Vol 7, Num 15 :: 2008.07.25 — 2008.09.12
I’ve had a whole lot of time this year to think about a whole lot of things. July is the one-year mark for the life experiment I began when I left my job teaching English and Social Justice to high school students in Woodbridge, Ontario, and moved with my husband an hour-and-a-half west to Kitchener-Waterloo.
Much has happened since that time. Jordan quit his job and started his own company. We got a dog. We joined a gym. I started taking my writing more seriously. I applied to graduate school. We took a photography course. I went to Arizona. We went to Texas and Oregon. We marked the five-year anniversary of our marriage. I took a rug hooking class. I took a Spanish class. We bought our first house. We renovated our first house. I learned how to make goat cheese quiche. I started cleaning for the Mennonites. All told, it has been a busy twelve months. And now, this fall will mean grad school and changing leaves, first frosts and warm soup. It is eighty degrees outside, but I can already see the sky darkening and the flowers curling into humus all around me.
My decision to take a year off was (until the publication of these words, obviously) a very personal one. As I said, it was meant to be an experiment of sorts, but perhaps a different kind than one might first expect. It wasn’t necessarily a financial experiment—my husband and I are already schooled in being “creative” in that department. It wasn’t exactly a career move, although that was certainly part of it on some level. Frankly, when it comes down to it, I just wanted to see what would happen if I was given a whole year—a big slab of un-carved marble, a hunk of rough wood, a monolithic sheet of stark white paper—to play with. I wanted to see what would happen if I finally let go of the rigmarole, if I were to purposely throw a wrench into my own machinery, so to speak. Could I resist the urge to justify or romanticize my decision to those who questioned my intentions? Could I stand by my own inner leanings, when from the outside my decision might very well look like a purely selfish move? Could I listen to the Quiet Voice regardless of what it looked like on paper or in action? This was my experiment, and admittedly, it has been as scattered and hodge-podge a go as might be expected. And, despite the flailing and falling, it has been downright fulfilling as well.
My first and biggest obstacle has been the consciousness of my own privileged state. “They” (in this rare case, I’m sure I could probably track down a specific study or group of people if necessary) say that if you have loose change in your pocket, you are wealthier than 90% of the world’s population. I can’t seem to get this statistic, vague and flawed as it might be, out of my mind. Most of me understands that one’s quality of life is not necessarily directly dependant on one’s material wealth, and that many quote-unquote “impoverished” peoples have a higher quality of life in many respects than the average American, but, this year especially, it has been hard for me to legitimize my actions when I know that so many people would give anything for the two-bedroom-running-water-full-tummy luxury that I bask in on a daily basis. And still others—and I’m talking doctors and lawyers and racecar drivers—would give anything for the wealth of time and flexibility that I currently have. So yes, it has been a year of wealth for me, no matter which way you turn it.
Beyond all linear reasons and validations, and all rubrics that might quantify what I did, what I learned, and who I became in this year aside, I continue to have the pressing feeling that this yearlong life experiment was somehow necessary. Why, I can’t tell you. How this year has made me into a better, stronger person is hard to say. I cannot imagine the reality in which I acted differently, nor can I imagine the consequences of doing so. Perhaps I would have landed the perfect job. Perhaps I would be more confused than ever. I don’t know why I did what I did, except that I just had to do it.
Perhaps the most obvious conclusion that can be reached in light of this experiment is that the battle between the left and right hemispheres of my brain—the analytical and intuitive—is as strong as ever. If I were to admit to one concrete goal this year, it would be that I am desperately trying to trust my intuition as much as I do my analytical skills. Why does this matter so much to me? Why? Because I want a world where more people feel free enough to back away from the little picture and gauge their reality through a less reductionistic lens. I want to believe that it is possible to find happiness and security in a lifestyle that prioritizes values over financial stability or social mores. I want to believe that it is possible to live by one’s ideals, despite the cynics who will write such a philosophy off as selfish, immature or misguided. I want to believe that there are still people out there who are willing to do what they feel in their hearts that they must do, regardless of how misunderstood and misjudged they will be because of it. And so I figured if I want all of this to be true in the world, then I’d darn well better start living like I mean it.
In that same spirit and one year later, I am now trying to steer clear of a way of thinking that forces me to come up with an outcome, a conclusion, or a list of goals achieved for this year “away” from 9 to 5 society. I don’t rest easy on the tales of Thoreau and his famed Walden Pond; rather, I rejoice in the rumors that he went to town often during that time, buying food and supplies and talking the ears off the townspeople. We’re human, after all, and ideologies are proven through our failed attempts to manifest them in our lives. Once again, the exception proves the rule, and it seems it’s ours to choose which rules we want to live by. We are here to live on this earth, and whether we live fully or partially, unconsciously or intentionally, is up to us. Our realities do not consist of fixed marks of the pains and pleasures that will happen to us on this earth, our fates not fat bowling balls thrown at us from the strong sweaty arm of Ms. Destiny. We are not thickheaded, automaton zombies. We are pilgrims here, capable of much joy and mirth, gifted with the capacity to pass such Love around to those we come in contact with. So yeah, if I have to encapsulate my year of learning into one rigid box, I’d say that was what it was all about: bearing witness to the bloody battle between the automaton and the pilgrim inside me, and doing everything I could do to cheer on the pilgrim.
Fact is, I really don’t want to waste my time here. I could be gone tomorrow, and I don’t want to die with a heart consumed by credit card bills and old dirty grudges. I could live another 90 years, and the sentiment would be the same. Life is but a breath, and I want to feel it hot and musky on my frame, not trapped impotently in lungs clogged with fearful self-preservation. So what have I learned this year? Same thing I always knew, I guess, but I sure needed a refresher: BE HERE NOW, Katie. And when NOW is over, be here then, too.