As a kid, I always felt that I was pulled by extremely opposite desires. I wished I lived in the future, I wished I lived in the past. I wanted to be an astronaut, I wanted to be a marine biologist, I wanted to be a hippie.
Not much changed as I neared college. I considered pursuing music, art, English, and computers. (Only one of them realistically ended in a non-teaching job.)
Nothing has changed now. I’m loving the ability to float from place to place every few months. And yet… and yet…
My dad spent most of the year after I was born building the house that I grew up in. I lived in that house until I left for college shortly before I turned 18. Every year, we followed patterns. Rituals of life. In the spring, the garden would be tilled. We would start seeds in the house, and transplant them as the ground warmed. We would weed, we would harvest. We canned fruit, tomatoes, pickles, jams and jellies. In the fall, Dad would take several trees (that he had cut down earlier that year and left to season), borrow a log splitter from some friends, and we would spend a few days “woodchucking.” We’d take the freshly split logs, chuck them into the back of the truck, drive the truck to the house, chuck the wood under the porch, and organize the pile of logs into neatly stacked rows, ready for the winter.
Every year, us girls would be put to work on some project to develop or improve our home further. Adding new gardens. Chickens. (Though I would debate if that was an improvement.) Dad rebuilt the front porch and added a sidewalk and security light. In the past couple years, he put a roof over the sidewalk to keep off snow and ice, re-did the back porch, and added a roof over part of it when he removed all the shingles from the main roof and redid the roof with metal.
So much of what we did, gardening, canning, building, improving — it was an investment for the time coming, knowing we would be there in the winter, in the summer, the next year. Mom and Dad took responsibility for the future, not just the present.
Getting rid of 99% of our possessions and jumping around from place to place freed Jonathan and I from a lot of responsibility. If we don’t like the place we’re living, we don’t have to improve it. We’ll just move. If we lose something? We didn’t spend a lot of money on gathering other belongings, so we can just buy a new one. We don’t have anywhere to keep mementos if they’re not digital photos. In so many ways, we’re living life in the short term.
And I long for the way of life I grew up in, at the same time as I’m loving the life I’m living. I want to be surrounded by people who’ve known me and each other for years, and have built a cultural identity together. I want to invest in a home and land, knowing I will be there in five years, that my children or their children will be there in fifty years. In this settled life, I will have an orchard filled with trees planted at the birth of each family member, and children in the family will grow up eating Cousin Emily’s cherries, Uncle Nate’s apple pie, Cara’s peach preserves. We’ll live near a river or lake. Near but not in a city. (I still need my good internet!)
Unlike my dreams of being an astronaut and a marine biologist and a hippie (well, I suppose I could be a hippie and either one of the others), I think I will someday have both my free-floating life and my settled life. Maybe one after the other. Maybe both at the same time. When I win the lottery that I don’t play and buy my acres of rolling hills edged by a river, spending a month every summer in Europe and winters visiting warmer climes, switching back and forth between my settled base and many other homes. Or (more realistically) I’ll build the life, piece by piece.
I think a lot of people have trouble deciding what they want in life because they want more than one thing. They want opposing things. And not knowing what to pick paralyzes them. I chose computer science, but I still play music and write and paint for fun. I’m floating free now, but I may change my trajectory at some point and settle down. Very few choices are final. We have a beautiful ability to change our minds. Changing your mind doesn’t necessarily mean you were wrong before. What you want and is good when you’re 25 is not necessarily the same at 27, or 30, or 42.
Change is terrifying and beautiful. Don’t fear it.