I'm not cynical enough to dismiss the notion of free will. I am, however, saying that it belongs more on a box score than a lineup card.
Having spent their whole lives in a city on the backside of its history, my parents left Akron as soon as chance allowed. Having spent only a couple years at the end of high school in a Bay Area on the rise, I have found myself wandering back, in both thought and U-Haul.
This past summer brought family trips, extended and immediate, Ohio and California, respectively. Forty years and a cloud of dust out of Akron, my Dad still finds an old friend on every corner, many of those corners still recognizable from a distant and apparently slightly misspent youth. In contrast, only a few years removed from my last attempt to return, I got lost driving on a hasty web of fresh pavement just a few blocks from my old home, an erstwhile hometown buzzing with so many people I don't know, better-heeled replacements for my dispersed generation unable or unwilling to shoulder a cost of living that quickly outran most of our career paths.
For all intents and purposes, I grew up in the Metroplex, surfing the forces of adolescent impulses as Bedford stamped rolling horse farms into metered-out lots of Edward Scissorhands sprawl. I was therefore surprised when my first reaction to the news we were moving was excitement. I loved Texas. I was hitting a stride with a Breakfast Club stew of school and friends and sports that was filling my days with fewer hours dropping dice behind a Dungeon Master's Screen, more testing chance with girls, some who even smiled back. But DFW back in the day was a community for migrant workers in the burgeoning cube farms. We stayed, but every year or two my best friends seemed to leave for some reason or another: corporate whims pulling dads elsewhere, family ties pulling moms back, a brother's addictions spilling their bounds, an asshole father avoiding responsibility with a surprise enrollment in a remote and religious boarding school. I guess I wanted to stay, finish out my last two years of high school there, but I also guess that I expected that one way or another I would succumb to the varied polarities that so rapidly pushed and pulled people through the Mid-Cities.
A few months from having exchanged top-siders and pegged acid-wash for Jams and flip-flops, I decided that my purportedly annoying penchant for "back-in-Texas" stories was a sign that I should be back in Texas. I filled out all the right bubbles in #2 lead and all the right forms in blue or black ink, and was on track to return to Dallas thanks to the generous and proud SMU alumni and their well-funded scholarship programs. My first Evil Plan was playing out quite nicely, thankyouverymuch, when grumblings about some if-ya-ain't-cheatin'-ya-ain't-tryin' problems with SMU football recruiting exploded into revelations of systemic corruption that dropped the NCAA's first "death penalty" on the entire football program.
A couple weeks later, still confident that the Evil of my Plan trumped the evil of some boosters, I was on campus to finalize and accept the scholarship...on the very day that the SMU Board of Governors was forced to admit they not only knew of, but actually approved and somewhat oversaw some of the most egregious violations. The football team had gotten the death penalty, but the school had lost it's soul.
The Back-to-Texas Evil Plan in shambles, I got an excited call at an inappropriate hour a few weeks later from a proud UCLA booster letting me know that because the initial winners of that year's Bruin nerd-off were forgoing Westwood for more Ivy-covered climes, I was officially the top consolation nerd. I took a trip south. I stayed for the next four years.
Evil Plan: The Sequel, now had me studying economics while captaining the nationally renowned UCLA debate team in nerdgasmic glory as I constructed the ultimate application to some or another law school run by demons actually listed by name in the Bible.
I dropped off the debate team, ditched economics when the math got hard and came out the other end with a degree in philosophy, hair to my shoulders, a love of teaching, and a fairly potent jump serve that once scored a point on Karch Kiraly (and to be clear, it was the only point we scored out on Venice Beach that day.)
I got rejected to every graduate program in philosophy I applied to. Except one.
I did well enough in grad school to likely secure one of the scarce academic positions that pop up each year. But as I was reading in library basements, those positions got stripped of tenure, benefits and much of their already modest pay. Finally, common sense was surgically removed when I was courted to teach paying college students classes I had never taken myself from books I had never read on subjects I had never studied.
Grad school side jobs morphed into a scheme to open a restaurant in Providence. I was out-eviled once again when my partner and I got hit up for a shockingly large bribe to secure a liquor license. It didn't help that while managing a joint I had also pissed off some low-level mob dude whose waste management company would regularly, though "accidentally," flip my dumpsters.
Late-'90's Evil began wafting in on breezes from the west, so I loaded up the eight or nine things I was able to purchase as a grad student and headed back to NorCal to cash in on the dotcom boondoggle. Through old buddies and fast talking, I was quickly working South of Market.
Selling life insurance.
I was told I would never finish the dissertation if I left. I did.
I had always laughed at anyone who would be foolish enough to plan a wedding outside, leaving already unrealistic expectations and emotions bare to the fickle weather whims. I got married, beautifully, outside bare to the the sun cutting through remnant haze of night-before rain.
I always wanted some undefined number of kids, but felt pretty strongly that they should be spawned at a reasonable pace, allowing space for each soul to grow, time for each parent to recover. My three kids tumbled into the world all within 24 months (plus 5 days!). Now I can't imagine it any other way.
My old school Evil Plans turned on a dime, desperate as I was to avoid the corporate world. I now work in a beige cubicle tucked in a Connecticut suburb for a once and future Fortune 100 insurance company that just took TARP funds. I've learned far more in my many-colored workplaces than in my decades of school.
I spent most of my life unnaturally intimidated by cheerleaders.
I have a thing about keeping the dog's water dish cold and full, but nine times out of ten, I find myself merely swapping stale water for fresh, a whole bowl at a time. Nevertheless, the dog never seems thirsty. Oddly, my toilets are never full.
Rejection (and the four paths)
15 hours ago