*Written several days ago, on the road to Chicago.
I think it’s because for miles (1,011 to be more precise, with the exception of the I-670 bypass in Kansas City), I’ve been driving through either garbage BLM land; hay fields; or barren, winter corn and soybean plots. But when the brown of upturned soil began to give way to the beige of concrete buildings/sidewalks, it al felt wrong. And when I stepped out of the hermetical seal of my car to pump gas just south of Joliet, I felt the strong wind, which is a natural component of Chicago weather, but which signalled to me now the abnormality of this city – Chicago – an aberration in this land that is supposed to be just fields, even though the windiness is probably an artifact of the jet stream and the Lake and has existed since well before the city.
Still, it all felt and looked strange and reminded me how I did not want to be there. How three days earlier I’d smelled the salt of the Pacific Ocean, two days earlierI’d heard the crunch of Christmas snow under my tires in Flagstaff, and one day earlier I’d bid farewell to any mountains and said hello to miles and miles of fields. And now the suburban concrete jungle of Chicagoland.
I find myself singing Gazebo’s “I Don’t Want To Be Here” in my head. Why did I now “hate” Chicago? Since I’d left it for the West Coast a little over a month ago? Since it became Winter? Since I’d had to return to take care of my father who’d recently been diagnosed with cancer?
Yeah, probably that last one. Driving 10+ hours a day is always difficult, but it seems like if the destination is fun or exciting it can make the journey so as well. But when the destination is uncertainty and difficulty, the journey can’t be expected to be much different.
Four days of self-psychoanalysis between bouts of listening to audiobooks and Spotify playlists and I think I’ve come to realize: I don’t want to be here because I don’t want to be here. I want to be here for my Dad, but every other part of my psyche wants to be elsewhere: driving up the Pacific Coast Highway camping out in state beaches, teaching science to kids in the great outdoors, kayaking in Puget Sound, going to concerts in Seattle or San Francisco, things I’d envisioned since before returning to Taiwan in August.
But I’m not an idiot – I know plans change often. I just think this one – my Dad’s cancer diagnosis – is so outside the realm of events in my life history thus far, so as to allow me to be frustrated. I wrote in my journal several nights ago how I’m not stranger to juggling commitments and opportunities, feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work and/or decisions needing to be done and/or made. I know how it feels to have “many balls in the air” and, while I don’t like it, I know eventually the balls will fall and it’s happened enough that I know what to expect. I’m comfortable with the outcome, be it the balls falling in my hands or to the ground.
This new scenario is not balls in the air. It is being shoved out of an airplane with no parachute. There are no choices to be made. There are no opportunities to pursue. I am falling, clutching air by the fistfulls, gasping for oxygen as streams of it whip past my open mouth*.
*Have you ever jumped out of a plane? I have. I did it after I finished all my academic requirements senior year of college and had no life plan. Literally. I thought this would be the perfect time to jump out of a plane because if something did go wrong at least I’d finished everything I’d set out to do with my life. It was May 2014 and I had no job lined up for after graduation in June. No graduate school. I hadn’t signed up for the MCAT. All I’d envisioned was driving West, staying with family and friends, while trying to figure out what was next for me. (That “dream” was cut short by the Taiwan job offer I got and accepted. November 2017 would be the exact same process of Westward and self exploration – a katabasis – that would be cut short by Dad’s cancer diagnosis.) Anyway, I was not afraid to jump out of the plane. And for the first few seconds of the minute of freefall, I realized I could not breath what with the wind whipping so rapidly, or rather, with my face cutting through the air molecules such that the oxygen couldn’t possibly be sucked into my lungs. Instead I screamed in order to force all the air out of my lungs in order to draw in the tiniest breaths.
I guess I have to just wait for my body to slam the ground, an act it’s never had to experience.
Recently, I was telling someone this idea – how I’d made plans and taken job offers and how all of this had to be thrown out and replaced with uncertainty, and I realized it was like the poker game Texas Hold ‘Em. You start with two cards and bet. Then three community cards are flipped over (the flop). More betting, then a fourth community card (the turn), then betting and a fifth and final community card is revealed (the river). There’s a last round of bettering before all the hands are revealed. The amazing thing about this game is how your odds are constantly shifting. You could be destined to win with the five cards you have at the flop and have zero percent chance by the last round of betting. Or vice versa: you could have nothing to start but have a royal flush with the river card.
My friend replied that this is indeed life and this it is life forever, always being dealt new cards and playing a new hand and having to wait to see how you end up.
Now on the road from Joliet to Chicago, I consider this idea and think: but eventually you run out of money and are dealt no more hands. But then I guess that’s where the analogy – as all do at some point – breaks down. But it breaks down even before then because – unless you’re a capitalism robot – in Texas Hold ‘Em your sole purpose is to extract all the money from your competitors. That is not most humans life purpose. And besides, who would you be competiting against in a game of life? Surely not all other humans? Maybe God? From all accounts – both those faithfully pious and those scientifically-inclined like Einstein – “God does not play dice.” Texas Hold Em is probably also out of God’s desired universal plan.
And don’t those of us who don’t even believe in a God or gods or at least lack the belief in a creator cares about our lives and has any hand in it, don’t people like that – like me – sometimes feel like things don’t “happen for a reason” like the horribly annoying Hallmark-card-esque phrase people utter when cancer diagnoses happen, but that things happen and create this whole new path of universal events where other things can happen, such that you can’t recognize it now but that first shitty thing kind of had to happen in order for the subsequent less shitty things to be possible?
I guess that’s the optomistic’s life outlook: to not get too bogged down with the quotidian grinds of life, but recognize that each day we are putting new gears on that machine that is out life and we will not know its function until our end when it jettisons us off into death (one of its functions) and propels society forward in some way (its other function, hopefully).
So this is it: the end. How many analogies for life did I fit in? Life is a machine with frustrating parts that need to be there for the whole thing to run. Life is Texas Hold ‘Em, with the plans and opportunities ever shifting. Life is being flung out of an airplane with no parachute and being asked to tolerate the descent until brutal impact with the ground (facing the inevitable), which is worse but somewhat similar to the overwhelming feeling of juggling life’s commitments knowing that what goes up must come down.
Life, in this moment, for me, is driving back to Chicago.