Some time ago, I read two similar books. One was Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar, and the other, Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. Both were guests on either The Daily Show or the Colbert Report (I couldn’t remember which until I searched through my blog and found this post from 2007 about the exact same subject), and both intrigued me. Each book had a point that stood out to me: the importance of goals for human beings, and how the process we go through to reach them is much more important than the actual achievement.
Some old friends and former classmates have occasionally asked me why I don’t want to move back to the suburb of Indianapolis where I went to high school, especially now that I have a child. They have “four-star schools” (whatever the hell that means – I don’t feel like I received an excellent education there), and I could have free babysitting.
It didn’t fully dawn on me until this afternoon, for whatever reason, why I didn’t like the idea. Off the top of my head, I know living in that particular area doesn’t appeal to me because it’s essentially chain restaurants and box stores. Here and there, you might run across an independent restaurant but, not only is that rare, they usually suck. Bad food, poor management, high prices, limited hours.
But this afternoon, as I was taking a walk while Charlie was home from work for lunch, I realized it has more to do with my personal goals and the idea that I would feel stifled living there.
For the past few years, I’ve been working on my undergraduate degree, and, at the same time, deciding to, applying for, and being accepted to grad school. The schools to which I applied were only in two cities, and I knew I wanted to end up in Chicago. Thankfully, Charlie did too, so that wasn’t an issue for us.
Once I was accepted, the next item on the list was getting here. And, even though we now have that checked off the list, there are still a great number of other things, big and small, that I am working toward: getting my free DePaul t-shirt (it’s not really free – but they make a big deal out of how you get a shirt because of the student athletic fee everyone has to pay), getting my driver’s license and student ID, taking Bea to a museum, navigating the transfers on the El with a two-year-old without losing her (this has not happened – it’s just one of my fears); getting an advisor at school who can let me know what my chances are of securing an internship that’s going to guarantee me an awesome job in Chicago, or, if all else fails, even considering my Ph.D.
And once those things happen (or don’t), I have other ideas up my sleeve. Moving to a different city, moving back to Indy so Bea can be closer to her family, going to school somewhere else for another graduate degree, traveling.
The only thing that has kept me sane this summer as we’ve struggled to get back on our feet is knowing that, soon enough, we’ll have too much to do. Charlie and I joked this evening that, once we’ve got the cash to really experience Chicago, I’m going to be like, “I’ve got a million papers to write! I don’t have time for that!” But, of course, I’ll make the time.
But knowing that I have things to work toward, however small or large, is what keeps me going. And there’s something about that small town where I went to high school that makes me feel . . . limited.
When I see folks from high school post photos on Facebook, I see the walls of their manufactured homes – two-stories, no yard, no trees, built over a garage. The interior is always painted taupe or forest green with the same white or wood trim. Their sofas and chairs, all taupe and tan and brown and purchased on credit from the same furniture store. Their “art” (if they have any — completely bare walls are pretty common), prints purchased at Target or Wal-Mart in frames. Their husbands, clad in basketball shorts and Colts jerseys, snoring in a taupe recliner with a can of Coors Light still gripped in one fist.
It makes me sad. Their personal goals: making sure the dry-erase board in the kitchen/family room/dining area (because it’s always one room) has all the kids’ soccer and softball and football schedules; getting enough people to come to the “candle party” they’re hosting to make some money to save for the next summer’s trip to Florida.
Maybe that makes me sound like a gigantic, stuck-up asshole. In fact, I’m positive it does. But it’s not that I’m judging those women’s lifestyles and choices. It’s that, imagining myself in that scenario makes me feel depressed. If I’m going to move somewhere that’s a cultural void, I’d rather be on a farm, growing my own food, making my own clothes, homeschooling my kids. I mean, if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it all the way. The town where I went to high school has a mall now. People who live there plan their weekends around shopping at this mall. They have date nights at Applebee’s® and take pictures of their Weight Watchers® approved Chipotle Lime Chicken and Mucho Margarita®. It’s just not for me.
Not to mention the fact that, if Bea went to the same school I did, and if she expressed any interest in sports, her coaches would be the same assholes who tortured me in high school. The soccer coach is the guy who tripped me in the hallways, knocked my books out of my hands, called me names, and generally terrorized me. I really don’t want to have to associate with him on a regular basis again.