Friday, January 6, 2012

Be Careful What You Wish For, You Might Have to Work to Get It

by Kristina Wright

I love making predictions. I'm usually wrong, but sometimes I'm right. It really depends on what I'm predicting. I'm generally an optimist, so I tend to lean toward positive "everything will work out" predictions. Is that a prediction at all or just wishful thinking? is there a difference? Maybe a prediction is nothing more than a wish. Which does make me wonder about all the end of times predictions, as Garce wrote about. Why would anyone wish for the end of the world?

I think my interest in predicting my own future comes from having to write my own obituary for a high school psychology class. I was a smartass gifted student and didn't particularly like our pompous teacher (who modeled himself after Sydney Poitier in To Sir, With Love--a movie he made us watch) so I didn't take the assignment too seriously. I dashed off a couple of lines and turned it in--and got a C-. Not my first in my high school career, but certainly unexpected for a busy work assignment. There was more red ink on the page from his pen then there were words in my obituary. The gist of the justification for the grade was that I hadn't put any thought into the assignment. Which I hadn't. Who wants to think about their own death? But he made a comment to me when I complained about my grade that caught me up short. "If you put this little thought into your future, what will you have to look back on?"

It wasn't as if I had no ambitions at seventeen. I was college-bound and knew I wanted to be a writer. But beyond that... yeah, it was all pretty vague. I mean, who knows what they want to do with their entire life when they're seventeen? In retrospect, I think he was a little hard on me because I had more direction than most kids I knew, as well as having always known that I wanted to be a writer. I think he wanted me to imagine a bigger world and fuller life for myself. He offered me the opportunity to rewrite my obituary for a better grade, but with a solid A in the class already and a busy extracurricular life, I declined. But I did not forget the assignment or his comments. Since high school, I've spent a lot of time contemplating questions like, "Will this matter in a year?" "Where do I want to be by the time I'm 25, 40, 65?" and "What is really important to me?" They're difficult questions to answer because the landscape of my life has changed so much and whatever path I have set out on has often led to me meandering down unmarked side paths-- amazing, wild, wonderful side paths-- that have put me somewhere else entirely from where I thought I was going to end up.

About fifteen years ago, I succumbed to the tradition of writing a newsletter to include with my holiday cards. You know the type-- the ones that rave about all the wonderful things that have happened to the family. I didn't keep it up for long (I prefer to write personal notes in my cards, even if it takes forever), but for a few years I amused myself by writing the following year's newsletter before anything had happened. Then when the holidays rolled around, I would pull out the letter and read what I had "predicted" for the year and make the changes accordingly. It was fun to consider the year in advance that way and also interesting to see whether what I'd written had "come true." Surprisingly, a lot of it did.

Reading a letter written by me talking about my imaginary year was eye opening in a number of ways. For one, it showed me how ambitious I am. Not for wealth or accolades or a size 0 body or any of those "be a better you" type New Year's resolutions, but ambitious to be... happy. To be balanced. To feel complete. To feel like my life is full of good things and good people. To be a well-rounded person who loves and is loved, who has had more joy than sadness over the course of a year, who has set her expectations crazy high--but only for herself. I often think back on that seventeen year old kid I was and realize there's still a lot of her in me. Wishing and dreaming, but afraid to wish for too much. Afraid I don't deserve it, afraid if I ask for too much it will all disappear. Putting my wishes in writing in the form of predictions seemed like tempting fate, but it also unlocked some part of me that said, "You deserve this happiness you're writing about. You deserve it."

When I turned 39 I did a one year plan for where I wanted to be when I was 40. It wasn't so much a list of predictions as goals I wanted to accomplish. But I didn't list them as goals, I stated them as facts the way I had in my fake holiday newsletter. "I won a Nobel Peace Prize." Like that. (Though that wasn't among my goals.) I tucked the list away for a year and pulled it out again when I turned 40, amused to see that some of the things that had seemed so important the year before had totally fallen off my radar. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that I'd met a number of my goals. There was nothing magical about any of it--it was simply a way of making note of what was important to me at the current moment and checking back in a year later to see what I'd accomplished, what I'd forgotten, what I'd failed. Being a rather motivated person (most of the time), I accomplished more than I failed. No magic there.

When I turned 40, I made a 5-year prediction list. That proved to be a little more difficult and not nearly as accurate as a one-year prediction list. For one thing, a lot of my "predictions" were contingent on certain things, so if A didn't happen, neither did B or C. For instance, I said we'd be moving, but that was contingent on Jay's orders in the Navy and we ultimately stayed put. Among my correct predictions were that I would have a baby, edit an anthology, still have my car (which turns 20 this year), teach college, celebrate my 21st wedding anniversary and go to London. Then there were the ones I missed entirely-- I don't have a MFA or PhD and I don't think I'll be able to get either before May when I turn 45. We didn't even move locally, something I was quite certain I wanted. But then the real estate bubble burst and the economy tanked and I decided our house with its reasonable mortgage was just fine. I didn't learn how to play a musical instrument, either. I didn't write a novel, though I started several. I didn't go to Venice with Jay for his 40th birthday because I had a baby.

I turn 45 this year and I am wondering whether to make another 5 year prediction plan. I like dreaming about my "ideal" life five years from now, though I know what I consider ideal now might be different by the time I turn 50. When I'm 50, I will have an eight year old and a six year old-- and while I might have predicted one baby, I never predicted two! If I keep editing anthologies at the rate of three a year, I will have over 20 anthologies under my belt by the time I turn 50. I will have been married for 27 years when I'm 50. These are the basics-- the predictions I can make based on everything staying on track. But what about wild, out there predictions? Should I make some? I'm still pondering over that.

Accurately predicting the future (my future) doesn't mean I have any mystical powers-- or even a particularly good imagination, since I stick to rather reasonable predictions. If I were psychically gifted, I'd have predicted the housing boom and subsequent crash and made the most of it. There is really nothing magic about any of my predictions coming true, but putting them in writing seems to trigger something in my brain. Reminding me what's important, what I really want and where I ultimately want to end up. Granted, I'm not always right and sometimes I forget what it was I even wanted in the first place. But the big things, the really meaningful things, those stick. Those predictions I wrote over the years in faux newsletters and one-year and five-year plans are the wishes I wanted to come true. While I'm guilty of thinking far too often that I don't deserve certain good things, I'm optimistic enough (and stubborn enough) to believe that if I want something badly enough, I can make it happen. And though I didn't get every one of my predictions right, the end result has been the same--I am happy. Sappy? Yeah. Age and motherhood have softened my sharp edges and sarcastic wit (mostly). But at the end of the day--or the end of a year--my wish is to be happy.

So for 2012, I predict... happiness. Children's laughter. Love. The best kind of challenges. Deadlines that make me grateful to be a writer. Meeting new friends in far (and not so far) away places. Writing. Learning. Being passionate. Falling head over heels again with this wonderful thing called life. And while I dislike the idea of writing my obituary now that my own mortality is much more real than it was when I was seventeen, I would like very much if some day one line of it reads, "She was so happy."

Sometime soon, I'll work on my 5 year plan. I don't know yet what will be in there. There are things from my last five year plan that won't make the cut or wishes that I have outgrown or laid aside in favor of new wishes. I'll try to be practical as I was the last time, but maybe I'll throw a couple of wild predictions in there, too. Only if they are things that I really, really want, though. Like a pony. Or a summer cottage. Or Eric Dane, naked. But maybe wanting to be happy, wanting to love and be loved, wanting to live a life that is big and full and passionate and magical... maybe that's wild enough, huh?

6 comments:

  1. Planning for happiness is the best prediction I've ever heard.

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  2. Lovely post, Kris! I love the idea of writing a pseudo-letter like that a year in advance...how fascinating to look at it a year later. Reading that made me wonder what I wanted/how I felt/where I was a year ago. I don't remember exactly, though I could probably recall some of it if I contemplated it. But how interesting it would be if I'd written it down then and could just read it now! Thanks for the idea, which I may just do this year. (As an aside, there would be some degree of irony in that since I have sent out winter holiday cards exactly once, a number of years ago.)

    Thanks for sharing. :)

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  3. I think that would be the best resolution, theresolution to be happy. Trying to accomplish that goal would be a journey in itself. And so much of it depends on stability. So I guess I wish for you this year a stable and steady life. Let us know how those goals turn out.

    Garce

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  4. Thank you, all. I wish happiness in 2012 for you!

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  5. I agree - writing about the year's "news" in advance, then rereading it later is an interesting way to see how your goals & expectations change. BTW, I was never assigned to write my own obit in high school, but my daughter was. This freaked me out! In her version (which got an A), she died young from an incurable disease, but after being diagnosed, she did all the things on her Bucket List (much like the Queen Latifah character in a recent movie) and was remembered with love by all her many friends. Heart-warming, but I didn't like it. If I had a choice, I would prefer to be cut out of her life than to survive her death. And that's what happened - she sent me to hell in summer 2010, but I know she's alive at 34, & that comforts me. (If she lives to about 112, she can travel the world & go skydiving later.)

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  6. "I'm optimistic enough (and stubborn enough) to believe that if I want something badly enough, I can make it happen."

    Yes. That's the secret, right there!

    May your predictions (at least for happiness) come true a hundred fold.

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