Eleven years and a season ago, I was in the middle of the best summer I’ve ever had. I had graduated from college, received enough graduation gifts to coast for a few months, and was dating the woman I’d eventually marry. I spent my days studying the early music history that had never made it into my music major and my evenings playing ultimate frisbee. My commitments were minimal. I had the rare luxury of choosing how I spent my time.
Most importantly, though, I knew what was coming next. In August I would move to Ohio and begin a master of music degree in composition. I had an apartment lined up (despite not meeting any roommates), an assistantship lined up, and hey, how hard could more school be? (It turned out to be hard, but that is a different post.) I was a 22-year old with a plan. The future spread before me like an ocean.
That was the moment I should have checked my boat for leaks…or perhaps invested in a set of maps to give me some idea of what the other side of the ocean looked like. But c’mon. I had love, ultimate, and leisure to spend reading about parallel developments in madrigals and motets.
The future is smaller than you think. It probably isn’t big enough to hold everything you would like to pile into it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not tiny. It’s just more along the lines of Heward’s Handy Haversack than a high-end bag of holding or portable hole. (Apologies to the non-geeks.) You cannot just keep dumping stuff there, hoping you will get to it later.
Still…seize-the-day posts and their cousin chase-your-dream wear me out. Days are slippery. Dreams move fast. Of course you have to sow before you reap. Sowing doesn’t guarantee a harvest. To sow is to sign up for endless days of weeding and shoveling fertilizer, of hoping for rain or digging your own ditches. And when you reap? As good as it might feel to heft your scythe, to cut the stalks and winnow the grain, even that doesn’t guarantee that somebody will be waiting at market to buy your harvest. Or that the miller won’t be an ass.
No step in the process can be dumped willy-nilly into the future. It is too small for that. This is what bothers me about “seizing the day.” If I spend the day writing, my kids will destroy the apartment (or one another). If I spend the day writing, I’m going to have a hard time staying in said apartment when rent comes due. I can throw myself wholeheartedly into chasing my dreams, but I’m setting myself up to trip over things in the now.
I am not against pep talks. We all need them. Sometimes we need the ones we give ourselves most of all. I just prefer to remember that we have only a short amount of time, and that, unlike the Doctor, we’re stuck experiencing it linearly. The future is smaller than I once thought it was.
It’s too small too hold all of the hopes I dumped there. The thing is, the now isn’t much bigger. I can worry about seizing the day, or I can get a fence around it to keep it from escaping. If my dreams are running too fast to catch, I can try to let them show me the best path forward. Most of all, I remind myself that a small future does not have to be a dark future. My future is still mine to fill. Yours is still yours. Think hard about what you stash there.
The funny thing about futures is that the more you plan, the more it changes. You just never see the turns ahead. Keep a strong stick and a light to scare away the monsters, and know that whatever’s ahead you can either go through, or take the next left.