The art of being Californian, it seems, is to cultivate a loose-limbed insouciance while secretly working away like a frantic ant.

--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


I realized last week that come this time next year (if the Mayans are wrong), I don't know what my life will look like. I don't know where I will be living. I don't know what kind of work (if any) I will be doing. I don't know who my friends will be. I don't know where my son will be going to school. January of 2013 is one giant blank.

I do know that I won't be in Monterey anymore. I do know that wherever I will be, I will have been there for a few months by the start of 2013. I know that my son will be in 3rd grade. I know that I will still have all my old friends; they just may not live close enough to come over for dinner on a Tuesday night. I know that I will be doing something with my time and am considering more grad school, adjunct teaching, pouring wine, writing, or all of the above.

Since I know I will be moving this year, I am beginning to implement some measures so that a sort of infrastructure will sort of be in place wherever I may actually (not sort of) end up. This requires a bit of imagination since the world is a wide space with many and diverse places for people like me to reside. I know my son will still need to be educated, so I am applying to various schools all over the nation now. I know that I will want to do something with my time, so I am looking at various low-residency graduate programs and what the job market looks like in places around the world. I am very very busy, trying to chart the course of my life in the distant future without any real idea of where I'll end up in the short term. It's like outlining the sailing route from Hawaii to Guam, but you haven't left San Diego harbor and have no idea how you'll actually get out of the harbor much less to Hawaii.

Long-term planning without any idea of the short-term situation. This is how my adult life has always operated. This is how military life is for spouses. We bounce around from place to place and invent ourselves anew wherever we end up, using whatever happens to be lying around in that new location. There isn't a whole lot of continuity for military families. Change, change, and more change. Life is doled out in 18-month increments with giant blanks at the end of the time. We never know for sure where we'll be until we are there. I think that in "old times" (as my son says), this life wasn't so disruptive. Military families formed community with other military families. There were military supported schools for the kids; spouses served an overt support role for the family without seeking a career outside the military structure. I don't want to go back to those "old times"; I like having a life outside of the military. However, being a spouse now with outside interests and personal goals has its own set of special challenges and frustrations. Especially because you just can't plan or commit to anything that goes beyond that 18-month duty station.

I fantasize that most people don't live in a constant state of flux like this. I imagine that for most people, there is a few upheaval-type events that unexpectedly and forever alter their lives but for the most part, they get to pick and choose how and when their lives change. Intentionally is how I see others doing things. I see them examining the move to the job in Akron that has better pay. Weighing the pros and cons of such a drastic move. Then making it or not making it. The whole time knowing that they have a choice in the matter. They have options that they consider, intentionally. They settle into the neighborhood or don't, intentionally. They find a career path or don't, intentionally. They have children or don't and put them in the good schools or don't, intentionally. They save or don't, intentionally. Then they retire or don't, intentionally. They do their time in life, intentionally.

Intentionally and with some sort of agency. There are plans. Plans that can change, but mostly made with the comfort of knowing that if the plans do change, you--not random outside forces you can't control--are the ones making the changing. My imaginary people are orchestrating their lives. Not the other way around.

The other way around where life orchestrate them. Life orchestrates me. And this is where I realize that there are two sort of connected yet very different things I am addressing in this blog. One is that I move a lot and it's hard to plan life. I wish I could stop there and then end with some sort of happy message that I am going to intentionally be more intentional in my life, intending from now on to find joy and meaning and agency in the moment rather than stressing about the future. With that ending, I get to be the triumphant victim.

But then there's the other topic of this blog. I do move a lot. It is hard to plan life, but honestly, I think I often use these as excuses to just let life happen to me without really engaging in it. It's weird to realized that I have spent more than a decade doing life as it comes rather than designing and implementing a long-term plan with set goals along the way. It's also weird to realize that on the whole, I've been very successful at it. I have lots of little life boxes checked, some more than once, that on paper look as if I've been very intentional about how my life runs. However, that is a lie. If you start to line up the boxes to form a coherent picture of my life's whole, you'd see that nothing really adds up. I don't have any real marketable skills to put on a resume. I'm the overeducated, hipster, yuppie equivalent of a drifter, wandering around, working/living with whatever appears at that moment. Very little (if any) thought goes into things. I just take it as it comes and end up somewhere without a single intentional goal.

Intentionality being the key term here. I assume that when you have the ability to chose the when, the where, the how, and the why of your life's direction a lot of intentionality goes into those choices. I think I've only done one thing in my life on purpose after weighing the pros and cons. Everything else, I just sort of went with whatever life tossed at me and then later realized that I've made some pretty huge choices by accident. I am not a victim at all, triumphant or otherwise: I am someone who has chosen to let life happen to her.

I can't figure out if I should be stoked that my life has been so free. Or horrified by how little agency I've given myself in what I do and where I am.

I do know that this year I'm frustrated with it (I always thought that if I were a true drifter, I would have lived in cooler places than Pensacola, Florida). I know that I'm tired of feeling like Oedipa Maas, cool name aside, frenetically running around chasing a spector of a life with little to no effect.

However, while all these realization are all well and good, certain circumstances in my life are not about to change in the short-term (or maybe they are . . . who knows). I will not be able to make that sudden move to Akron this spring (for one, who wants to leave California for Ohio? and two, I have no job prospects there, well-paying or not). I won't be able to pick the city/state/country where I live this time around. I won't really get all that much of a say where my son goes to school if we don't end up in San Diego. I won't be starting a career this year. I will be saying goodbye (and already am this month) to some amazing friends here in Monterey.

So what can I do? How do I afford myself some agency in all this uncertainty? How do I navigate a short-term future that is devoid of content and can't necessarily be filled in until this summer (or later)?

I don't really know how to answer those questions. And even if I did, I don't think that there would be some drastic difference in the short-term with how my life looks on the outside. In fact, I don't think there would be any noticable outside changes. Rather, my internal geography would shift. I would have agency. I would be purposeful in what I do. Life wouldn't just happen.

I would trust and do good. Not on accident but intentionally.