Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Practical: To Be or Not To Be

He thinks Penny Tweedy was not a reasonable woman. He thinks she should have sold Secretariat, before he ran for the Triple Crown, to pay the 6-million dollar inheritance tax on her father’s estate. He thinks she neglected the interests of her husband and four children for a risky gamble on a horse. He said . . . he said . . . he said she was not being “practical.”

Practical. That’s the word that started the ensuing argument between me and my husband. The word that made me sharply inform him that I sided with Virginia native and southern lady Penny Tweedy. I shouted at him that if she had been practical she never would have been part of a great story.

That’s the sentence that made our 13 year-old fuss, “Would y’all quit? We can’t hear the movie.” Then the 11 year-old said, “We don’t need to hear it now. Mama just told us the ending.” So I defended, “Win or lose, she’s part of a great story.” And our 9 year-old daughter asked, “Did she win or lose?” prompting the 15 year-old to announce, “Are you serious?” Which led my husband to turn to me and accuse, “You ruined the movie.”

So I shouted again, “I said win or lose; win or lose, Penny Tweedy is part of a great story. The movie would have been made either way. But if she had been practical, the story would have ended before it ever really got started.” Then I left the room.

Practical might do for some people, but it irks me.

I didn’t always dream of becoming a writer. My earliest aspiration, at the age of 5, was to be an artist and live in my parents’ garage and take care of them in their old age. Upon hearing my plans, my parents patted me on the head and smiled, belying their vision of a future filled with a 45 year-old me in paint-smattered overalls eating their food and bossing them around. It was a turning point in my life. From then on, they nudged me toward the practical.

But I never was cut out for the practical way of life. I’m drawn to wholly illogical things like three-quarter length sleeves, old houses, dogs that shed and having more than 1.3 children. Still, following my moody, brooding teenage years, during which I brought to life a plethora of moody, brooding poetry, I got my act together, grew up, went off to college and tracked on the practical path. I earned a degree in education, acquiring the requisite sellable skill my parents pushed for. My parents were happy, optimistic, relieved.

By the time I went on to get an advanced degree in psychology, however, it was obvious to all that I didn’t have the stamina for practical. There’s nothing less practical than probing the narrows of the human mind, except maybe going on to a doctorate program in such nonsense. And then getting pregnant. And then getting pregnant again. And then leaving the program with everything but the dissertation completed. And then having two more babies, one after the other, and forgetting all about a career in anything but housekeeping and nose wiping.

For my mama and daddy, watching me course through life has been like watching a slow-motion video clip of a woman, running full speed, hitting a hardwood floor covered in BBs with nothing but a sliding glass door in the way to stop her momentum. They wince. They tense. They grit their teeth. They refuse to grow old and they bought a house without a garage.

Then I skidded and slammed into the sliding glass door. When I came to, I found myself at a desk with my fingers tap-tapping across a keyboard. And so began my impractical, and unexpected, profession as a writer. The world rolled it out there to me, just as it presented Penny Tweedy with Secretariat, and I, intrigued by the irrational, took hold of it.

Like Penny Tweedy, win or lose, I’d rather be part of a great story than settle for just being practical.

How about you?

Today's Assignment: Take a risk. Go out on a limb. Live a little. Do one thing that isn't in the least bit practical.

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