I have been thinking quite a bit about the order of things lately.
Two inspirations for this train of thought 1) I might be tired of living with other people and 2) real estate in the area in which I live is obscene.
I like my roommates. I have been picky over the years and have managed to live in clean, drama-free environments with women who have busy separate lives and can co-exist peacefully. But my general concern is that perhaps I am getting too old to still be living like a college student. Maybe it's time to be a real adult, suck it up and buy something where I get to decide what goes on the walls.
So that brings me to the next point which is, I live in a place where a one-bedroom apartment can set you back $340K. For $400K in Utah, you could live here. The entire Orange County apartment could probably fit in that bathroom and your two kids and dog would have to sleep out in the courtyard.
But I don't have two kids or a dog. And every Saturday this summer I have gotten on my bike, ridden four blocks, and spent the afternoon parked on the beach. Every morning when I walk outside and it's warm and sunny and I drive down a palm-tree lined street to Pacific Coast highway, my heart skips a slight beat that I actually get to live here. I am 30 years old. If I live to be 80, I still have 50 years of potential home-ownership years to look foward to. I still have 50 years of potential marital bliss and 50 potential years of being someone's mother. Realistically I probably only have a few more years of ocean breezes lulling me to sleep, a closet full of cute shoes and a schedule over which I have complete control. So why can't I shake that feeling that I am behind? And how come sometimes I feel behind because I don't have four kids and a mortgage, and sometimes I feel behind because I still haven't been to Spain and have yet to actually do anything with my writing? Does anyone else think it must be absolutely exhausting to be inside my brain?
This will be the second time I bring up this book in as many weeks, which should probably signal that you ought to read it, but I just got to the chapter in Crossing to Safety where the Langs and the Morgans spend a year on sabbatical in Italy. They are all in their forties at this point and the kids are mostly grown and out of the house. For the Morgans, it's their first time out of the country and they are understandably giddy about the upcoming experience. The main character says "..at past forty,with a daughter starting college, we could begin". One of my major regrets from college is that I never figured out how to do a sememster abroad. At the time it just felt like that could slow down graduation, or that it would be too expensive. I'm not sure why I was so hell-bent on getting out in four years and after a long period of regular paychecks, I realize that a quarter in Prague would have been a debt fairly easily repaid and worth every penny. So that's an adventure I've thought I missed out on, something that made me feel behind. I read that passage in the book and it occured to me that my arbitrary timelines were telling me that only a person between the ages of 18-21 is allowed that kind of experience and that if I didn't do it then, time's up.
So when is time up? Outside of obvious biological limitations on things like childbirth and Olympic medal winning, I submit that time doesn't run out until you do. If you are 60 when you run your first marathon that doesn't put you "behind" someone who did it at 20. I've mentioned this before but Julia Child, who built a cooking empire and whose kitchen is on display in the Smithsonian Museum, didn't even go to culinary school until she was 36. 36! And without her it's doubtful we would ever have The Naked Chef OR Rachel Ray (ok, not the greatest example but you see where I am going right?)
I see two dangers in limiting ourselves to timelines and worrying too much about order. One is that you resign yourself to things you might not want or really be ready for. Maybe you get married to a person you've been dating for awhile because it seems like the next logical step. Maybe you stay in a job you hate because you are too old to start over in a new industry. Maybe you don't go back to school because you don't want to be the "non-trad" in the program. And two, I think you can undervalue what you have accomplished thus far when you are too freaked out about what you haven't done. If I really do feel a genuine sense of happiness everytime I step out my front door, then why on earth would I give that up just because it seems like I ought to own something by this point of my life. If I am really honest with myself, I wouldn't rather have a bedroom set and a nice couch over say, two years of struggle and growth in Boston.
And really, the time I feel the most behind or time line obsessed is when I get caught up comparing my life to other people's, a practice which someday I hope to grow out of entirely. It is so easy in this age of easy easy access to other people's worlds to feel 100% inadequate. It does not matter that most of us only let you see the really fantastic parts (like a week ago I was chatting up a celebrity in Manhattan and today I'm doing a task so dreadfully boring I've written almost a whole blog post on my breaks from the monotony but you don't see entries about THAT!), your smiling baby and cute husband, your endless weekend getaways to somewhere fabulous, your good taste, your amazing talents so often get held up against my insecurities and weaknesses. Don't get me wrong, I want all of those wonderful things for all the people around me, I just don't want YOUR life paths to make me worry about my own. And that's no one's responsiblity but mine.
So, this random thursday in August, I am giving all of us permission to put aside silly timelines and stop being slaves to order. If all of our lives were exactly the same, what on earth would I read to keep myself from doing any work?