How Our Kids Become Who They Are
My 15-year-old son, up until very recently, dreamt of pursuing a career developing video games, a dream no doubt created in part by the delusion that his job would consist mostly of playing video games and eating potato chips as opposed to laboring day in and day out over frustratingly buggy code. But far be it from me to trample on what appears to be a silly dream. I am, after all, a writer and, when I’m alone, an indy rock god with an acoustic guitar performing for small crowds of 300 or so because only a select few really, really understand me.
But the other day, in the same Italian restaurant where we always eat penne with pesto at a very stable table, me the father, he the son, relaxed and comfortable in all this steady self-sameness, he did that thing the world will often do when—in a blink—everything is revealed for what it always really is: constantly maybe not what it is on the way to being something else that it, too, might not be.
From nowhere (indeed, from where else?), he just up and says, “I’m pretty sure I’m going to UCLA to become a chemist.” And just like that, in a blink, the video game developer gave way to a chemist.
Anything could happen all the time. Like, right now! Or… now! Or… Right now too! You never know, do you? Blink. Someone stole your car. Blink. You lost your leg in a carnival accident. Blink. You’re dead. It’s really not conducive to the ongoing production of anxiety-free ordinary days to dwell overmuch on what might happen when you blink. I mean, any number of horrible things could go down. Blink. Check your wallet.
Oh sure, of course, it’s in the realm of possibility, too, that good things might happen in the blink of an eye, but such sudden—blink—change tends to evoke a sense of dread in this worry wart because it seems to me that stability itself is the good thing I’m crossing my fingers for from blink to blink to blink. Blink—still here. Blink—still here. Blink—is my car gone? My leg? What about my wallet? Still in my pocket? Nice! And so on.
How interesting it is to think that—in spite of this craving for stability and fear of sudden death—a big long history of silver tongued mystics and goofy quantum physicists generally agree that the world possesses absolutely no substance, no abiding this-this-this that remains that-that-that. As Brahma creates the world—blink—Shiva destroys it—blink—and on and on and on, and Hakuun Yasutani once preached that our bodies undergo a sophisticated process of creative emergence and destruction 6,400,099,980 times a day! And what’s the deal with quantum physics and the notion of substance as a kind of dense energy that tends to repeatedly explode in patterns that vibrate on the same frequency for awhile until they don’t? It’s like a thing—or you and me—are puddles of water that constantly freeze and melt in all kinds of ways until everything evaporates. Or maybe not. It’s no easy task to articulate adequate metaphors that serve to illuminate the weirdness of all this unstable thingliness.
Now, with the backing of such esoteric authority, the basic terrifying fact of our (not) lives takes on a whole new aura of magic, wonder, and possibility. We are not the reified entities we tend to represent to ourselves as the solidified what of who we think we are and, at the end of the day, or on the other side of this moment, we could maybe possibly might be anything. Sometimes I’ll just stare at something—a pitcher of water, a tree, a bus, whatever—and wonder how in the world it can possibly just sit there, remaining what it is as opposed to just vanishing into nothing or morphing into a bowl of fruit or a green mamba or whatever thing an anything might be.
“I’m pretty sure I’m going to UCLA to become a chemist,” he said and—blinking again—I saw the future erupt around him as if it was merely the words themselves that made things so: glass beakers, Bunsen burners, a white lab coat. And me in reverie about mystics, physics, and the enduring substance of tables and pasta from blink to blink and the mysterious who of who we are and are and are some more.