The Ant and the English Major

April 17, 2011

Filed in: Hawaii, The Middle Ages, The Way We Live Now

O my beautiful brothers and sisters of the Interwebs, I have something to tell you.

We are now 126 days away from my 50th birthday—from the day I was supposed to have reached all 50 states. Which was the ostensible point of this blog.
Guess what? It’s not gonna happen.

As my loyal readers know, I have just two left—Hawaii and Kansas. But I am out of time, and much more to the point, we are fucking broke. T and I are both freelancing, and since everything that supposedly “matters” was keyed to a full-time job that now isn’t—health, dental, life, retirement, vacation, subsidized subway pass—everything is what we need to pull the plug on, and fast. This 50th State project included.

Sometimes I feel sad about it—really sad—but mostly I feel like a dork for having

a) thought it was going to happen, and
b) gone public with the whole thing.

I put us in a heap-load of debt going to Alaska, added to it (somewhat) by limping off to North Dakota, and now I feel like those decisions, along with practically every other money decision we’ve made since the boys were born, was a mistake.

If that sounds like a massive pity party in the making, I apologize. The sensation is more like I’m starring on the wrong end of a modern-day Aesop’s Fable. The English major and the Ant. The moral at the end: The goal was not to raise intelligent, compassionate children and keep a roof over their heads, the goal was to MAKE MONEY. At which WE FAILED, massively.

Because a person can’t just shed her naively optimistic self overnight, I still have fantasies of pulling this thing out of the bag somehow at the last possible second, especially since last-possible-seconds are my specialty.

Like someone could read this and message me and be like, OMG what is your Paypal account, I am so moved I am giving you $7,500 right this instant.

That could happen.

Or I could drive alone to Kansas on my 50th birthday, which would be so poetic. It’d be me, getting to all the states at the last minute except one, except Hawaii. There’s a metaphor there! I could write an essay about it: “The goal with the hole: How my project fail made me a better human being.” O Magazine could publish, and why not? People would weep. And Tweet. And somehow this weeping and tweeting would turn into cash, and that cash would lift us skyward to Hawaii.

Or I could go on doing my two jobs and taking care of my two kids and my one dog, and ignoring my marriage while somehow keeping it going, and paying bills and doing laundry and calling the ‘rents twice a week and trying to save the planet and the U.S. public school system from their inevitable swallowization by toxic capitalism, and the 50th State project will just fall quietly off the radar alongside all the housecleaning and writing and regular exercise that falls off every day week and month and year.

My mom was—still is!—a nurse. She’s still working at 74. When we were kids (there were four of us), she “went back to work” to earn some money to buy new furniture. I’m sure you see where this is going—the money she brought home almost immediately became indispensible for daily household expenses, and, no, my parents literally never, not in decades of my mom working, bought that furniture.

She was always, always tired, and our house was always, always a mess. And yet, one time, out of nowhere, she told us kids she was writing a book—a children’s book. About what really happens when the tooth fairy collects all those teeth.

I remember so vividly being so amazed—my mom, who was so overwhelmed, writing a book! How cool was that! I loved that thought—that secretly, out of sight of me or of my brothers or my father, somehow there was this parallel stream of time, and in that time my very own mother was using it to write a book.

As a middle-aged woman older now than my book-writing mother-of-four mom was then, I get what that was about in a way that teenaged me could not understand. It’s not about the book, it’s about the possibility. And the rebellion against the ineffable forces of the domestic.

There is no parallel stream of time. There’s just this one, and it rolls and rolls and rolls past and all you can do is keep some things on the conveyer belt and let others fall off, and try as much as you can to be present enough to realize the conveyer belt and the time-that-will-not-stop are gifts. So many don’t even get that far.

So sayonara, Hawaii. Truth be told, we probably would have made a pretty bad date. As much as I have fantasized about you over these past six years, frankly I’m a person who doesn’t do hedonism well, and that’s your specialty.

Also, as any good Irish girl does, I sunburn.

If that sounds like sour grapes, well, yeah. It might be.

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