Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Biography of the Future

Most biographies are factual examinations of the past: what someone actually did in their lifetime. But if you want to know what someone's experience of life was like, it would be just the opposite: what they thought their future life would be like, and how that vision changed over time.

So, for instance, my biography-of-the-future might read like this:
  • 1970. I am born into a world American middle-class possibility. Everything is wide open, although it is already considered a certainty I will go to graduate school and do something science-y.
  • 1977. Based on two books about sharks and whales, a recorded version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and some encouraging comments from my mother, I decide I will be a marine biologist.
  • 1981. I move from Philadelphia to Brevard, NC. Disappointed with my current persona (geeky, non-social, high-strung), I dream of recreating myself in a model of Walden-esque self-sufficiency in our new 24-acre farm. I buy into my mother's vision of a self-sufficient homestead, where we do everything for ourselves and rarely venture into town.
  • 1982. Crushed to find that a change of place did absolutely nothing to change me (although my mom is successfully recreating herself as a farmer.) Anticipating a life of an awkward outsider. Experience a profound questioning of religious faith, condemning me to either live in a world without God, or to be damned to Hell -- either way, I'm screwed.
  • 1986. Accepted to the NC School of Science & Math, I look forward to a new life with real peers. Based on my work with our farm animals, I think I will be a veterinarian. I dream of being both smart and wise, a James Herriot with both education and rustic approachability.
  • 1988. Heart-broken after a high-school romance, I look forward to a life as The Guy Who Blew It. The vet thing isn't panning out either: all the vets think I would be bored with it.
  • 1989. Start the Self Knowledge Symposium under the teaching of Augie Turak. My life will now be that of a spiritual seeker, a "brahmacharya" single-mindedly focused on enlightenment. I expect to become enlightened before the age of 30, and spend the rest of my days as a spiritual teacher. My science career will just be my day-job until I "make the Trip."
  • 1996. Get married to another spiritual seeker. Still seeking, but now with altered expectations. Hoping to become a writer.
  • 2002. Still hoping to be a writer, despite spending six years becoming a techno-geek instead. Really, it's just a job. No serious expectations of attaining enlightenment, though I hope to do some good in the world with the spiritual movement I helped to start.
  • 2007. Renewed hopes of some sort spiritual attainment, mostly because life doesn't make sense otherwise. Expecting a career change at some point, maybe go back to school, maybe write for a living (in some nebulous world where people get paid to write thoughtful essays).

What can we conclude from such a biography?

  1. What we hope and expect to happen has only a slight bearing on what actually happens.
  2. A whole lot of incredible stuff happens that never figures into our hopes and plans. (In my outline above, where are my kids? Where are all the miraculous transformations that happened in my spiritual community?)
  3. In short, our dreams and plans for the future occupy huge amounts of brain-space . . . but they aren't Life. And the more we can pay attention to what's really going on, instead of weaving stories to keep our egos warm at night, the better off we will be.


Blogger Kenny Felder said...

I'm not sure I buy your last comment, as much as Eckhart Tolle might approve of it.

I talk to high school students all the time. Some of them a lot of ambitions, plans, dreams, hopes for the future: some don't really think about it. If I had to bet on which group ends up more successful (however you want to define that) I would bet on the former, despite knowing that the future probably won't look anything like they expect it to. I actively encourage them to try to think about the future as much as possible.

4:05 PM  
Blogger Kenny Felder said...

Darn. Is there any way to edit that last comment to insert the word "have" right after "some of them?"

4:06 PM  

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