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Monday, March 16, 2009

Choice vs. Luck

It scares me sometimes how little control we have over our own lives. Sure we get to make grand choices for ourselves – I want to go to this school or that school (if I get accepted); I want to live in this town instead of that town; I want to have kids; I want to make this for dinner; etc. But really, so much in our lives and so many of the things that shape us have little to do with anything we get to choose.

I often get stuck in this line of thought when I think about my son R. His birth defects really didn’t have anything to do with a choice that I made. Yes, my husband and I decided to have a baby, but that was the last real choice I had in the matter.

Random luck took over from there.

And luck couldn't care less about who I am or where I grew up and whether I'm a good person or a bad person or a mediocre person. Luck doesn't care about where I went to school or what town I live in or what I'm making for dinner. Ultimately a little bit of planning combined with a heaping helping of luck got me here because there are the things that you can't plan and don't plan. Like having a child with massive health problems.

I started thinking about luck and control and choices recently after my mom told me that my almost 18-year-old nephew is smoking. I know that there are worse things in life that smoking, but there are so many better choices too. Choices that say you care about yourself and your health. That you care about your body. That you care about the environment. That you are stronger than peer pressure. That you care about your family who wants nothing but the best for you.

It’s an individual choice that kids make when they are too young to really know the long-term implications of lighting up. Or of lung cancer. Or emphysema. But it’s a choice none the less. And each person gets to make that choice for themselves, regardless of what I think.

Maybe because I managed to not smoke (even though my father smoked two packs a day of filterless cigarettes), I have always had hopes that my niece and nephew would also choose not to smoke. Maybe because I managed to get out of the small town I grew up (even though the guidance counselor at my high school tried to convince my parents that I should NOT be allowed to go to college in Boston), I have always had hopes that my niece and nephew would do the same. A small town can be stifling.

I always had hoped that if I set a good example by not smoking, by not getting pregnant as a teenager, by going away to college, by moving to another state where there were good jobs to be had, that I would somehow influence them to have big dreams for themselves. I always hoped that if I talked to them like adults about the risks of pregnancy and smoking and the benefits of getting away, they too would avoid the negatives and shoot for the positives.

To be fair, there are benefits to staying in a small town near family. Maybe I need to let go of the part that thinks I can influence them when I live so far away. When my words are few and far between. Maybe I need to let go of the idea of what I think is right or that it matters. Or that somehow I failed them. Or that it was somehow my responsibility. It isn't. It's not.

I can only make choices for myself (and my kids, at least for a few more years). And even then, I suppose luck will still rear it's ugly head from time to time.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Math is hard

It seems like a simple enough equation: Applying to grad school + getting into grad school = overwhelming sense of joy and accomplishment.

But somehow in my whacked out head, this seemingly-simple math problem is quite complex.

The satisfaction that should come hand in hand with an acceptance letter (or an acceptance email, in this case) is not quite so obvious. In this situation, I’m more confused as to how it came to be that California College of the Arts wants me to be a part of their Creative Writing program. I’m sure my confusion has something to do with low self-esteem, the low self-esteem that often goes hand in hand with long-term, full-time parenting. The longer I’ve not been officially employed, coupled with a stack of rejection letters from literary agents, and another recent rejection from the magazine I covet a byline from makes me hesitate before feeling what seems as a given to others – feeling proud that I was accepted because I deserve to be accepted.

Yes, I’m certainly excited about being accepted to grad school (so far I’ve been accepted to 100 percent of the schools I’ve heard from). But mostly it gives me pause. It makes me feel that there must be something wrong with CCA if they want me. It reminds me of that famous Groucho Marx quote: “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.”

I’m sure I’ll get over this initial sense of confusion and then the hard part will begin. Am I ready to make this commitment to school? Am I ready to be a full-time student again? Am I smart enough? I’ve always tried to live by the idea that time is going to pass me by no matter what I’m doing, so I might as well be doing something worth while. Getting my MFA is worth while. And it will be hard. And there will be times when I wonder if I made the right choice. But it will give me a sense of direction. A sense of purpose. Something a wee bit selfish after years of serving the needs of the wee folk in my life. And that is probably a good thing.

So maybe it’s not the math equation that is hard. Maybe what is hard is the sense of feeling like I’m entitled to do something just for me just because I’m worth it. Because I am. It's just hard to remember that sometimes.