Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Living in the Present

"I could tell you my adventures--beginning from this morning," said Alice a little timidly, "but it's no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then."

 Today is Tuesday, February 26, 2013.  

As a new retiree, I find myself at a crossroads. The majority of my memories, at least the ones involving the last couple of decades, have to do with being a teacher. While some of these memories can be comforting or satisfying, others merely generate feelings of regret and remorse for things I neglected to do, things I could or should have done differently, things I should have done better, students I might have tried to understand and communicate with on a deeper level, kids I might have given more attention to. The idea that this is all behind me, and that I have no more chances to do better is a little unnerving. Lately, even the pleasant memories leave me feeling depressed. I miss the kids, the camaraderie among the staff, and the feeling of doing something important with my life. 

For a number of years before I actually retired, I was looking forward to retirement. The vision was a little hazy, but somewhere in there was a world of endless summer vacation, with warm sunshine and lots of good books, time to take naps or fool around doing nothing in particular, time to spend with friends, or maybe even have a relationship. I didn't really have any firm plans about where I would live or how much money I would actually have to live on. I didn't calculate how much it might actually take to do some of the things I wanted to do, such as travel or taking classes. It didn't occur to me that the end of my teaching career would also involve a few regrets or a sense of loss. I didn't clearly realize what a burden it might be that 100% of the responsibility for my own daily schedule would be upon my own shoulders.

No matter how uncomfortable it is to think of the past, thinking about the future is even worse, for me. I've never been very good at visualizing the future. When I married my Japanese husband and went off to Japan to live with him (forever, I thought), I had no particular plans in mind. We drifted from thing to thing, and I found myself living a life that could be compared to a hamster running on a wheel. I filled my days teaching English conversation, with the vague idea that at some point I would stop teaching and have children, then somehow start teaching again. When it became clear that my husband and I couldn't have children (long story), I found myself having recurring nightmares in which I was walking forever in an absolutely featureless, tan, geometrically flat desert. There were some mountains with sharp peaks in the distance, obscured by haze, and I knew somehow that I needed to get to those mountains, but they always appeared to be the same distance away, no matter how far or how long I walked.

I decided to cut my losses and move on. I moved from Osaka to Tokyo all by myself and finally won a divorce from my husband. But again, I had no real plan for my life, and I realized that teaching English conversation at Berlitz was not going to be satisfying for me, in the long run. I knew that if I married a Japanese man, I would only be putting myself back into the constraints of the role of "wife," but without the saving grace of becoming a mother, which is the only way women in Japan can get any respect. The future seemed as barren as the desert in the dream that continued to haunt me.
When I moved back to the United States, I had a vague hope of meeting someone and starting a new life, whatever that meant. The problem was that I didn't really know what that meant. Once again I found myself without any specific goals. A friend of mine at the time even commented that I bumbled from one thing to the next. She said she thought I lived a charmed life. Maybe so, but it wasn't satisfying. I was adrift. 

I moved back to what I think of as my "home state," Minnesota, with the thought that I was going to get a Master of Education degree and teach in the public schools. That was the most specific goal I ever created, now that I think of it, and the only goal I ever really prepared myself to meet. No wonder I see my primary identity in life as a teacher.

After that, nothing. No more goals. What was I thinking? Once again, I dreamed of maybe finding someone and settling down - to what, I don't quite know. I guess I thought that a relationship might somehow save me from drifting. Of course, I conveniently forgot that without being able to have children (and my hysterectomy at the age of 41 sealed that particular fate), I would still have to come up with some personal goals for my life. So many young women still subscribe to the fantasy that marriage and motherhood are goals in and of themselves. They're not, really. If I had a dollar for every woman friend who is going through or has been through "empty nest syndrome," I'd have enough to take a nice vacation. If I had a dollar for every marriage in the United States that has ended because the partners realized that they had no shared goals, I'd be as rich as Warren Buffet.

Oh, sure, I did entertain a hazy vision of being a writer, because I know I'm good at it, and all my life people have been telling me, "You should write a book." If I'd really been thinking straight, I would have taken some writing classes when I had the money. I would have resolved to spend more time on weekends and holidays writing. I would have written some short pieces and sent them around to magazines or anthologies. I would have spent time getting to know other writers.

Late in the game I did join a writing group, and enjoyed it immensely. That was after I had already struggled for several years to get a book written with a friend of mine. Currently, I'm having a dickens of a time getting it cut down to size that an agent might want to represent, that a publisher might actually accept for publication. Besides writing this blog, that's my other specific goal - getting the novel Remote Assassin published, under that title or some other.

But what are my other goals? And by focusing on making goals, aren't I guilty of spending too much time dreaming of the future? They say that's just as bad as living in the past.

A man named Steve Smith is quoted as saying, "The difference between a goal and a dream is a deadline." (Who the heck is Steve Smith?) In fact, several others have been quoted as saying the same thing, just worded a little differently.

Someone named Alissa Janey wrote a fuller definition.

"A dream is a vision of what, who, and how you want to be and what you want to achieve. Your vision provides you with the motivation to create action. Dreams tend to be nonspecific. However, recognizing you have a dream is the first step. What you see is what you can achieve.

"A goal is a plan with distinct steps that take us towards achieving our dreams. The only way you can bring your dreams to reality is to make sure it is clear, specific, written, measurable, and has deadlines."

In other words, S.M.A.R.T. goals.

Someone who calls himself or herself "Secret Geek" says, "Dreams are not reality. Goals are reality. When a goal becomes unrealistic, it's no longer an effective goal. CHANGE IT. Bring the goal back into line with reality. You have to be willing to drop features from a goal. Or failing that, to change the time frame, or the depth of the feature. When a feature is dropped, it can be a blow to the motivation.... Goals are focused; dreams are generalized."

Well, that's helpful. So maybe I can consider myself a writer, after all. I just have to drop some features from my dream, and add specific actions that will bring me to the goal, as well as a deadline. If my goal is to get published, even if the deadline I set for that to happen doesn't work out, I can still set deadlines for the steps leading up to publication. That makes sense.

A lady named Diana Robinson (Who are these people, anyway?) wrote the following:

"To transform a dream into a reachable goal you must clarify it, provide the details, make it so clear that you can see it, feel it, know what you will feel like when you get there. This works for you in many ways.

*It clarifies what you want to the point that you will always be attuned to anything that is relevant.  Opportunities will not pass you by unnoticed..

*It shows you what you need to do to get there, step by action step.

*It makes false detours and dead ends less likely to distract you.

*And perhaps the images you carry in your mind and heart will echo out to the universe for manifestation.

The clearer and more vivid the image, the more likely are all of these things to happen."

I think the most important idea in the above quote is that you must know what it will feel like when you get there.  A writer friend named Mary Carroll Moore (I do know who she is.) said something similar, that you have to know what qualities you want to attract into your life as you meet your goal.

All of this reminds me that what we do now, in the present momen, is what will create our future.  It's too lat to regret our present circumstances because we failed to take action in the past.  The point is to get a grip on the present, right now.  My vision of what I can be is something that can be with me right now, in the present, and it can inform my actions in every moment of NOW.  I can't depend on the goals I made yesterday because they were made when I was a different person living in different circumstances.  I need new goals.  I will always need goals.

The present moment is all we ever have to work with.  They say it's never too late to formulate some new goals.  That's what's on my plate.  Right.  Now.  :-)

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