advice and banners

a mysterious, and tantalizing, prospect: advice and banners.

they actually live quite close to home. i wonder if i pass them in the cafe, in the market, on the bus, and we knowingly nod to our secrets.

just so i remember: here lies a transcription, verbatim, of the 2-page typed letter (times new roman, 12pt font, white 8.5×11 copy paper) and the banner which arrived in my mailbox this week.

[you can merely guess what question i posed.]

Dear Christine,

Oh man, I know exactly what you mean. It’s so frustrating to feel like you know what you want, even if only vaguely, and to not have it yet. And you’re left wondering, “do things just fall into place at some point, or is there some formula that I’m missing that will make everything happen now?”

I am so far from having an answer to that, so I’m going to neatly avoid the subject and instead focus on ideas about the present, and what it actually means to be waiting for things. Because I can assure you that everyone I know who’s around my age, my whole group of friends, seems to be holding their breath, holding out for something better. Jobs, relationships, roommates, hobbies, advanced degrees…we’ve had so many unproductive conversations about how things will be different when we’re older and have everything figured out.

And it makes me think of this totally cheesy bumper sticker my friend saw in Harvard Square once that said, “Don’t Postpone Joy.” It successfully launched the two of us into mini-crises about how we had been thinking too much about the future to appreciate all the nice things we have going for us right now. We had been doing a lot of thinking like, “When I have a nicer apartment…” and “When I have a better-paying job…” and “When I live somewhere cooler…”

And, for me, all that thinking about the future starts to get wrapped up in thoughts about the kind of person I want to be…because, you know, maybe when I have a bigger kitchen I will cook more and have a more extensive spice collection and learn how to bake sourdough bread and never end up eating a bowl of cereal for dinner out of laziness. Wanting a bigger kitchen ends up being about my dissatisfaction with my cooking skills and an excuse to not do a single thing about it.

I guess the point is that the words “patience” and “waiting” imply a sort of dissatisfaction with the present, don’t they? And maybe that’s the problem. Not to be someone who blames American culture for things…but I blame American culture for creating masses of high-achieving, hopeful, expectant, motivated people who are so great at preparing to succeed in the future that it’s almost as though we think that five-years-from-now is more important than today.

(This patience conundrum is actually really interesting to me because it’s about the future vs. the present, and expectations vs. happiness, and hope vs. the unknown, all at once.)

Actually, I just remembered that the first little banner I ever made was for myself, and it says “TODAY” in big yellow letters because I totally needed a reminder to focus on the present. It’s on the wall across from my bed, and it’s the first thing I see when I wake up. It reminds me to take a moment, before I even get out of bed, to make a mental to-do list of what I want to accomplish that day, both in terms of helping me achieve some long-term goals and also in terms of just enjoying the day.

Anyway, I don’t know what it is you’re waiting for. But whether it’s a certain job, or finding a soulmate, or moving to a new city, or a whole bunch of things, I think the formula for being content right now probably involves a mixture of doing what you can to reach those goals and doing your best with what you have right now. Plus a little dash of faith in the fact that you can’t predict the future and that, no matter what happens, it will probably be okay. Can’t go wrong with that.

So your banner says, “working isn’t waiting.” Because it just feels good to be doing something, not only because it can help you get closer to whatever goals you have, but because doing things* and being active is intrinsically good for your mental health and happiness, right now. This is really important, and I think lots of people need this reminder. Feeling like you’re waiting for something sucks so much because it’s passive and stagnant. I hope the banner helps you remember that as long as you’re doing something, and enjoying it, you aren’t just waiting for something better. And that’s such a relief, isn’t it?

Good luck!


* Very vague word, I know. But I’m sure you are familiar enough with yourself to know what you like to do to [sic], and what you need to do to get what you want. If not, it’s up to you to figure it out.

thank you.

3 Responses to “advice and banners”
  1. Keyse says:

    >that is fantastic

  2. J.L. Scott says:

    >Love it love it love it.

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