Saturday, February 04, 2006

Everything's a Game

This morning (and well into this afternoon!) I took the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test). After roughly five hours of having my thought processes poked, prodded and probed by questions designed to trick me into looking even dumber than I really am, I echoed the words of Apollo Creed as he was being wheeled into the hospital after narrowly beating the Italian Stallion Rocky Balboa, "There will be no rematch." The last time I said that I was in the hospital, and my wife had just given birth to our as of yet only child.

I'm sure I did just fine on the test. Of course since I used to think I was a genius I was hoping for a perfect score. Now I just hope I passed. But I always do well on tests, so I'm sure I did just fine. At least that's what I keep telling myself. But honestly, even though I should be sure I did just fine, I'm not. I'm irrationally scared of failure. I always do just fine, but I also always think that I've failed miserably and have to pursue yet another career option.

This evening at dinner I turned to my wife and asked, "Do you think I should have a back up plan just in case I don't make it into law school?" What could she say to that? If she says "Yes, I think that would be wise" then she doesn't have enough faith in me. But if she says "No, I'm sure you did just fine, and will have no trouble getting in" then she isn't taking my concern seriously. Worse, if she doesn't say either one or the other (or some sort of variation on one of those two) then she's patronizing me.

Being married to a chronic self-doubter is a lot like being married to the sort of woman who would ask "Do I look fat in these?" and honestly expect an answer. I don't remember how Sami answered my dishonest question, but I suspect that she either floated both answers to see how I'd take each of them, or she tried to skate between them without committing. She's as artful at evading traps as I am at setting them. Just another example of how we've turned traditional gender roles on their head.

But I didn't sit down to write this just to tell you about my self-doubt or how my wife handles it. I sat down here to write because at dinner tonight, crippled by irrational fears and insecurities, I realized once again how Oscar Wilde's (at least I think it was Oscar Wilde - I've always thought that memorizing famous quotes was a sort of useless parlor trick used by insecure pseudo-intellectuals to try to distract you from the fact that they are incapable of critical thinking) adage "the child is the father of the man" is so true. Or, to put it another way, while I think that I am teaching my son something, he's actually teaching me. And what is he teaching me? Wisdom.

Tonight at dinner I thought once again about what I want to do with the rest of my life. I was so serious. Of course I can't - like the John Cusack character in Cameron Crowe's Say Anything - buy, sell or process anything. So that rules out most careers. As you know, I used to be a minister, and I don't want to go into why I'm not doing that anymore. I'm not sure that even I fully understand everything that went down and why.

When I was a minister I really wanted to be a philosophy or theology professor. But as my friends in academia know all too well, there's no money in that. And when I say "no money" I don't mean that you'll never get rich doing it. That goes without saying. You don't dedicate your life to the education and enlightenment of yourself and anyone who happens to cross your path because you're the sort of person who needs three German sportscars and the garage space in you mansion to put them in to be truly happy. No, when I say "no money" in this case I mean, almost literally no money. The best academics I know in my would-be-field are chronically underemployed, with little to no benefits or job security. It is almost scandalous the way our consumer driven society treats the people who are collectively responsible for our enlightenment and/or mental health. I fully believe that professors of philosophy and religion are, much like poets, very much responsible for our emotional and spiritual well being. But they can't even find work, despite devoting their entire lives to their extraordinarily valuable field.

No, I've got a family. I can't enter into a field competing with sometimes literally a thousand applicants for a single job, some of whom are among the brightest minds in the country. That's not the kind of prospective employment I need.

But when your aspiration is to be a kind of secular minister in a marketplace that values only the kind of consumption that I've lambasted so much at this site that it's getting almost boring, there just aren't a lot of career prospects. So I decided to be a lawyer. And, as I said, this morning I took the LSAT, and now because of my chronic self-doubt I'm once again questioning my choice of vocation.

Woe is me, right? That's what I'd like to think. Sadly enough, that's what works for me. I've never been able to figure our why or how, but I'm not happy unless I have some sort of existential crisis to complain about.

Enter Adam. At dinner he was his usual delightful self. In other words, he played with everything. Every object that crosses his path is at least potentially a toy. Every activity in which he is engaged is, at that moment, a game. Picking up your bottle, sloshing it around to see what strange noises it makes, hitting it against the tray of your high chair and giggling, looking at your parents to see if they are as delighted at these strange sights and sounds as your are, is evidently the most fun that any living creature can have. Snatching your father's glass of water and - trying to imitate the way that he drinks - dumping its contents down the front of your shirt, is delirious fun.

In fact, some of Adam's favorite games are mundane activities. He loves going into the kitchen, grabbing a spoon and a bowl, and pretending to eat air. He does this every day. And every day when he does this he looks up at me and smiles, as though I should know that the world's greatest game is pretend eating. He also loves crawling up to me while I am lying on the couch reading. He grabs my glasses, places them on his face, grabs my book and starts turning the pages. This is great fun.

Watching Adam play with his dinner reminded me that when I was a kid everything used to be a game, too. There was almost no distinction between work and play. If my Mom made me sweep the back deck, for instance, while I swept I would be Wayne Gretsky, scoring goal after goal. Each movement of the broom was really some variation on a slap shot, as I fired puck after puck, leaf after leaf, past an imaginary goalie.

When did work stop being play? When did adult life get so serious? When did I grow up, and why didn't I notice sooner?

I'm pretty sure that I'll have no trouble getting into law school. My grades are outstanding, my references are good, I've won a bunch of academic awards and I'm sure that my writing sample (built around lawyer jokes, oddly enough) will stand out from the crowd of applicants. I'm also pretty sure that my LSAT score will be above average, even though it surely isn't the perfect score I was gunning for. I've got nothing to worry about on that front, even though I almost constantly worry.

But even if I get into and out of law school, that won't solve my fundamental problem. See, my fundamental problem is that I need a career. I need to do something other than what I'm doing, as if doing something will make me happy. But, as the old adage goes, "Wherever you go, there you are." You can't escape yourself. I can't escape myself. Whatever I do, whatever I call myself, be it "reverend" or "professor," "stay-at-home Dad" or "freelance writer," "published author of a best seller" or "attorney," I'll still be me.

For Adam everything is a game. That works for him. It might work for me, too.


Tom said...

You sound too much like me lately. Must be a twin thing.

Sandalstraps said...

Just because I'm having some vocational doubt and you are perpetually mired in said doubt (and our DNA is identical) doesn't mean we're the same!

For instance, I regularly write something for my blog, whereas you (at least of late) do not.

Tom said...

I can't help that you have no life. I will post something new soon (read: when I damn well feel like it!).