the project over again. Acceptable answers included but were not limited too – veterinarian, schoolteacher, astronaut, mom, doctor or dentist. I think other kids in my class had caught on. I am pretty sure that no child dreams of dentistry.
My answer was always the same. “singer/actor”. The SLASH in between was very important because it signified that both singer and actor were on equal footing, both equally important. You would never ask Judy Garland if she was an actor or a singer would you? In my mind the two went hand and hand. I was raised on black and white musical comedies, so I knew that all actors had to be able to sing AND dance. You could not possibly be one without the other.
My scaled down answer of “singer/actor” was like I said, a compromise. It was an acceptable answer to the question presented before me. When I had written things like “Ginger Rogers” or “Lady who wears pretty dresses and twirls around on cruise ships” I was told that these were not real things a little girl can grow up to be. So I was told that being an actor or singer was a viable career option for a little girl in Southern California. I might have been better off trying to be Ginger Rogers.
The future also presented itself in the form of a board game that my mother refused to purchase for us. I would like to think that she was looking out for us and didn’t want to limit our little imaginations to stuffy ideas of being a grown up. But, I think the real reason was that the game contained many tiny pieces and required a minimal amount of putting together and my mother was not interested in the putting together of things. This was the game of LIFE. I marveled at this game when I visited my friend’s homes. This game had a spinner. This game had dice. This game allowed you to go to college and have pink and blue children. This game allowed and encouraged you to be as normal as possible. I hated it.
What fun was it to play a gamed based on your mom and dad? And College? That is something that we never talked about in our house. It simply was not an option for my future. A job was something that my brother had to have in order to get a car. So, naturally I figured that if I didn’t want a car I wouldn’t need one. And children? Well, let’s just say that my fantasy future filmed in black and white taking place on exotic beaches featuring me wearing a sarong waiting for a handsome leading man to come and have witty repartee with me was not accentuated by kids.
As I got older I had the nagging sense that my future was gaining on me. I saw that my friends were all “planning” theirs. What college they would go to and what classes they needed to take to get into said college. My friends all studied for the SAT’s and I was woken up on a Saturday morning and told to go take it. I was annoyed that I had to take the dang thing since I was going to Jr. College and it was not required for admittance. To this day I have no idea what I scored on that joke of a test.
To me, the future seemed to be a lot of hoop jumping and fancy semantics. Not much different than when I was a five year old being asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. There were acceptable answers now as well. Mine ended up being – “I am going to PCC for a couple of years to get my GE credits out of the way and then transfer. It’s way cheaper than going straight to a four year school”. My real answer was much simpler: I DON’T KNOW. “I don’t know” made parents nervous. It conjured images of slacking off and living in their basements forever. Parent’s worldwide cringed when those words came out of their little baby’s mouth and they saw a life of explaining that little Timmy was just working at the Burger Palace temporarily until his transcripts got sorted.
I learned to lie and stall for time. I ended up spending about ten years at PCC, and I actually consider it a major part of my education. I took every English class that was offered from Gothic Literature and Horror to Utopian and Dystopian Literature. I took short story writing and analysis and poetry. I took philosophy, film and whatever else did not have math involved. I enjoyed it. I occasionally had fantasies of going off to a “real” school but I didn’t really see the point in it. By this point my future seemed pretty clear – find a job, a man and settle down.
So here I am in Prague many years later. I tried living the “future” that was expected of me, but it just didn’t fit. It was kind of like watching Cameron Diaz play a role that requires an accent and period clothing. You just don’t believe it for a second. Now I am living a life that is as completely off the grid as I could have gotten. But that’s the thing with the future, right? You can plan all you want but you really have no control over any of it. You have no way of knowing what life will hold ten years down the line, much less six months. Better to just loosen up on those reigns there, cow poke.
I know a lot of people in their mid twenties here in Prague, and the majority of them at one time or another have said something like this: I have to go back to the states and start my real life. This has always bothered me, the concept of beginning your “real life”. It’s as if you are saying, “I am not accountable now. I take no responsibility for my life up to this point”. And that is just a cop out. Your life is going on right now. You don’t have to achieve anything in particular in order for your life to begin. Getting a Master’s Degree or a BA does not magically make your life begin. Getting married, as I can attest, does not constitute the beginning of your life. Having a great job or a man that will take care of you is not the beginning of your life. Your life is NOW.
Each second of my day I consider another chance to make my life awesome. When I decide, “I’ll fix this toilet myself instead of calling my boyfriend or landlord” I have chosen to live my own life. Every choice I make every day is just another chance to live my life rather than just wait for the future to happen to me. Being a husband, wife, mother, father – these are all just job titles. You are you – living – no matter what roles you have decided to play out. Your REAL LIFE began the moment you came out all gross and goo covered straining for air.
So? I ask you this – what are you waiting for? Are you waiting for someone to rescue you from your life? Are you waiting to be saved? Cause, I got news for you – that just doesn’t work. I have been there. When you let someone “take care of you” you are just creating more problems for yourself. Not to mention you are just deluding yourself and the person who thinks they are helping you. A real friend is the person who says – okay. You have a problem. Let’s figure out what YOU can do to fix it. Anyone who wants to swoop in and save the day and is not wearing a pair of Super Hero tights is just a normal person who needs to feel important. It saves no one. There is that old adage about giving a man a fish or teaching him to fish. I try to remember that as often as possible. I like fish.
And, I have to remember that the future is always changing. I am always changing. What I wanted from life now is not the same as what I wanted from life when I was five. And that’s probably a good thing. If I still wanted to be a mermaid who can walk on shore to get candy then, I might have a problem. My fantasy future now involves me sitting at a huge mahogany desk flooded with natural light streaming in from the window next to it. My two very sophisticated children who enjoy reading, coloring and dancing are scampering about chasing the cat. My husband is not far off in the kitchen preparing a savory meal for us to enjoy that will celebrate the publication of my first book.
I wish there was an alternate version of “The Game of Life” one where you land on a square and take cards that say:
“You have an ephiany! Move ahead three spaces.”
“You choose not to go to college and piss off mom and dad. Move forward one square and back 2 for 10 years.”
“You tell your husband you love him just because. Move ahead.”
“Your future is constantly changing. Close your eyes and point to a square. Move there.”
Instead of Bankruptcy you have the option of squeaking by but being really happy in your life. The only way to loose at The New and Improved Game of Life is to let someone else pay your way, do your thinking and make excuses for you. If you are the kind of person that either thinks it’s okay to let someone clean up your messes, or cleans up those messes then…move back three spaces and think. Think. This is life. My life. I can either start fishing or wait to be fed. I can either be a fishing instructor or the guy on the corner handing out free fish samples to people who are to lazy to figure it out themselves.
I know. There really isn’t a guy who stands on the corner doing that. But you get the point. And this is my life – I make the rules.