In my first post for this blog, I wrote about following whims.
I felt nervous about this because “whim” sounded too light for the things I contemplated at the time: concluding my 15-year teaching career without any other plan or idea in place, for example.
Every new career I named deflated when I said it aloud. I realize now that this happened because what I said aloud wasn’t what I really wanted to do; it just sounded like the realistic option. Fear keeps me from admitting what I really want to do or taking it seriously — it’s just a whim.
Then, while reading through Facebook one day, I read a post from Diana Abu-Jaber a writer I admire (especially Crescent and Birds of Paradise). She said:
… came across this old letter from Spalding Gray telling me “you will get no richer & end with regret if you don’t act on these impulses.”
Aren’t whims and impulses irresponsible? Or are we really good at relegating our dreams and creativity to the category of “whim,” as in: I’ll get to it when I retire; or, when I have time; or, if only I had time …
You’ve heard that compelling question — if you knew you would not fail, what would you do with your life?
Although thought-provoking, the question bugs me because I’ve yet to meet anyone who can guarantee that I won’t fail. It’s like how I tried to learn to long-board a couple of years ago. I quickly realized that if I wanted to really learn how to do this, I would fall. I would fall more than once. I feared dropping my 40-year-old bones on hard concrete more than I liked the woosh of rumbling on four small wheels. I didn’t want it enough to risk injury.
Whims and impulses mean risk, not irresponsibility.
In the novel Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, a rebel general listens to one of his young soldiers discover that he has a spellbinding singing voice. The general says:
“It makes you wonder. All the brilliant things we might have done with our lives if only we suspected we knew how.”
I’ve always loved this because the structure of the sentence suggests that we already have talents and skills — we already have the skills to sing or sew, convince or persuade –we simply don’t yet know what we know. We haven’t yet suspected that we can sing, paint, manage, direct, or thrive beyond our cubicle or kitchen.
What are all the brilliant things you would do with your life if only you suspected you knew how? What might you already know how to do but you just haven’t realized it yet?