One of the childhood memories that comes back to me most frequently is the memory of declaring, to my mother, that what I wanted above all in my life was to be good. This replaced a previous need to be famous, which I thought was essential to changing the world. “Define world,” I might say to my younger self now, “Define change.” But it doesn’t matter, anyway. What I realised, somehow, provoked by an insight I can’t remember, was that what I really wanted was to be a happy person, with enough happiness to go around to anyone and everyone. Yup, it’s a vague goal (but noble, right?!).
I’ve been thinking a lot about plans, lately. A small handful of my friends are excellent planners. They seem to be blessed with an intensely clear vision of what their lives should look like, and, most importantly, what they must do for it all to fall into place. I always thought I wasn’t like them. What I thought about myself was this: I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know! And when I occasionally felt that I did know (know what to do, what I wanted, where I wanted to be, etc.), I frequently found myself in a situation where the universe/fate/circumstance seemed to have something else in mind. I have never really suffered the existential boredom that lots of people I know swim into at some point in their lives—which leads them to make unexpected decisions and journeys. Even as a kid, I don’t recall being bored much (I’ll have to ask my mother to confirm this). I wasn’t like the writer Joseph Epstein, whose mother replies to a complaint of boredom that a person ought to, “[…] knock your head against the wall. It’ll take your mind off your boredom.” (An apt metaphorical epithet for what some people might characterise as the problem of my generation…) Ok, so knocking your head against a wall won’t get you anywhere—though it might shake loose some more productive ideas a few seconds before a self-inflicted concussion is suffered.
I guess the main thing to pull out of the jumble above is this: I wasn’t bored, because there was always something to do. But I didn’t think I was a planner, because I rarely sat myself down and considered what I really wanted to do with my life. (On an explanatory side note I’d add this: one of my regular dreams is to have a house with a large garden to call my own, and large amounts of time to spend turning that garden into something magical, and then spending the next years, decades, watching it grow. It hasn’t happened, yet, and maybe the reason why this wish is so strong is that I want to feel settled, and stop feeling as though time is always at my heels.)
And still, all the while, plans and ideas and visions and dreams have been fermenting away somewhere inside of me. I clearly wasn’t letting life just “happen” to me.
I’m an extremely, frequently irritatingly, impatient person. I am impatient with others, with the pace of change, with the change of the seasons, and above all, with myself. I often find myself falling into the trap of believing that something I want to do won’t ever happen if it doesn’t happen right now. That’s why running has been such an achievement in my eyes: I always wanted to run, but the initial pain and discomfort always dissuaded me. I wanted to feel good! Now! But now I realise that good things are often slow to materialise. Especially those good things that are made to last, or those that bring changes that leave lasting impressions. Sometimes, I remind myself now, I just need to wait and wait some more.
Making plans for my life (even though, as they say, “Humans plan and god laughs”) and working toward them, and enjoying the journey, is a stronghold against impatience and frustration. Both of those are inevitable in my life, I know this for sure—but maybe the strength of the journey will help overcome the fear of not knowing.
One more thought on impatience and boredom (again via Joseph Epstein’s essay on the subject): ‘”I have discovered that all evil comes from this,” wrote Pascal, “man’s being unable to sit still in a room.”‘ Not sit still forever, I might add, but just for a moment, just while the dust settles. xo