The title of this post, which is the more common phrasing, is actually a variation on the original wording – “best laid schemes” – from a poem the 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote to a nest of mice he’d just found in his barn. I might have made the barn part up – he stumbled upon a nest of mice somewhere.
I had big plans for the start of 2015. Huge ones. Had all gone accordingly, I’d certainly have written in this thing more than once, and I’d have made further headway on my novel, the essays I’m crafting in my mind, the other career ventures I’m pursuing (about which more later, as my mom would say), the great clutter purge I’m planning, and my health and fitness goals. However, I awoke on New Year’s Day with a cold and, two weeks later, I’m still battling it. It’s nothing glamorous or romantic like consumption, it’s a f-king cold that never really amounted to anything but won’t completely leave me alone. We’re getting there, though.
In some ways this was good timing, for I’m very susceptible to holding tight to the notion of fresh beginnings and many times I’ve thrown myself full force into one, created the new, improved version of my life, only to burn out and find myself right back where I started from. So although my 2015 is off to a sluggish start, this has afforded me the opportunity to spend a lot of time with my thoughts and to develop a plan for implementing the aforementioned changes, rather than give way to my impatience and leap without looking.
A few weeks ago a friend was visiting from LA. On his last night in town, some derelict stole his jacket off the back of his barstool – it happened to be one of the coldest nights we’ve experienced this winter. This was not his favorite jacket, nor was it one of great monetary value, but it was his. He did everything he could – gave the bartenders his info should it turn up. He asked me how to get past the annoyance of the experience and I advised that he just accept it, realize that the person who stole it is probably not living a terribly peaceful or productive life, and view it as an opportunity to let go of a piece of the past and make room for something new.
Over the past few years I’ve developed this somewhat zen-like mindset – and I know it’s one that annoys the shite out of some people in my life – but I’ve had to do so. Because as I’ve said many times, I have too many bad marks in my past, too many potential regrets, and holding onto them and to the messy emotions surrounding them was only holding me back, keeping me mired in a version of myself that wasn’t working. It was in figuring out how to let go of some of this stuff that I’ve cleared the way to becoming the person – late bloomer that I am – that I am meant to be. A lot has slipped through my fingers – mostly because I’ve let it – and I realized in December, as my birthday approached, how easily I could fall into the mindset that what could have been is of more value than what might be. There is no use in going over all the ways my life might be different had I not done X or had I done Y, unless doing so will illuminate how I can make things work better from here on out. The point is I am here, now, a sum of my experiences and wisdom and, more important, aware that there are myriad possibilities for the future. That all is not lost – was never lost – I just took an unorthodox path to get to the place where I am today.
A lot of people in my life are going through challenging times, job-wise, family-wise, love-wise, in some cases all three – and while we can’t change the specifics of our circumstances, I think it’s helpful to recognize that it is possible for things to get better. This often requires letting go of longstanding ideas of what our lives are supposed to look like. I didn’t plan to be a childless 44 year old still figuring myself out and still working on my first book – but this is who I am, among many other things. And there is infinite possibility within these parameters. I have friends who’ve been professional musicians for their entire adult lives, and who didn’t plan to still be struggling at this point, didn’t plan for the record industry imploding on itself, for fewer and fewer venues to exist in New York, and for those that do to pay their performers little, if anything. I have friends who are single moms despite their efforts and expectations that things would be otherwise.
But here we all are. It’s easy to mourn the past and fear the future – it’s very easy. It’s a lot harder to accept the things we can not change (to borrow another phrase). But it’s the only thing we can really control – how we weather the storms. If we don’t learn to do so, we risk missing the good stuff, because there is good stuff amidst the wreckage of our dreams and expectations. Sift through the wreckage and you’ll find reinvention. There are people who love us – every single one of you is loved, deeply, by someone, or by many someones. There is no limit of new things to learn, and we are fortunate to live in a time where we can learn a lot for free. Really. It’s amazing, actually – with a few clicks of the mouse we can learn Spanish or yoga or the history of the world. We can broaden our minds, and that is a luxury. There are blue skies and pretty views and funny cat videos if that’s your thing. There’s music and art and beauty and light all around us. When we focus so tightly on what isn’t working, we lose sight of what is. Life is imperfect and unbalanced, but it is rich if we let it be.
I wish so much for you all in 2015.