Uber-cool comedian and author Jane Lynch spoke recently at Smith College commencement. My Facebook news feed was all a flutter with Jane sightings, photos of her at coffee shops taken surreptiously with IPhone cameras, as well as some quotes from the speech she gave at graduation, my favorite being, “My counsel to you, women of Smith College? Let life surprise you. Don’t have a plan. Plans are for wusses. If my life went according to my plan, I would never ever have the life I have today.”
I like this idea – like it even more because as of 5pm yesterday I am, what my friend and sometimes-sister Chris termed “(f)unemployed”. This was not a surprise, I am not one of the victims of the economic downturn. No, this was – more or less – a decision of my own making, and a decision I made nearly two months ago. So I was prepared, or at least I thought I prepared, to go from my cubicle to….what? What? That was the question. The question I was asked from acquaintances and friends, concerned parents (my own especially) and even the graduating college seniors I posed with on their big day when – clad in their gowns and caps – they turned to me and asked “so what are you going to do next”?
I’ve been really good at deflecting this question mostly because I’m not sure of the answer. Of course actually telling people “I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life” is not satisfying. Even if it was satisfying to me it seemed to make the person asking the question uncomfortable – as if I had just casually announced to my next door neighbor that I had sold my lawnmower and had ‘no plans’ for the front yard except to see what shape it decided to take with rain and sun and no outside intervention. It made people nervous, as if my pathless and wild garden might bring down the real estate value of the neighborhood. And so most of them would say something like ‘I’m sure you’ll figure it out’ – and quickly change the topic.
Indeed, I have been so preoccupied with other peoples reactions to this life change that I haven’t really paid much attention to how I was feeling about it. I knew it was happening, I was waiting, it was like a countdown on a big clock I felt like I projected from my forehead – the only thing was that once the clock hit zero that was it. There was no roar of a crowd, no new years ball dropping (or ascending if you live in Northampton), not even a goodbye party. Just, nothing.
And of course, nothing was what I had planned – I mean that’s the point of having no plans, right? But it turns out that planning on not having any plans is different than really not having any plans. Because when the moment comes and you actually have no plans your all like ‘oh my god, what should I do, I have no plans, I could do anything’ and you can’t tell if you should hightail it out of town and spend a few days in New York surrounded by people with so many plans or lie in bed and watch TV and what does it mean if you do one or the other? The suggestions abound: You should meditate! You should “just take it easy” (which by the way, if anyone ever figures out how to do I’d gladly pay to learn).
I didn’t go to New York. I didn’t meditate. I definitely didn’t take it easy. I chose instead to take it hard – spinning possible futures in my head, trying to calm down, talking myself back and forth between ‘look this is no big deal’ and ‘oh my god, this is like the biggest deal ever’. Finally I decided that I didn’t have to start my new life on the day my old life ended. And so I did what so many of us do when we find those moments where restlessness and unnamed desire meets a body stilled by exhaustion or indecision: I went on Facebook.
And there in my news feed was that quote by Jane Lynch, “Let life surprise you. Don’t have a plan”. I reposted it, thanked Jane for making it cool to not have a plan, and returned to my newsfeed for more self-indulgent (but socially acceptable) voyeurism. As I scrolled through the posts by friends detailing the minutia of their days, sharing pictures of the beautiful places they were visiting, or providing links to important political articles about ‘occupying everything’, I worried that maybe after a decade in the Academy I was, as the artist Pink says, “too school for cool”. Could I really not have a plan? I fretted and scrolled, fretted and scrolled, tracing futile hermeneutic circles in my brain, when I came upon a post by singer-songwriter, life coach and writing mentor Nerissa Nields, announcing she had a few spots left in a blogging workshop happening the very next day. The social media angels whispered in my ear that this could be perfect for me – for the website I had started but had yet to write a single word upon. I didn’t click ‘like’. Instead I posted a comment telling her I wanted to enroll. I hesitated a moment, added the word ‘definitely’ – I definitely wanted to enroll – and hit send. And there it was, I had a plan. Okay, it’s not a long-term plan, and maybe it’s not a plan that is going to bring me a paycheck or insurance or any of the things my dad is worried sick over. But it’s a plan nonetheless – a plan for tomorrow, a plan for today – a right-now plan. And it turns out – cool or not cool – in this moment it feels pretty darn good to have a plan. Sorry Jane.