Me: What do you think of when you think of paper?
My daughter: That it beats rock.
She’s a funny one, that child. I asked a few other people the same question and got various answers from “toilet paper and paper towels” to “the horrible smell of the paper mill in Franklin.” When I asked my husband he replied “notebook paper from school”. I was astounded. We are so different and yet we both think of notebook paper! We must be soul mates. But then he continued “I bet thousands of engineers started out by making paper airplanes in school And spit balls! Spit balls were the best!” Ahem. He was thinking about spit balls. Oh well.
I love paper. I have a couple spiral bound notebooks as well as two or three legal pads in a box next to my desk. I envision writing down great thoughts and expressing deep emotions, but somehow that doesn’t happen as often as I would like. Okay, perhaps the great thoughts have never happened but I know I have plowed my way through a tree’s worth of paper working through emotions. The truth is, unless I am worked up about something I have a difficult time putting words on paper. I like the idea of the blank sheet awaiting my pen, but the actuality of it never comes close to the image I have of it.
Or maybe I just have too many images. I get stuck in a sea of possibilities and flail about, finally turning away because I can’t settle down.
It is far easier for me to take something that has already been written and make it better. A couple of years ago I worked on a local campaign as the editor for brochures and emails. I loved it. I loved taking something that didn’t quite make sense or didn’t flow just right and making it sing. I loved taking out what didn’t work and putting in a better or more precise word. I even loved going through the entire copy and making sure that everything matched – lists of things were either nouns or verbs, but never both. Fixing what’s wrong: it’s what I do.
I look at life like that too. I have been called The Queen of Self Help, and for good reason too. I work on myself constantly. I am always looking to see how I can change myself, or make myself a better version of who I already am. I tinker. I’m coming to a point in my life now, however, where I have to come up with something completely out of thin air. I am on the verge of retiring from my career as an air traffic controller, but I don’t want to retire to “nothing”. I want it to be the next step … or, rather, a next step. Saying “the” is too daunting, as if, if I don’t get this right I won’t get another chance. And I am stuck.
Would it be too trite to say that life is like a piece of blank paper?
I don’t know what to do next. I can clearly see, however, that one thing I am doing is creating a situation so that I have to go back and do the same thing over again, and that is lose 20 pounds. I am comfortable with the process of losing weight. I’ve done it a couple times, and I’ve obsessed about my weight for most of my life. I was actually at a weight that I was comfortable with, I could do the things that I wanted to do, and I felt healthy as I went about my day. As I began to consider “What To Do Next” I slowly stopped doing the things that keep me at a healthy weight. Don’t know what to do? Go back and do the thing you know you can do! So here I am, twenty pounds heavier than where I was six months ago, ready to tackle my “problem” again, with the added bonus of distracting myself from contemplating the future and having to make a decision. So while I have a big pile of blank paper right there in the box next to my desk, I am going to fool around with the old papers on my desk and see how I can rearrange them instead.
I would have a hard time believing that I am the only one who does this. It is easier to focus on an old familiar problem than it is to take a chance on something new. Endless opportunities are scary. Blank sheets of paper are scary. I blame this on my parents. When I was a child paper was a scarce commodity in our house and so I was told time and time again not to waste paper. Maybe if I had wasted more paper, maybe if I had made more paper airplanes and spit balls, I wouldn’t feel the pressure to make sure that what I use the paper for is not a waste of it.
And I wouldn’t feel the pressure to make sure that my life is not a waste of it. Stuck in neutral as I am, as I have been, I often wonder why I have spent so much of my life consumed (pun not originally intended but appreciated now that I get it) with my weight. Talk about a waste of paper! If today I were told that I have only a certain amount of time left I would regret all of the years and tears and paper wasted on my obsession with my weight. Knowing that, even knowing that, I find myself unwilling to turns towards something else.
I am not a rational creature, not by far.
But life is lived in small steps as well as in big bold leaps and so today when I go home from work I am going to waste some paper. Maybe I’ll wake my husband up by tossing a few paper airplanes at him. I’m thinking no spit balls, but anything can happen.
And that’s the problem. Anything can happen. What do I want to happen next?