I don’t make plans.
Sometime during the last month, a friend was standing in my kitchen and asked me a question. I don’t remember who this friend is now, and that says less about my mental health and more about my relentless schedule, which is something like a road grader, leveling out the events in my life behind me to a relatively smooth rubble, and leaving only the things right in front of me to attract my attention, before they too are smoothed and uniform. It also says something about how I try to live in the present, which is actually the topic of this post.
My friend asked me, what are your plans for next year? I answered, I don’t make plans anymore.
Which isn’t entirely true. I mean, I know I have some classes to teach and some plays to direct and this small non-profit to nurture. And I have kids to raise. But that wasn’t really the question. The question, as I understood it, was “describe the shape of 2013-2014 as it applies to your professional life.” This is not an unreasonable question for most people with full-time jobs. I have not had a full time job since 2005. But the question has broader implications: how do you fit into the conventional paradigm which describes the way adults live their lives in America? And with that question come some assumptions, assumptions I find faulty.
I don’t fit into that paradigm, I never have, and a lot of my self-abuse has come from the unnecessary shame that accompanies this truth. In a variety of different contexts, I have witnessed the collapse of this paradigm, you know the one: the American adult works according to a predictable schedule in the American economy “full-time” (and we will leave that suspicious phrase alone for the moment), and thereby makes enough money to meet his/her obligations and have some free time left over. You know. “The American Dream”. But it doesn’t exist anymore. And I am so much more better off admitting that I do not live it, even though in doing so I admit that I live a life on the economic margins, hand to mouth, in a constant state of unknowns. The truth is, I cannot reliably pay my bills. And this doesn’t make me unique, it makes me common in 21st century America.
Remember that shame I wrote about just now? That shame runs deep in our modern culture. It comes from the assumption that if you can’t reliably pay your bills, you are doing something wrong, or you aren’t working hard enough, or you are just plain broken and bad in some way. Our media (for the most part) assists in seeding this shame, by creating imaginary worlds on television and in movies in which “average” Americans are still living that dream – and fairly easily for the most part, when they aren’t solving murders, going on car chases or having sex with beautiful people. But dear reader, you aren’t doing anything wrong. You are just living in the world as it is.
My work is in the performing arts and education, and me and my tribe like to think we have it especially tough. But we don’t. We’re not as special as we like to think, at least as far as not being able to pay our bills reliably. Like a sped-up shift of tectonic plates, many workers – and I might say “most” but I don’t have the stats to back it up – now live the way I do: we cobble together one, two, three part-time jobs to try to make ends meet. Mom and dad, or mom and mom, or just mom, or just dad – the parents, okay? – are all working all the time. And the ends don’t ever really meet. The security that comes with full-time employment is vanishing fast across many kinds of work. In order for institutions to meet the demands of the bottom line – non-profit and for-profit institutions alike – taking care of full time employees just costs too much money. The Affordable Care Act is, in a way, a reaction to this truth. Fewer and fewer are insured through employers, so we had to come up with a new way to offer health insurance (I almost said, a new way for the insurance companies to make money, but I digress). And yet I fear that, for many of us, this will come to be yet another bill we cannot reliably pay.
We are quickly coming to this place: a country populated by a small percent of people with inherited wealth and/or positions of privilege. and the rest of us. Indeed, some would say we arrived at this place a while back.
So no, I don’t make plans. I have no plans to make. Plans require the ability to safely predict one’s life circumstances in the future. I do not have this ability. And that’s not because I don’t work hard. I am driven, intelligent, creative and a hard worker – as are most of the people in my art tribe. As are most of the people in the other tribes working one, two, three part time jobs and hating themselves (unnecessarily) for not being able to make plans. Retirement? HA! The most likely scenario is that I will be carried out of a classroom or rehearsal room on a stretcher several decades from now. Lucky for me, I love what I do. In many ways, I am better off than many struggling to get by in 21st century America. No, I don’t make plans because I choose to live my life with integrity. I choose to to tell the truth in word and deed, and without shame. I celebrate what is right in front of me because it’s the only thing I have.
For those of you inclined to spiritual considerations, I offer this: there is a great spiritual gift in embracing this life on its insecure terms. Because a Great Spiritual Truth is this: all plans are bullshit. And the past, spreading out behind the road graders of our busy-ness, is gone, vanished, no longer applies. Yes, even for Captains of Industry and all the American Royalty of Fame and Fashion, there is only now. Oops, there it went. Just ask anyone whose loved one was suddenly taken by brutal disease, violence or accident. All plans are bullshit. And all our “plans” are reality a fearful reaction to that Great Spiritual Truth – a way to convince ourselves that we know how it’s all going to go. But we don’t. So we have this choice, and it’s a tough one:
Do you live in a world of scarcity, or a world of abundance?
Is there enough (money, love, attention, food, drugs, TV shows), or isn’t’ there?
I choose to live in a world of abundance, which means that I assume there is enough; which means I can share, and love, and give, and receive, without worry. Let me put it this way: it is a world view I aspire to and on my good days, I live inside. On my bad days, I am a scared and hungry junkyard dog with some pups to feed. But I do believe it, even then, even behind the snarl and panic. When I calm down and breathe. There is enough – for me, for you, for all of us. There are enough hands to reach down and pick me up when I fall. Enough arms to embrace me in the night. Enough friends to make me laugh. Enough ice cream to make me fat. Enough money to get me though today. But only today. Tomorrow . . . well, let’s talk some more then.