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.
Awesome, Kaila! I get it. Now I think I am beginning to understand why you won’t have medical insurance soon. Also, this is really a very appealing idea; I am thinking about forgetting this job thing too.
Seriously, i loved the writing!!
You have always had the gift for writing. I wish you lots of opportunites that will spark the embers that resides in you.
I love this post and am happy that you joined Nerissa’s group; I look forward to more! Yay for right-now plans and living the questions!
My first thought after reading your blog is that you’re very brave Kaila. It’s a big step to essentially go walk about for awhile and I think many people in the world wouldn’t even consider it. Congratulations on your decision and I’m sure you will find the path you seek.
I think it’s just a matter of listening very closely to that thing or two that inspires you and allowing your curiosity to take you to the next step.
Incidentally, I tend to agree that a plan can prove to be a bit of a restriction and, at least in my own experience, lead to a dead end that must be backed out of. But, in the past I have had good luck with the ‘3 Options Approach’. Always have 3 options at hand in any given situation. That way it feels like a plan but it’s fluid 🙂 Tammy
No plan? I am still getting used to this idea. You and Jane Lynch might be on to something. Looking forward to it and the look and feel of this site and your writing makes me think that things will be mighty fine.
Welcome, Kaila and thank you for allowing us to vicariously share thsjourney with you. I agree, you are brave!
Kaila, I love what you did here. You have me imagining what it would be like to be in your shoes. Jane Lynch is awesome, and the idea of not having a plan is an intriguing one. Interesting to ponder this as the organization I serve is in the middle of a strategic planning process….
They say that if you want to make God laugh, tell Her your plans.
I am so glad you are writing with us!
“Relinquish the need to know what’s going to happen next.” – Michele McDonald. You’re a wonderful and talented writer Kaila. Keep going! – xotLee
Provocative humor is a lost art.
It is a joy to read your blogs. Your writings are reminiscent of Erma Bloomberg and Dave Barry (they are from the early school of bloggers back when they were known as humor columnists and actually paid) who were able to reveal truths immersed in laughter and surrounded by ‘ah ha’ smiles.
They just made every day a little better (not a simple endeavor, as you are no doubt learning) but desperately needed in today’s vitriolic atmosphere. Your ability to turn very perceptive insights into enjoyable reading will do the same. Their writing enabled readers to believe Erma and Barry were their own personal friends, someone you looked forward to everyday. And I look forward to your next blog.
Congratulations to you, love Mom
P.S. Now that you have found your “vein of gold”, I can hardly wait until you turn to screenwriting, so I can go to the Oscars.