Wednesday, January 6, 2010

(What) To Do (?)

One of my ex-boyfriends puts together, each year, a list of lists—the end of year list as commentary on the art of listing. I suppose the idea is that these lists can tell us something about who we were, who we are, or who we want to be. To be honest, like LLL, I’m not one for these yearly recountings and remembrances of things past, but I’ve got to admit to a peculiar fondness for the forward-looking list, particularly the infamous to-do list. This is not because I believe in progress: I believe in the notion of looking forward just about as much as I believe in the notion of looking back. But, as someone I know and love used to remind me, that won’t stop those looks (which here generate some semblance of linear time) from believing in me.

When I was home for the holidays, I had a conversation with my youngest sister about her intense desire to become a mother, and right quick. As someone who has never wanted to be a mother, this desire is both fascinating and puzzling to me. So I asked her: why do you want this so badly right now? What she told me surprised me. She said she’d accomplished what she wanted to accomplish in the current phase of her life, and she is ready to move on to the next stage. This surprised me because I don’t think life this way: in stages. I think it as something more akin to an endless circling and repetition, with an intense occupation of the moment that I’m in. This doesn’t mean I don’t believe in change. It just means I also believe in some kind of constancy—something shining and eternal. Maybe it means I believe in love.

The conversation with my sister reminded me of why I believe so thoroughly in conversation, in the need to really engage with one another, ask each other difficult questions, care so profoundly about the answers. The moments that we occupy, at whatever degree of intensity, are certainly informed by what we learn about ourselves, and one another, through these conversations. So it proves possible to believe in fully inhabiting the present all the while still believing in change, agreeing with Emerson’s contention that “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

We grow, we change, and yet, in each moment, we deeply and abidingly are. The question for this blog, I suppose, is: how can we employ conversation to grow and change in more meaningful and honest ways? And, perhaps more specifically: how can we, how must we, address gender as part of this growth and change? Which brings me back to my sister. I am in no way critical of her desire to be a mother. I believe she’ll be a kind and generous parent, and learn much about herself along the way. But I do wonder why the best we can do, in so many of our conversations, is to invoke conventional notions of what it means to proceed through life: stage one, stage two, stage three, and on and on unto the final stage, the one we must not discuss at all, conventionally or otherwise. Add minor variations for gender, race, and mix well. Instant recipe for life. Just add eggs. I don’t believe my sister gave me the whole answer when she told me she was ready for the next stage. Her desire is too deep, her need too pronounced, for this to be all.

I’ll keep talking with my sister about this, because I love her and I really want to know her better. I’ll keep talking with her because, through our conversations, hopefully we’ll both learn something about ourselves, about our relationship, about our world. I’ll keep talking with her because I want each instant of my life to be full of possibility, and conversations are the only way I know to create such possibility. I suppose this is what I love about the to-do-list: the possibility that I may, still, be becoming the person I want to be. That there is hope. If not today, then tomorrow. If not tomorrow, the next day. The to-do-list is the conversation you have with yourself about your hopes and your fears. It’s a space for bearing the soul. So, as the new year begins to unwind, I think about my list. To do: keep talking, keep listening, keep hoping.