On Planning a Life
As a puppy, no matter how hard I tried to coax her, Kiri would never lay at my feet under my desk while I was writing.
It was part of the image I had in my mind: The writer and her dog. The productive and warm, fuzzy mornings with a mug of coffee and a buzzing computer. The quiet afternoons of revision, before the kids tumbled in the front door finished with school. I would bake, and make nourishing dinners.
I tried that for a couple of years. It didn’t work out.
Now Kiri is well over 15, and lying beside me, on the small oriental rug here in my tiny library. But this is not what I imagined.
My children are grown, and have moved out.
And I’ve moved out. Started over again, first on my own, then with a new partner. I would say that nothing has gone according to plan, but the truth is there was never a plan, only an image.
The question I had put to myself all those years is what do you want to be? Rather than what are you going to do?
In some ways, I am grateful for that. For what spontaneity has added to my life. The unexpected is always an adventure. I think it has made me braver than I might otherwise have been. I learned lessons, some very hard (some very hard on the people in my life).
But regrets are a waste of time. Even in hindsight, one can never really know what the results would have been from having made a different choice, at any juncture.
Many years ago, my best friend bought me a print by the artist Brian Andreas:
“If you hold on to the handle, she said, it is easier to maintain the illusion of control. But it’s more fun if you just let the wind carry you.” – Brian Andreas
It is a philosophy I have only half-embraced. I’ve usually used it to comfort myself when I’m faced with my own failure to achieve that “image”–however fuzzy–I’ve had in the back of my mind.
It seems odds with the now-ubiquitous line from Mary Oliver’s poem “The Sumer Day”:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
But these are only the final lines. There is more to the poem:
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
(from “The Summer Day”. Mary Oliver)
I never planned to pay attention. But, suddenly, this seems like a very good idea. Instead of dwelling on the past, looking to define lessons-learned and outline regrets, it might be smart to catch up with myself: to pay attention to the present.
Instead of stumbling backwards into the unexpected, to walk face-first with an open mind into the days.
I recently finished Diana Nyad‘s memoir Find a Way. She writes that with age and wisdom comes balance. I would guess this also means the balance between planning and achieving. Following the failure of her fourth attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida, she celebrates:
The journey has been inordinately worthwhile, the destination be dammed (for one night anyway). – Diana Nyad
Pick up. Learn from mistakes. Plan: then pay attention to every stroke, every moment.
There are so many things in life that are obviously not under our control. But where we put our attention is not one of them.