When I left my full-time, tenured Assistant Professorship at a community college where I had been teaching for 14 years, I received all kinds of advice, warnings, congratulations, and even admonishments from friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances. The one warning that felt more like an admonishment came from a former colleague who had left the same college, but not under the same circumstances. This person’s ongoing, unsolicited “advice” felt friendly at first and then slowly grew into a wild, fear-mongering rant and then… what almost felt like a curse. But the overall message of this curse was, “things will not turn out the way you expect them to.”
The thing is, I’ve known that… maybe, my whole life. Or, maybe I learned it via childhood trauma. Or, maybe I learned it when the first marriage and love I thought would last forever only ended up lasting twelve years. Or maybe, when my family suffered loss after terrible loss of five of our loved ones in a period of four years. Or, maybe I learned it by following my dream of becoming an English Professor and a “Poet” and then tenured and then realizing that there was a whole lot about the particular situation that I had not expected and didn’t particularly love. Or maybe the countless other times I experienced an unexpected twist in what was otherwise a seemingly trustworthy plan. The thing is… I do not live with rigid expectations of… anything… or… anyone very much anymore. I don’t know how anyone does. Life would be exhausting and endlessly disappointing.
When I left that position at that college in 2019, my plan was to become a Social Worker. It was a good plan. And, it would’ve worked except I realized about halfway into my first semester that I wanted to go back to school for the intellectual challenge and the academic work of graduate-level research, not to learn another vocation. I had a vocation. I was a teacher. I didn’t want more job training. I wanted to STUDY. So, I quit that social work program, unclear about what I would do next but knowing for sure, I didn’t want to do THAT. Then, over the next several months, found a spot in a PhD program I had been considering for about a decade but had never had the nerve to jump into.
And, the number one question people ask me when they hear about my PhD work is… “What are you planning to do with that?” Most take my seemingly ridiculous answer in stride but others are annoyed when I say, “I have no idea.”
It’s not true that I have “NO” idea. I have some ideas. I just have no idea — and can’t have any idea — if those ideas will work out. And even if they do work out, I’m sure they won’t look or be exactly like I expect them to so what’s the point in setting rigid expectations.
I follow my curiosity. I do what I can do. I hope for the best. I do what needs to be done at this moment to pay the bills, and do my part to support my family emotionally, spiritually, and financially to the best of my ability. I am always learning. I am also aware that while I have worked hard and suffered much, I live with heaps of unearned privilege that allow me to muddle through this life, following my curiosity and continuing to learn, with very little expectation of how things will turn out. Choice is privilege. I live too, with this constant awareness.
For me, any kind of plan is a foggy, vague outline of a path up ahead. As I move along the path, the details begin to fill out. Sometimes those details are terrifying, loathsome, and cause immense sorrow. Sometimes those details are inconvenient and annoying. Sometimes they are delicious and joyous and intoxicatingly pleasurable. Often, the details are just “meh.”
I know… I know I know I know… the emphasis on journey over destination was played out many decades ago. But, it’s played out because it’s one of the greatest truisms of the human experience. There actually is no destination. Ever. Every plan we have to head toward a destination has to be understood as a temporary path until we turn or pivot or jump onto the next path and the next path and the next path… and so on. There is only one destination for all of us — and I’m not in a hurry to get there. So, in the meantime, I’m going to enjoy what I can of the journey and endure the rest of it. And when I can no longer endure certain details of the path I am on, I will see what other path I can find that might lead me somewhere different — not perfect, just different — with little expectation of the new details I will find. Feel free to keep your unsolicited advice and curses to yourself and I will do the same.
And here's Hank William Sr.'s take on death positivity for your listening pleasure...
JodiAnn Stevenson lives in the U.S., in the Northwest Corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, on The Big Lake. Her writing has appeared in numerous venues since 1996. She is the author of three published chapbooks of poetry: The Procedure (March Street Press, 2006); Houses Don’t Float (Habernicht Press, 2010); and Diving Headlong Into A Cliff of Our Own Delusion (Saucebox, 2011). Her mixed-genre work Marina Abramovic Is My Mother is available in the form of a short-run podcast. She has also produced eight chapbooks of poetry for The Broken Nose Collective which she co-founded in 2013. JodiAnn was founder and co-managing editor of the feminist micro-press, Binge Press and its sister journal, 27 rue de fleures, from 2004 until 2017.
A (more or less) complete list of publications and appearances: