Yesterday our trip to semi-rural north Texas got me thinking about "life as it it should be lived". So many things in our lives are beyond our control, but for many of us, a good few important things are within our control. The couple whose home we visited yesterday had elected to move to the country and build their own home. They had a two acre lot, a home whose construction they'd personally overseen, and a huge storage building the man and his brother had actually constructed in two weekends, complete with fabricated heavy metal beams and the like.
Now this kind couple did a number of things which I could not do on a substantial bet. Just listening to the fellow, a telecommunications specialist of some sort, describe how he and his brother had lifted a huge metal beam some twenty feet into the air with a crank hoist made me realize that in such practical matters, I would not only be out of my league, I would not even know how to find the ballfield. But the key point--that these folks chose a way of living that required a bit of pluck and effort, and made it happen, appealed to me.
I must admit that in matters of housing and, for matter, most things, I take the path of limited risk. I've never bought a home that required any substantial renovation, but instead bought homes which are pretty near "turn-key". I research into school districts to find which ones are optimal, because in my experience, home values and school district quality tend to go hand in hand. Given a choice between a cookie cutter home that is large enough and comfortable, and a home which is charming but does not meet our day to day needs, I will always vote for the former. Given the choice between a little more luxury and a little less price, I will always vote for the latter.
This "safe" approach carries over into a lot of choices I've made in my life. I chose law school over graduate school in English at least in part because I perceived it as a "safe" choice. I took my first position as a lawyer with a firm that offered me a fair bit of money, although I felt (correctly) that culturally it might be a bit too "corporate" for me. It was just 'safer' to have the income. Conversely, a couple of years ago, I determined to open my own firm with a friend, rather than following up on an opportunity or two which might have meant more income but more risk, I felt (correctly) that biting the bullet and building my own business would be apt to be safer than going into middle age dependent on the good will of other people upon whom I relied for business.
Lately I've observed a small spate of folks in stable relationships who opt to take on the intrigue and risk of clandestine "second relationships". I know that there must be some thrill in the secrecy and passion, but I never quite get why one can't do those in one's life the courtesy of breaking off one relationship before embarking on another, or at least straightforwardly being open about what one is doing. Any of those options, including in particular a clandestine affair, sound entirely like too much work and risk for my general "safe" philosophy. I typically tell the joke that it is hard enough to be in one relationship and all the interpersonal interplay that involves, without imagining being in two such situations at once.
I don't mean to imply judgment, though, as I know life is very complicated, and I do not understand most of it.
I'm not regretful about the "safe" choices I've made, as "safe" is better for me. I do not enjoy nail-biting departures into debt, career risk, or extra hassle. I know that this means that I won't live in a home that is featured in a magazine, won't get rich, won't be particularly recognized, and won't be on the metaphoric "cutting edge".
But small things like yesterday's "we built our dream home in the country" do get me thinking about little ways in which I can try to make my life match my aspirations. I have no desire to pull up stakes from our charming tract home in the suburbs and move to rural Texas. But wouldn't it be nice to actively focus on getting this home paid off, and then someday have a little retreat someplace in rural Texas? Rural areas here tend to be very inexpensive, and the whole thing should be economically do-able,
assuming our current crop of conservatives do not do too much further damage to our economy. Wouldn't it be great, I ask myself, to write a novel and self-publish it, just for fun? Wouldn't it be fun to do something simple and yet thus far unachievable, like go to the Canary Islands or Newfoundland or Prince Edward's Island or some other out of the way place I've daydreamed of seeing? These are all small things, easy to achieve.
Indeed, I pride myself that the advantage of my life is that I can have my safety and yet eat fun, too.
But sometimes I have a sort of paralysis about this sort of thing.
Let's take a simple symbolic example. Since August, my wife and I have agreed that we will find a weekend to go to some cool Texas place of my choosing. This is not a tall order. I just pick a place that looks cool to me, and we priceline up some rooms, hop in her little Toyota, and go. I love to read 'travel Texas' type books (our state tourism office puts out the best one for free) which list dozens and myriads of towns all over Texas that are entirely weekend worthy. October is the best tourism season in Texas, as the weather is entirely felicitous. Texas has wonderful things to do--mountains, deserts, ocean, forests music, arts, history and some of the quaintest little towns in America.
But here's my paralysis--it's hard to decide what might be fun.
I've read and researched and thought about this for months. But now that the moment is here, I feel that "safe" approach to things besetting me. I worry, if worry is the word, about whether I will pick the "right" place, and, worse, I worry about whether any place is really as much fun as a pleasant weekend in our tract home in our cookie-cutter suburb in our ordinary window of north Texas. I will never have a career as a travel writer, I know.
I love that when I wake up most mornings, I am content and at ease. I like that I can decide to do something within my reach, and make it happen. I love to move from 'there's no way to get there from here' and actually get someplace sometimes. But do I always try to get to the places I should go? Some days, just a little, I wonder where my edge has gone, and am I supposed to do something to get it back.