Film and literature drum into us that to live a full and meaningful life, we must avoid the ordinary.
Remember that scene near the beginning of the film where Keating takes the boys down to see the old boy photos, whispering in their ears like the ghosts of the past?
Keating: They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? — Carpe — hear it? — Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.
In Revolutionary Road April’s dream of fleeing suburbia and taking her family to France, breaking the mould and being the primary breadwinner, brings a breath of fresh air to the film. You feel things beginning to turn around. But it is not to be and the dream is crushed and they revert to ‘ordinary’ life.
When I was in high school I embraced the ordinary.
I went to a selective school, and by embracing the ordinary and aiming for universities like UWS or Macquarie, I wasn’t the same as the majority, heading off to Sydney Uni for law or medicine, or knuckling down to business studies or accounting. I aspired to do horticulture or teaching. I dropped my earlier ‘lofty’ dreams of physio. The ordinary was extraordinary.
Seeking out the ordinary wasn’t conscious, but I think I did want to be different, and the ordinary was a way to do that then. Deep down I think I also thought that I was never made of the stuff that would let me ‘make my life extraordinary’.
Who was I to try?
In my late 20s I realised my pattern of life was to rarely take breath.
I had always jumped from one thing to another, without pausing for air. When I was in one part of my life, I rarely appreciated the moment I was in – I was too busy hatching my next move. And so I jumped from school into uni, from undergrad into honours, from honours into a PhD and from PhD (well technically this was an overlapping phase) into marriage. A dog, kids and my first full time job followed soon after.
Now, time spent in the same spot has forced me to breathe. I’ve been in my marriage 8 years, had kids for 6 years, been in the same job for 5 years, and lived in our house for 4 years. And now, after taking a breath, I long for my life to be less ordinary.
But how do you make your life extraordinary when you’re in your 30s and beginning to get grey hairs? Now, when it feels too late, I yearn for excitement and grandeur. I don’t regret what I have at all, but I want to be more, and do more.
After jumping from life phase to life phase without pausing, I feel like I’ve reached a rock in my river crossing that is in the middle of nowhere. I’ve either got to set up camp on this tiny rock island for the next 30 years till the retirement boat comes to pick me up and take me across the river, hop a few rocks backwards and change route, or dive in and swim.
Most of us still dream of breaking free.
We have plans for tree changes and sea changes. But as a 30+ year old, it feels like the reality of a career change is that you have to take steps backwards, retrain and start again.
We often envy people who choose to dive from their rock and swim across the river. To break out of a life rut and ‘risk it all at one turn of pitch and toss’. There are people who do this with kids and a mortgage. Start the business idea they’ve always had in the back of their head, or pack up and get a job overseas.
But what is worse?
Not to try and to never know if you could ‘live the dream’, or to dive in a fall badly, your home and family going for the ride? It’s a hard call to make.
I dream of being a writer and having a house in a seaside hamlet. I dream of moving to New York City, or Washington or Boston, not forever, but for a while. I dream of being an academic. I dream of being a stay at home mum on a property out of Lismore growing veges. I dream of studying at Oxford or Cambridge. Heck I even dream of the mythical casting agent stopping me in the street and telling me I have to star in their movie (and anyone who knows me will think that is funny!).
I don’t dream of sitting in front of a computer working for the government.
So where do we take solace – all us folk who work Monday – Friday, day in, day out? Who live in ordinary houses, in ordinary suburbs, and raise our families in ordinary ways.
I try to remind myself that what I have is amazing.
Living close to work and being home 10 mins after you leave is a blessing. Having a flexible work place so I really share my life with my children has been amazing. But someone also recently described this flexiblity as golden handcuffs: because you are tied to your job – albeit with shiny jewel encrusted cuffs.
I try to give myself the reality check that having enough food to eat, clean water and a roof over your head is to be among the fortunate in the world. And I am truly grateful for that. But I also can’t but help my thoughts returning to the world I am in, and the battle between ordinary and extraordinary.
Perhaps our battle with ordinariness explains why one of the most cherished Australian films is The Castle.
The Castle is the one film where we get to hero-worship a (very) ordinary Australian family for remaining just who they are. And we can celebrate the Kerrigan’s right down to their shiny blue bug zappers.
So am I going to sit on my rock for another 30 years?
I don’t know. Right now I’m sticking my toe in and seeing how cold the water is, and making sure I brought floaties with me so the kids don’t sink if I chuck them in (or even better teaching them to swim). Plus I’m the kind of girl who’ll probably only jump in if I take my partner with me.
So for now, I’m off to find my comfort in music. Because that’s where I can seek inspiration from Man of La Mancha and ‘Dream the Impossible Dream’ and take solace in the best classical piece that pays tribute to us ordinary folk – Fanfare for the Common Man.
Do you dream of breaking free? Do you think you will ever get there?
Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/polywog/4431363268/sizes/l/in/photostream/ with thanks to polywogy69.