Sara stared intently at the white sheet and rested the tip of the pen on the top right corner of the paper, hesitating.
She didn’t know how to start the letter to her mother who had rigorous standards for the quality of writing: a brilliant psychiatry professor, she tended to run everything she read through the sieve of psychology norms, just to ensure she didn’t waste time with flawed thinking. Even though writing happened to be one of Sara’s better qualities, compared to sciences, math or sports at least, she felt unsure that she had the knowledge, vocabulary or imagination to make it engaging.
Sara grew up in the most confusing household in the universe, raised by a mother with an almost religious belief in self-denial and a very artistic father who had spent his whole life trying to find and retain said self and express it in every way he knew. Sara often wondered how two people who couldn’t be more different decided to spend enough time together to conceive her, and wasted many hours during her developmental years fantasizing about possible explanations for this, from their initial association being related to one of her mom’s anthropological studies to encounters of the third kind – oh, how many times she had hoped that her mom or dad were space aliens with extraordinary powers, powers that through the miracle of genetics would be passed on to her, even in part, so that she could maybe fly or have super-strength, or be extra brilliant, or enjoy paranormal abilities.
Sadly the space alien theory didn’t pan out, so Sara had not inherited any special abilities, disappointment she was still brooding over, despite the fact that it was already time for college and she was yet to chose a field of study. The school itself was not in question, since it had been chosen for her the second she was born. Of course it was the best college her parents could afford and one that her mother thought would open up the best of avenues for her, despite the protests of her dad who wanted Sara to explore her inner nature first and express the originality of her soul, without the restraints structured academic thinking would impose on her mind.
One of the reasons Sara hadn’t yet chosen a subject matter, besides the fact that she wasn’t any better at a subject matter than she was at another, was the crushing timidity of living up to the college expectations set by her mother’s splendid career, since everybody on campus was going to know her personally. One thing was sure, she wasn’t going to get into psychiatry and have her every exploit, failure or lackadaisical approach reported live to her mom, as it happened.
She thought about trying literature, idea consistently bashed by both parents for different reasons: her mother thought it was a dead end career with no future prospects, where only the most brilliant (Sara inferred from this explanation that her mother didn’t count her among the aforementioned) ever succeeded, a thankless self-indulgent exploit, while her father philosophically wondered what a person so young, who was never exposed to any significant aspect of life, could possibly write that would be any good.
So literature out the window, Sara spent her afternoons going through the list of fields of study, trying to at least narrow it down. History didn’t feel appealing; despite her mousy appearance, Sara was quite an optimistic and forward looking person and history was about the past. She took to heart her mother’s argument that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and her father’s comment that this field of study was “as good as any”, learned as much as she could and moved on.
One of the constants on the list was the medical field, choice that enjoyed moderate parental enthusiasm. Her mother would never confess it, since she had spent her entire career detaching her ego from outcomes, but her ancestral instincts just ached to see her daughter become a doctor or a lawyer, marry a good respectful boy and immediately start producing multiple grandchildren.
Lawyer sounded nice, even though there was so much material to memorize. As she ran through the list again, Sara realized that she was presently engaged in the writing of a letter, so she gathered her concentration and looked at the tip of the pen that left no other trace but a little blue dot at the top of the page.
“Why not writing?” she asked herself, just to be immediately met in her mind by the barrage of explanations her parents had uttered throughout the years. She wondered what would become of the world as she knew it if she took her father’s advice and hitchhiked her way to California to commune with nature. Again Sara’s fantasy created an elaborate “what happened to the universe” scenario in which the sky turned pink and three suns shone green on the horizon over a sea of shiny purple filled with flying fish and amphibian monkeys. She imagined herself surrounded by little elves and talking seagulls, sharing her wisdom about the meaning of life, while her mother, absolutely unperturbed, let go of her previous assumptions and wrote a paper about it. The paper would of course be published in one of the most reputable journals in the field of psychiatry as all of her mother’s papers always were.
During many sessions of psyche exploration Sara went through a mindfulness exercise of saying a profession and acknowledging her gut reaction to it, but since she had been taught to double check emotions for logical flaws and only access reactions filtered through conscious analysis she realized it was a fool’s errand to engage in this exercise, but kept her opinions to herself to avoid commentary about the lack of dedication in planning her own future.
What then was the point of choosing something that made her neither happy nor sad?
Sara had started life a quiet creature and turned absolutely taciturn due to a reinforcing pattern of rhetorical correction. She preferred to write her words instead, writing is to speaking as the twenty second delay is to live television: it gives one the opportunity to rethink, craft, edit and refine.
Her dad, true to his belief in finding and nourishing one’s spirit started conversations with her, and even though the conversations were meant to draw out Sara’s feelings, hopes and dreams, the talk invariably flowed into an account of her father’s experiences, memories, thoughts and life lessons. Sara always wished for that to happen, because it took the introspection monkey off her back and allowed her to stand back and listen to interesting and exciting stories she instinctively knew will never happen to her. He could talk for hours and paint pictures in her mind, extraordinary pictures with some vague similarity to the pink sky over the purple sea. Every time she listened to these stories, Sara went over the alien parent possibility again, in a hope that maybe it was true after all.
There was absolutely no way on earth that her structured but emotionally uplifting upbringing, focused on developing awareness and self discipline would ever allow her to sleep outside, play the guitar and smoke herbs of uncertain origin while being awakened to the larger meaning of things. Not that she was secretly hoping to experience herb induced altered states of consciousness, it’s just that she didn’t like to dwell on highly unlikely probabilities.
“Back to the letter, Sara”, she thought, “it’s getting late!” If there was something she had learned it was that people didn’t have much patience for the failures of her personality, of which being constantly late was one. Who were these mythical people, who much like the impersonal French “on” did not refer to anybody in particular or any social group that could be pinpointed? During her rebellious period a few years back Sara had composed a list of things people hated about her and it went like this: inconsistency, lack of discipline, tardiness, superficiality, unassertiveness, eagerness to please, codependency, need for praise, speaking too softly, interrupting, driving irresponsibly, not defining priorities, having unrealistic expectations, not putting enough energy towards her goals, not actually having goals at all, disturbing other people by turning the music up, not experiencing moderation in any aspect of her life, being shallow about her appearance, not thinking before speaking, and in general expressing misguided opinions.
She corrected the offending faults because it was way too annoying to live with their consequences, but some of the restrictions she neither understood nor accepted. Sometimes her mother sat her down, stressed what was expected of a privileged child like Sara as she developed into a responsible human being (every time the word responsible came up Sara drew a little mental line on her little mental chalkboard, assembled them into tally marks like she used to do in second grade, and memorized the number. For the sake of precision, the count stood at three hundred seventeen), and went over all the things that required improvement during the course of that week. It would have helped if Sara’s explanation about why some of these things were reoccurring was met with some level of reluctant acceptance, but her mother didn’t believe she was doing Sara any favors by allowing her to indulge her shortcomings. Sadly the shortcomings were a lot more ingrained in the undisciplined child’s spirit (and secretly cheered by the father, although he wouldn’t admit it) so they kept happening.
Three forty five already and she hadn’t even started writing, Sara noticed, cleared her mind of every thought (which comes to prove that training mental discipline does work) then started writing:
“Mom I’m out to get milk. Be back in 10”. She read the letter aloud twice and started editing.
“Mom, I’m going to the store to get milk. Be back in10.” She reinforced the dot, placed a comma after the addressing “Mom”, and edited it again.
“Mom, I’m going to the store to buy milk. I will be back at 3: 55.”
She put the pen down, placed the letter on the kitchen table and got out of the house. She wanted to come back and change the 3:55 to three fifty five, since it was not appropriate to use numbers when one could use words, but then she realized that if she went back she would have the returning time wrong and would be late again, so she decided against it.