So about two years ago I thought I would jump-start my mostly-dead blog by answering The 36 Questions That Lead to Love. Not for any reasons related to love, but because I needed writing prompts, and usually I enjoy answering questions about myself. Unfortunately, I have not enjoyed many of the Questions That Lead to Love. This may explain why I have historically had difficulty getting people to fall in love with me. It’s okay because I really only needed one person to fall in love with me, and he did it without me having to answer any of these pesky questions, but now I’m getting off topic. Where was I? Oh, yes. I felt like jump-starting the blog again–really, this is getting ridiculous, but I’m slowly making peace with the fact that I’m a ridiculous person–so I looked up where I left off on the 36 Questions, and I’m on #15:
What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
Of all the questions I have hated, I may hate this question the most. Actually, the question I hate the most is “What’s for dinner?” Something about that question just sends me into a rage spiral. I can’t explain it. Why does anyone need to know what’s for dinner? Why can’t we treat it like Christmas or your birthday? Why spoil the surprise? Do you have alternate plans? Have you received other offers? But I’m getting off topic again. Aside from “What’s for dinner?” the question I hate the most is “What is your greatest accomplishment?” Is it really fair to ask this question before one is on one’s death bed? Do I really have to contemplate at the tender age of almost-45 how puny and pathetic my accomplishments thusfar have been?
I think it’s not so bad to have to answer this question at, say, 25 (or almost-25). A 25-year-old isn’t expected to have too many accomplishments. You could say, “I graduated college” or “I got a job,” and that’d be fine. You’re just starting out in life, after all. You have plenty of time to look forward to greater accomplishments. At almost-45, your life is, let’s face it, probably more than half over. (Obviously, your life could be more than half over at any age, since death is usually unpredictable, but for the sake of argument, let’s just assume most of us will live until 70- or 80-something, at the most.) (Of course, I may well live to be 90-something. It seems to be how the ladies in my family tree roll, with the obvious exception of my mother, who only made it to 52 1/2. If I’m not destined to put up more years than my mother, I’m certainly on my last legs here, but just this once we’ll go with a more optimistic estimate.) (Someday I will tire of parenthetical asides, but today is not that day!) This is not the best time to do an assessment. It is both too early and too late. Too early to say, “Oh, well, I did my best,” and too late to say, “Dude, I really need to get going on those accomplishments!” because at 45 (or almost), you are busy with a lot of stuff that doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, and far too busy to re-think your grand scheme strategy.
At church, the ladies’ auxiliary has been doing a weekly spotlight on individual ladies, to help us get to know each other better, and one of the questions, regrettably, is “What is your greatest accomplishment?” Almost everyone says, “My children” or “my family.” I think that there is nothing wrong with that answer. It just isn’t the right answer for me. For one thing, I don’t feel that I have “accomplished” my family. I mean, I gave birth to four people. That’s a thing. I don’t disparage that thing. On the other hand, pregnancies have a natural tendency to end in birth, requiring no special skills on my part. But more to the point, aside from giving birth to them and taking care of them, which is not a small thing–I don’t mean to suggest that it is small–a) they’re not finished yet, and b) even if they were, I can’t take credit for what they are. I mean, I refuse to take credit for it. (Especially since I don’t even know what they’ll end up being yet. You can’t pin this thing on me! I won’t have it!) So I can’t say that my family is my greatest accomplishment. That doesn’t mean anything to me. To say my family is my greatest joy is something different. I could say that, probably, without laughing. (Not sure I could say it without my family laughing at me, but that’s a separate issue.) Greatest “accomplishment,” no.
But what have I accomplished? In 45 years of living, what have I accomplished? I graduated from college. I got a job (that was in no way related to my college education). I gave birth to four people. I learned to tap dance. Learning to tap dance may have been my greatest accomplishment. I’m not sure what that says about me, considering that I’m not a great tap dancer. I mean, I’m fine. I’m as good as one can expect to be when one takes up tap dancing at 33 and also isn’t terribly coordinated. I enjoy my ability to tap dance. What does it mean to me that I’ve learned to tap dance? What does it mean that I’ve learned to tap dance and yet it isn’t enough?
I guess this question just seems especially cruel after Question #14: “Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?” I answered that question in November. The answer hasn’t gotten less depressing. I give some version of this answer every time someone asks me if I’m “still writing.” Really, that question ought to be right up there with “Are you still married?” If you don’t know, don’t ask! It just brings up painful feelings!
It’s mainly that I had great hopes for my accomplishments, back when I was 15, 25, 35, and even as late as 40 or 41. It’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve thought I should probably make a new game plan for accomplishing stuff. I should go back to college, but this time major in something useful, and get a job that will be useful and that I will be good at. I’m not about to waste tens of thousands of dollars more on educating myself, though, until I know what it is that I would be good at that would also be useful. So far I’ve got nothing. I really have a very limited skill set. For one thing, my people skills are terrible. You’d be surprised at how many careers this eliminates right off the bat. And yes, it is too late for me to become a doctor.
I spent far too many years expecting my greatest accomplishments to be in the writing arena, but it turns out I’m not nearly as good at writing as I am at reading. I tell myself that I would be better at writing if I read less and wrote more, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Do you know how many hours I spent reading Don Quixote last month? I didn’t even enjoy it all that much (although I have an intellectual appreciation for it). The only reason I read Don Quixote instead of writing was that I knew that if I kept reading, I would eventually finish Don Quixote. I know how to keep reading. I don’t know how to keep writing, and I haven’t finished writing anything apart from posts on this blog for about five years. (I think. I don’t know. It depresses me to count. Although I know how to count. I’m just afraid to keep counting.)
At this point I am waiting for someone to say, “Don’t you see, Mad? Your greatest accomplishment is this blog!” Followed immediately by “WHICH YOU ALLOWED TO DIE!!!”
Just remember, I said it first.