Monday, April 28, 2008

choose your own adventure

(The best way to ensure that I'll blog is for me to declare that I won't blog. But don't get too used to this until after 5/15).

Over at Scatterplot, Jeremy has an interesting mental exercise for you, albeit potentially depressing.

"Does anybody else have a counterfactual career they wonder about?"

Some of the answers are surprisingly within the realm of possibility, like "children's book librarian", "veterinarian," or Jeremy's "computer programmer." I love realistic alternate universes. People always say "if you dream, dream big." Those people don't last long in this world. Sometimes the little fantasies are enough to keep us going, and they feel don't suffer from the twin burdens of impossibility and impracticality. TD asked why, when I said I would love to have been a backup singer for a '70s funk band because it seemed so fun, "why not be the funk singer? Why not be George Clinton?" I don't know. I don't think I would be good at being the star of the show, but I could totally rock out in gold lame' and fringe and be happy as a part of the show. Except for certain instances in my chosen profession (at the lectern I am comfortable), I don't like being in the spotlight. Part of fantasy is breaking out of your mold, yes, but you can't radically change who you are to suit your dreams. It's better if your dreams are modified to suit you.

Other answers are charmingly of the "this would have been my life if I had not..." variety, which is always tinged with rue and yet relief, like what would have happened if you had not gone to school and if you had married that guy. I have a story like that. In theory, I could have married young, have had an unhappy marriage, and divorced early. This is why even the most mundane day these days feels like a daily adventure. I have seen what my life could be, and my life now is of my own choosing, and there is adventure in choice--and the happiness that has come with that is a surprise benefit.

Other answers tread the familiar fantasy line of "if I wasn't such a risk-averse tool, I'd be some kind of artist." I fall into this last category, of course. In my stupid teenage years, I dreamed of becoming a novelist who did poetry on the side. However, if I wrote crappy, self-indulgent thinly veiled autobiographies that highlight the delicate epiphanies of the bourgeoisie, I would shoot myself. And since that was a distinct possibility, I guess I'll stick to being a legal academic.

Really though, I can't imagine not doing what I do. I can imagine being an academic in another discipline--English literature or political science were certainly choices. I can't say I'd have been as happy with either though, and that realization surprises me. I like studying the law. However, I am one of the few, and I do not mean to say that I liked law school or would enjoy being a lawyer, and those are the main reasons you should go to law school. Me becoming a legal academic was something that is surprisingly working out, but I could have totally failed downwards rather than upwards.

There was a time in 2001 when I sent off apps to PhD programs in English and poli sci, and almost assembled a package for MFA programs. I ended up going to law school. That was probably the least likely choice, but I made a life of it for myself, and where I am going now I'm happy with. Part of choosing your own adventure is realizing which counterfactual would have worked in real life, but for whatever reason, the life you have is a good one. Sure, I could be a '70s funk band backup singer. But I'd rather be a law professor.