a maybe manifesto

Anticipation is uncomfortable when it stretches out and out beyond the reach of your imagination. You can live in this state for a while, knowing that changes are undoubtedly coming, but not sure when, or how. But even for the most dedicated mediator or yogi, which I admit I’m not, this state will start to wear on you. You will want action. You will want real physical change to thrust you out of the fog of ephemeral hypotheticals.

They may materialize as follows:

  • Maybe — you should just walk away from your Ph.D. right now. (You’re four years in but it’s never too late to start living the life you want to live, right? —and what was that life like exactly?)
  • Maybe — you will write a dissertation that reignites your faith in art’s potential to forge spiritual bonds between people, across time and space. You will write with enough intellectual panache that cynics, like me, can actually believe it.
  • Maybe — you will realize that no one will read said dissertation and choose to write a novel instead.
  • Maybe — your husband will get a job with that tech company that even your grandmother knows and you’ll be compelled to move to the ocean…
  • Or wait, no, there’s another opportunity, this one’s on the opposite coast, maybe there?
  • Maybe — you will decide that a novel is too cliche an ambition for a disgruntled Ph.D. student and decide to become an organic farmer instead, maybe in one of two coastal options?
  • Maybe — you will put your research and writing skills to use for nifty non-profit that supports arranging travel and hotel accommodations for people trying to visit elderly relatives that live a great distance away. (This idea occurs to you in the park after a sun-burned hitchhiker has knelt in front of your too-friendly dog and scratched her ears while telling you his story about making his way from Seattle to St. Louis to see his mother in the hospital in Mississippi. The non-profit hare emerges only once you have achieved a safe distance from prospective client and are no longer contemplating potential exit strategies should this vagrant pull a knife.)
  • Read a crappy novel. Reconsider prospects for your novel — (surely you can come up with something better than this?)
  • Maybe you will have a baby.
  • Maybe two.
  • With these two kids in tow can you finish your Ph.D. and still get out with enough time to make something of your life before your children are grown and your hair has turned completely gray, or maybe not gray, but maybe that white color that your mother has worn for the last few years?

Long ago you swore that children would not be your only accomplishment in life, motherhood not your only identity.
If you get pregnant today you will have your first child at 30.
If you wait until after you’ve made some headway on your new career path…?

It turns out like this: your husband doesn’t take either coastal job. Instead, you will get exactly what you dreamed of when beginning your higher education years ago. You are both going to move abroad for a year together, an unconventional honeymoon while you conduct dissertation research and continue to contemplate possible futures. So now here you are preparing to move to another continent where you’ll struggle to speak the language and to maintain your ambition to do something worthwhile, even if, especially if, you decide it’s better, after all, not to wait to try for the baby.

This is where I’m standing. I’m in no position to throw myself a pity party for the great unknown that awaits, there’s still hope for the future, but on the other hand, I’m old enough now that new missteps can no longer be swept away by the momentum of youth. What we do matters and it’s time to get serious.