Originally published here, September 12, 2008. Kind of a bummer to reread, because of how all the optimism I had about returning to school proved wholly unfounded and a year later I wound up dropping out for good, and how I also totally failed to actually spend much time living by the things I said here. But it was a good idea at the time anyway.
A friend asks, “Would it be good or bad to know what one wanted out of life? Would that feel freeing or restrictive?”
As someone who does know what she wants out of the next several years at least, I have to say, both. Sometimes I really wish I had more options, and I mean, there’s nothing externally stopping me from pursuing any number of things. But I know all my weird daydream careers (comic book letterer! museum architect! sound designer for cartoons!) wouldn’t satisfy me the way teaching would. I guess it’s like marriage—you wouldn’t trade it for anything because you know nothing would fit with you so right, but sometimes you can’t help but wish, or wonder.
But then I remember to back when I didn’t have a single clue what I wanted to do, and how drifting and lost I felt. All the options in the world didn’t matter because I couldn’t see any that I wanted to take.
But that’s me. And while I do see my future job as a true calling, to be honest, I think feeling that emotional about a job is pretty rare, even among people who enjoy their jobs. And no matter how much you love your job, sometimes I think the things that make life worth living are the unimportant ones. Window shopping in Tibetan spiritual stores and homemade pottery galleries. Setting up one playlist for running and another for walking. Reading blogs that make you laugh or make you cry. Learning about ancient military history when you’re not a scholar, watching TV when you are.
And look: I went through a phase, around the time I really realized how awful and fucked up the world truly is, where I was very ART IS POINTLESS, WHO THE FUCK CARES. And I still don’t like to call any particular form of art “important,” and if I have to I tend to measure importance by the numbers, which leads to situations like Harry Potter being more important than John Updike, which I do think by some measure it is, because Harry Potter has brought pleasure and happiness to a fuckload more people than John Updike has, and that is one purpose of art. Not the only possible one, no, but any one person only needs one purpose for the art in their lives. They can have more, but it’s pretty optional.
But I do think the existence of art in general (and I don’t just mean what people normally think of as art but also things like pop music, blogs, radio shows, good journalism, karaoke nights with friends) is important, because if it’s not there in some form, why bother with the big stuff? At first it was really hard to get out of the habit I developed of only doing things that served some Higher Purpose, some Ultimate Goal. Why take piano lessons if I’m never going to Do Anything With It? Why practice drawing if I’ll Never Be Any Good? And once I’d stripped things down almost to the essentials, I couldn’t see any point to those either, because they alone weren’t going to make me happy.
But once I started trying to go back to the supposedly pointless things (and let me tell you, working with kids helped a lot, because no one gets joy out of the pointless like a seven-year-old), it wasn’t just easy, it was addictive. And I realized these weren’t footnotes to my life; these WERE my life.
Now I know that volunteer work and eventually becoming a teacher are important not because of what they are, but because of how they make me feel; if I didn’t have a profession that did that, it would be there, and it would be fine, but it wouldn’t be important the way knitting and taking long walks to new places and reading about things I will never study and no one will ever ask me about are. It would be sort of like the academic side of college is right now: a hopefully interesting challenge that’s pleasant enough and interesting enough, but ultimately just an excuse for doing the things I really want.
Like, sure, I’ll go to classes and do my homework and memorize vocabulary and take tests, but what really matters to me is that I have a whole city to explore and only three years to do it in, I have museums to see and songs to listen to and thrift stores to scour and patterns to knit and crafts to learn, I want to learn quilting and dressmaking and crochet and beadwork, I want to read YA literature and huge Russian novels and Batman comic books and memoirs of unfamous people and feminist tomes, I want to sit in cafes and drink iced Spanish lattes (made with condensed sweetened milk) and think about politics and my life and my friends and the stars and whether the new Liz Phair album is going to be as good as the new song she played as an encore when I saw her do all of Exile in Guyville.
Those things aren’t accessories and they aren’t bonuses. They are things that make me, me, and that give me joy, and what’s more important than joy and love? It is so easy to get distracted, to think that the things that we need to do should also be the things we want to do. But they don’t have to be. It is so easy to think that if you aren’t working, you’re wasting time. But sometimes wasting time is the best way to spend it. Fuck stopping and smelling the roses; I want to sit in the whole damn rose garden and read Edgar Allen Poe for hours like I did when I was a kid (truth).
The most unexpected thing I learned from hating my life for a year was how to feel exuberantly happy, because I was so miserable so much of the time that when I did find something that could make me happy, I clung to it like a drowning woman clings to a lifesaver. I couldn’t afford to let anything cloud those moments, because they were all I had going for me. Hot showers. Tight hugs. Bubble tea. People who made me laugh. These things saved me, way back when. They are the things that remained after everything else fell apart. They are the things that matter.
Originally posted here, September 5, 2008
I have never given screenwriting a try, and I strongly suspect that if I did I would discover I had exactly zero talent for it. But if there is another Isabel in another universe whose genetic makeup and life path has led her to be a gifted screenwriter, I hope some day she writes a movie with a reverse makeover.
I’m so tired of prettiness being put on a pedestal. I’m tired of girls discovering their inner women through make-up and clothes that flaunt their whatever. I want a movie to start with a girl who already does all that shit, who knows what eyeshadow complements her complexion and what patterns are in this year and how to walk in heels. And something happens. Maybe someone betrays her. Maybe she makes a new friend. Maybe she discovers feminist blogs or zines or books or her own sexuality. Maybe she just gets tired.
And then the familiar part: the montage. I was considering replacing the usual peppy music with angry music, but you know what? This can be peppy too. She chops off all her hair, not for a new sexy kicky ‘do but because she doesn’t give a shit anymore. She buys a pair of sneakers. She stops shaving and goes out in public wearing shorts. She cuts her nails short and lets the polish chip. She rummages through her fridge and throws out everything labeled “diet.” She stops her regular eyebrow plucking appointments. She doesn’t buy a whole new wardrobe, because that takes disposable income she doesn’t have, but she wears T-shirts more often and drops the jeans she needs to lie down to wiggle into off at the Salvation Army. She exchanges her push-up bras for camisoles. She stops obsessing over the gym
And at the end? Maybe she gets the guy. Maybe she gets the girl. Maybe she doesn’t get anyone and she’s happy about that. Maybe she makes new friends, maybe she loses old friends, maybe it doesn’t matter to anyone but her and that’s okay too. She’s happy, pretty much. But she’s not afraid of getting pissed off or sad or freaked out. Maybe at the end of it all, she decides to keep the short hair but grow back to manicures because they’re fun. Maybe she keeps her nails short but starts wearing jewelry again because it makes her smile. Maybe she takes up jogging because it clears her head. Maybe the movie ends with a shot of her alone, content, on her way to do something, or meet someone, or just enjoying the fresh air.