I don't want to be an astronaut. I realize that may seem a little obvious at this point in the game, but it's nice to be able to cross at least one career path off the list. It's not that I don't like looking at the stars. They genuinely take my breath away whenever I catch a glimpse of them. The trouble is if I look at them for too long.
When I was a little girl, my mother used to tell me the story of when she was a little girl, and how she would walk out into her front yard and look up at the stars and think about her place in the universe, and how it would provide her with endless comfort and perspective as she realized how truly small her problems were.
I've tried using this mental trick to comfort myself on many occasions, but it often has the opposite effect. Because if I look at the stars for too long, I get a cosmic case of the bends—as if I am barreling too quickly through all those initial Powers of Ten. Before I have a moment to stop and settle into my mother's comforting perspective, I'm zooming past that to nihilistic numbness—a sense and fear that I am so incredibly minute in the scheme of things that nothing I do has any real or lasting meaning. Trying to hold on to my sense of self while trying simultaneously to hold the universe, from start to finish, within the confines of my brain doesn't just take my breath away—it knocks all the wind right out of me, and then some.
This feels like a good metaphor for my relationship to ambition.
I'm not quite brave enough to embrace the idea that I don't really matter nor quite bold enough to embrace the idea that I do. And so I careen back and forth between various exponents of existential possibility—from the furthest reaches of accomplishment ("Thanks, Terry—it's a pleasure to be back") to more humble achievements ("Dinner's ready—it's quinoa and beans").
I know the sweet spot exists somewhere between the quinoa and Terry Gross. In the movie, I would be hovering just slightly above the earth. Chicago itself would still be visible—maybe you could even make out the man and woman on the picnic blanket if you squinted.
I don't need to feel larger than life. I just want my life to feel large.