Sunday, January 24, 2016

Here Lies Kate: She Got What She Asked For

There's something about the power of intention, something spooky. There's something about telling the universe that you want to achieve certain things, and then finding yourself doing more than just achieving them, but surpassing your own expectations or wildest imaginings.

Just over two years ago, when I was about to turn 30, I wrote a list of things I hoped to achieve in my fourth decade of life. I know now that I could have said that I wanted to achieve them in the first half of my fourth decade; at this rate, I'm going to need some new goals by 35.

You see, some of the things I wanted to do were:
- become an eccentric aunt
- get my PhD
- travel "way more," and move somewhere new
- make a decision about whether to get my black belt
- wear fun things every day
- take more time for snuggles, and remember to love deeply and to be grateful

Well, it's only been two years, and already I can tick half of these off the list. I'm doing my PhD, and I'm actually half-way through it at this point. I decided to do it in Birmingham, England, so in terms of efficiency I managed education and travel quite handily. I am definitely travelling as much as I hoped I would. More, in fact; I think I spent six out of 12 months last year out of the country, so that's quite a lot of travel. Luckily, it hasn't all been to England. Drew and I went to Asia in September, and in February we're going to Australia. We'll be in Scotland in June, as well.

We haven't moved to a new city, but I think the PhD sort of takes care of that one, too. It's not definitely the case that I won't get a job in Toronto, but there's such a slim chance that it's not really worth hoping for, and very much not a good idea to plan for. A new city is in our future, I believe, and I really look forward to that.

In rereading the list that I made when turning 30, I'm amused to notice that I only wanted to "make a decision about whether" to get my black belt in Taekwondo. Well, I definitely decided. I checked out a martial arts school around the corner from our house in January two years ago, and once joining the school there was no going back. Participating in the school means progressing in one's skills, and so since I joined with a brown belt, they let me get back into it at that level, and now I'm only a few months away from achieving black belt. A few months, and a few hundred hours of physical and mental training. Just in case you're curious, everything still hurts.

Regarding becoming an eccentric aunt, I pointed out before that the aunt part was up to other people, but that I could handle the eccentric part. It just so happens that in addition to my two 7-year-old nieces, all of those potential other people who could aunt me have now done so. It's a literal avalanche of babies around here. My sister, my two besties, and four or five other girlfriends are either currently pregnant or have just had babies. For two of these friends, they're already on their second.

So aunthood is well in hand, and the eccentric bit is coming along well, too, depending on who you ask. A friend recently made a comment to Drew and I about having eccentric friends, and I observed that eccentricity is a relative term. To many people, that Drew and I don't want to get married or have kids, that we ride our bikes as our primary transportation, and that we like renting, is enough to make us eccentric to the point of near-unrelatability. It all depends on where you're standing.

The projects of wearing fun things every day, taking time for snuggles, and loving deeply and being grateful are all long-term, on-going, constant works of self-improvement. These will never be accomplished, but always undertaken. I'm reading Joan Didion's "Year of Magical Thinking," and I don't think there's another book that could help with the project of loving deeply and being grateful as much as this can. It's almost like being given the gift of time. Reading Didion's reflections on her husband's sudden death and the things that she remembered, questioned, or regretted is like getting a letter from my future self, telling me to take care now. It's like glimpsing the future, 40 years hence, and understanding that every moment between now and then is precious and fleeting, and that there is never enough time. I told Drew the other night that a whole lifetime isn't enough time with hm, and I meant it. I'm grateful to Didion for reminding me to go slowly and gently through the world, and to Drew for going through it with me.

It's nice to sit here, on a train to Ottawa to see my bestie and her son, and to reflect on how much I've accomplished and how much I have left to do. I started this post thinking that one should be careful what one wishes for, because one might just get it. I'm ending the post thinking that if my life were cut abruptly now, I would feel good about what I'd gotten done in the time I had.


  1. This is a thought provoking post, and also one that synthesizes very different kinds of situations and reflections. To me, you are describing the process of learning by committing to something uncertain, and then watching new certainties emerge through that very commitment. That, to me, is exactly like what it really means to get a "degree" in taekwondo or in academy-do, or to see that a relationship connects to something bigger than yourself or your partner: that you gradually work to transform a basic state of trying to orient yourself toward something, to now, suddenly being oriented from within by that very thing you sought. Whether you get an actual piece of paper for your wall or new belt for your do-buk, you are already seeing what is essence of the practice, the "tao/do" of the tae and kwon, the philia with the sophia, or a reminder of how someone can change your life. Very thought provoking post. I wonder how these different commitments, relationships, education, martial artistry, will now start to transform themselves into new and powerful expectations and projects!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Don! This is an interesting and thoughtful response. I like the idea of being 'oriented from within' by something that had formerly been outside the self, as a goal or ambition. It's a compelling way to think about how we are constantly coming into being, creating ourselves. Becoming who we are, if you will. I've always been drawn to that idea, and I feel like your description above is a new way for me to understand it.