Very rarely is your first thought, your best thought. As I writer, I know this empirically. My first draft is a mix of cliches and awful overwriting.  Adverbs overrun the text and there are ‘tears falling down faces’ and ‘hearts that feel broken’ and ‘women looking at men as they had never looked at another’ galore. In drafting, I reach for the cliche because it’s close, normally the first thing my overworked brain lights upon. Cliches are handy shortcuts to explain things in a way that “everybody understands,” mostly due to overuse.

We tend to live “first thought” lives without ever realizing it. We go to school, get married, have kids, work a 9-5, wash, rinse, repeat. We live the cliche because it is the path of least resistance — the first thought that comes to our mind when the question “how should we then live?” presents itself. We live scripted lives with little understanding of how we came to them and even less enjoyment of the reality we find ourselves in. I would gather that these are the lives of quiet desperation Thoreau wrote about.

Our first thoughts may not be the best thoughts, but that doesn’t necessarily make them the worst either. More likely than not, first thoughts are simply someone else’s thoughts. My first thoughts about anything race-related are generally James Baldwin’s, Audre Lorde’s, or Dr. King’s because I admire them and they are my primary sources for racism work. It isn’t until the tenth or even twentieth thought, that I tap the deep stream of my own consciousness to figure out what I actually think about a topic.  In the same vein, our scripted life is so often what our parents wanted for us, or what a partner wanted, or even what society expects.  We walk around in a reality of someone else’s making. Why?  because figuring out your own thoughts on an issue (whether your life or race) involves figuring out who you are and that takes time, experience, and reflection. The scripted life often takes over before you’ve had a chance to do that.

You find a partner in your junior year of college and naturally, you do what comes next on the script: you get married, and then a few years later, there are babies and your life begins to revolve around the complexity of parenthood. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. My question is simply this: are you sure that’s what you want? Is marriage your first thought or your tenth? Whose life are you living?

The truth of my own almost-forty, single, with no kids life is this: I didn’t get pregnant by or  marry any dude I dated in my twenties. Because of those two non-events, I’ve had plenty of time to figure out who I am and what I want.  Am I suggesting my own life as a pattern for everyone to follow? Never! Everyone’s path is different and getting married, whether at 23 or 43, can also be the path to figuring out who you are and what you want. There is no single way to do this.  But figure it out you must!

Your life depends on you getting past your first thoughts. It depends on maybe ripping up the script that you’ve been given and charting a whole new path or, actually reading the script in front of you and deciding that yes, this is what I want.  Either way, it involves a choice on your part and living the consequences of those choices.

 

the curious case of benjamin button screenplay quote

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