Friday, July 13, 2012

Chance/Fate … and Richard Linklater

Erika has always been slightly amazed that I was able to quit smoking so quickly. I did it almost as an afterthought when I moved back to Chicagoland 10 years ago.

We were musing about this Wednesday night, at least feeling good we were both tobacco free. But then she asked me a heavy question — not the heaviest she’s ever uttered, but it was up there. Something historically counterintuitive (in the Niall Ferguson sense). I had to pause.

Those of you hip to the Woundup franchise already know I’m “celebrating” a decade of residence here in northeastern Illinois. I use those quote marks because I was not in a celebrating mood when I showed up at my parents’ house in Orland Park in April 2002.  I was on the skids and needed a place to crash. I eventually regained my footing, got my confidence back and found a way once again to life as a self-sufficient young adult in a big city.

My parents were only in OP for a year before they headed back to Buffalo, continuing a string of 10 years in that area — really just a stopover. So Erika asked me this the other night: If my parents had lived in Buffalo the whole time and had never moved to Orland, would I have gone Upstate and simply formulated a plan to quickly move back to New York City once I was ready.

I frowned. I furrowed my brow. I knew the answer. 

Of course. All my friends lived in New York. I loved New York more than any place I’d ever lived. I would’ve gone back in a half-second, living in Buffalo. I told her, with much guilt, that not in my wildest dreams did I ever have any intention for the rest of my life of returning within a hundred miles of Chicagoland, the place of large, awkward parts of my early days. Never. 

I said this as my own children played at my feet. I looked at them, so beautiful, so electrically alive. Unless Erika somehow came to New York and we somehow met, say at Enid's, and she was somehow single and was somehow into me (and I wasn't wearing that fishing hat), these beautiful children would very much not be. Not without my dad — life's eternal job searcher — sending his resume to Moraine Valley Community College in beautiful Palos Hills, Ill.

Enid's? Christ, how did that get in there, I wondered. Those are long damn odds. I felt terrible to even contemplate it.

I don’t believe in alternate universes. The movie “Slacker” really impacted my thoughts on this subject. The film begins with the director, Richard Linklater, playing the part of some poor schmuck business traveler who gets in a cab and strikes up a conversation with the driver about a beautiful woman he saw at the airport just minutes earlier. I forget if she talked to him or merely looked his way, but Linklater regrets he didn’t approach her and, maybe, get in a cab with her going somewhere else. He seems to find consolation by saying that there exists an alternate universe in which some other version of himself did go with the woman to her hotel room. In some other dimension he was dashing and not a coward.

At the time I was probably 19 years old and thought it was a pretty cool concept. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve since dismissed the whole alternate dimension thing on the grounds that A.) to truly accept it would make my head explode and B.) nothing in the reality we live in right now has ever lead me to believe there is another reality somewhere else. We’ll just leave it at that.

Of course, your Philosophy 201 Epistemology professor would tell you that there is no absolute truth that springs forth from human lips. So, yes, there might in fact be alternate realities. I just have faith — a particular kind of faith — that there are none. I really have no proof either way. It’s just what I believe. So, no sad sack Mark working on a Barium concern in Utah in some other dimension because he forgot to get Erika flowers on July 13, 2003. Sorry. Not real.

Okay, you say. But do you believe in Fate? I don’t. Okay. Then are you telling me that the circumstances that lead you back to Chicago and lead you to meet your wife, get married, have kids and be so happy are merely, what. Random? Are you telling me you’ve created a narration out of nothing, out of chaos, to make yourself feel better and give meaning to the disjointed circumstances of your life?

I really can't explain it, but that answer to that is also "No." It's in between. When I'm feeling truly romantic, I like to think some kind of powerful magnetism brought me here. When I'm feeling, I don't know, like wearing my "Existentialists Do It on the Left Bank" T-shirt, I think that … well …

I think that I believe in the former. But. BUT. That somehow my own free agency, as an individual being, was needed to make it all happen. Yeah, but isn't that still Fate, smart guy? No. Fate Lite? No. Predestination? Please, don't use the P Word. Well, what is it?

What it is, is making my head hurt. Listen, there are huge elements of chance that have led all of us to sit where we're sitting at this very second. (Thanks for reading, btw.) Nevermind the resume to MVCC: If my dad never wrote my mom that letter after they were matched up by the computer dating service in 1974, I wouldn't be sitting anywhere. 

Chance, sure. But chance without purpose? No. I have no explanation for it beyond this term I just coined. My life has been chance with purpose.

After all this crap flitted through my head Wednesday night, I snapped out of it and looked at my kids again.

I couldn't imagine them not being here. They are so willful, so very much in the present, so very much a fact. Ella is three and a half and Archer will be two July 21. They are the central focus of our lives. They are what I dreamed about going back maybe six years. I would lie on the couch at our Walton Street apartment and think about holding a baby in my arms. Our baby, yet to be realized.

All the anti-anxiety therapy I've had over the years has tried hard to teach me to ignore the great What If questions, such a well-spring of human angst. You could also use the same strategy for considering the choices you've made in your own life to get you where you're at right now. And that's what I did Wednesday night — my way to not feel like a monster.

There is no What If, only Is. My kids Are. My actions were the primary reason they Are. I decisively made choices and the outcome was final. I survived. I even smile.

There is no What If. What If never happened. 

And there's no version of me hanging out with Richard Linklater at Enid's, as fun as that kind of sounds ... ... ... Well, maybe I'll permit that one.

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