Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Self Absorbed

The Namesake of my mother says she is going to get on a train this week and move, without job or plan or credit or savings, to New Orleans. She was there exactly once, on a vacation provided by me, years ago before the Storm. I am worried half to death.

I heard a piece on National Public Radio lately where someone mentioned that the defining characteristic of the middle class is choice. I‘ve sadly watched the Namesake chip away at her choices over the years, by dropping countless classes, by opting out of training or education, by pushing friends beyond their limits, by never holding a job for more than a few months. I have been the steady one, holding firm. Although closer to middle age than to childhood, the Namesake is still a sparkling faerie, flitting from flower to flower.

I am most definitely middle class by the npr definition, but perhaps the luxury of choices has been my downfall. Because it occurs to me lately that the Namesake, with her limited options, seems to be happier about, and certainly more open to life than I am. I want to live on the land and raise chickens, be a social worker/ preschool teacher/ chef/ seamstress/ folk singer/ science teacher/ author/ earth-(grand)mother/ nurse/ politician/ seashell crafter/ medical technician/ crew member at Trader Joes. I want to work full-time/ part-time/ no time/ only as a volunteer. I want my hair to be long/ short/ curly/ straight/ natural/ color-enhanced. I want to live in the city/ country/ suburbs/ island, in Michigan (Saginaw, Grosse Pointe, Traverse City)/ Florida (Sanibel)/ Alaska/ Wyoming/ Maine/ Washington/ Montana/ New Mexico/ coastal Texas, in an apartment/ single-family-ranch/ farmhouse/ A-frame/ cape cod/ straw house/ log cabin. I want to share that home with a husband/ dog/ cat/ extended family/ nobody at all.

And I know that I could have had any of my choices, every one was (and many are still) within reach, but I cannot seem to have all of them. And so, in typical middle class fashion, I make no choices at all and let myself drift with the choices of others, ending effortlessly in the job/ place/ house/ lifestyle where, these days, I am not sure I want to be. I do not dare make waves, because my life is safe and predictable and, really, very good. The others who helped create the non-choices have moved on, leaving me with the results of their decisions and wondering why I never figured out what I, personally, might like to do.

Today’s lesson: don’t judge the Namesake too harshly as she goes from one wild adventure to another. Her impetuous style frightens me, but there is something to be said for choosing when there are choices to be made and risking a few regrets of our own making.

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