My Dream is Not a Baby
Making a mother out of everything.
Sometimes I write letters to test a theory growing in me, or to see how something lands. Earlier this month, I questioned my relationship to work and I considered what it would be like not to saddle myself with goals or growth-related endeavors. What would it look like to have a business and instead of expand, choose to intentionally coast, or even shrink?
I spent most of the summer thinking about my habit of accumulating more work than I need to “get by”, what I actually need to get by, and how much my relationship to work is influenced by other people: mostly what I think they think, and how they relate to their own work.
For a brief period, I thought these reflections might lead me to quit everything and work at the movie theater or the health food store. I imagined what it would feel like to delete Instagram without notice, forever. In less extreme, less hormonal moments, I thought about not taking anything new on for at least a year.
A few days after I wrote openly about this, I signed a lease on a commercial studio space that will definitely require me to strive and work more than I have been in order to afford it. At first, I couldn’t help but mock myself a little bit for being so blatantly contradictory. But then, it occurred to me that combining my season of scrutiny (as it relates to productivity and earning) with an extraordinary undertaking is maybe harmonious, helpful even.
Life carries on sprinkling opportunities around me: a lease in a former vintage shop, being in New York longer than I thought and learning how to tattoo, receiving an artist’s grant — and though I’ve grown weary from work culture at large, my dreams as they relate to my own work never die. I really can’t help myself from trying new things if they seem even slightly feasible. Is it because the conditioning to strive takes more than a few months of inquiry to shed? Or is it because fresh, sometimes risky things are actually fun to go for? I’ve always been a curious girl.
Despite how little I’ve talked about it, word has spread that I now have a brick and mortar shop, a studio, or something in between. I’ve noticed that when I take something on, especially if it requires me to invest money that I may never get back, there’s an urgency that rises in people. People want to know my plans, as if I have some already. It’s assumed that I’ve taken a leap only after developing elaborate and lofty blueprints. This is maybe the wiser way, the way we are taught to do things, but what if my investment is an experiment, a question to which I don’t yet want the answer? What if I trust that ideas come on their own time?
Lately, when friends or landmates see me after a few days apart, they ask me what this thing is going to be. They say, “Anna, I want to know your plans for your new studio space,” and I think of ways to skirt the subject. I want to say, “I don’t know, I’m not the one to ask.”
It’s customary to ask questions of each other when big life events reveal themselves. And I know that on paper, I am the one to ask. I signed a lease, and I picked out the right shade of paint for the walls. But I don’t really know anything beyond the essentials of getting settled. How could I? I’ve never been here before, nor can I see into the future. Regardless, this desire to talk about plans has been on my tail.
What happens to a dream if I resist the urge to plan around it? It’s exciting to spitball ideas aloud, to vision board, to make lists and Pinterest folders. I’m not arguing against plans or against putting language to our dreams. In some instances, practical planning is an absolute necessity. Before I moved to Mexico in the winter of 2021, it took months of planning for me to feel prepared.
But I’m learning that nothing ever unfolds the way I think it will, and that building lofty plans builds expectations, too. Today, in the face of a new dream, I question the purpose of compulsive forecasting. I wonder if it’s better for me — and for the dream — to try and let it be.
A few people have already called this new project of mine a “baby”. Someone even referred to the early stage of developing my ideas around it as a “birthing process”. These comments leave me curious. By choice I am unmarried and child-free, and yet the low-hanging fruit of our language makes it innocent, almost benign, to try and make a mother out of me. It’s as if to suggest that a woman’s dreams always lead to motherhood, and if they don’t, perhaps her chosen path can be bent or distorted towards it somehow.
I can think of nothing more serious than creating another person. I don’t see the relationship between signing a month-to-month lease on an empty cinderblock of a room, and bringing an human life into the world through my sex.
Friends of mine are actually trying to get pregnant; some of them are having babies. I’ve noticed that both the haves and the have-nots aspiring to parenthood share the same penchant for planning. Pregnancy seems synonymous with an irresistible urge to try and control everything about being pregnant, and to control the subsequent human it hopefully produces. It seems impossible for people-makers to let it be, come what may, even though it is my observation that the body can seldom be governed, and the lives that come through it have plans of their own.
In any case, I don’t know what it’s like to want a baby or to have a baby. I am not having a baby, and so despite the language being projected onto this project, as if all dreams carry the same weight, perhaps I can give the dream I actually have more grace than expected.
I have some, but very little control over this project because I have almost no control over the world that unfolds around it, and around me. What does it look like to loosen the grip on over-identification with plans and expectations? There might be loss involved in the thing I’m walking straight towards — financially, energetically, emotionally. But I’m going to do it anyway, and I’m going to keep it chill. Very, very chill.
Much like not talking about men for three days while camping with girlfriends, I like the idea of leaving my dream exactly where I left it instead of talking about it when I walk in the door or when I sit down for dinner. I want to let my dream speak for itself while it speaks through me, instead of me speak for it.
There’s nothing I want to say about my dream other than what happened today, each day. I need to imagine a sustainable way to do big work, in real life, slowly, and intuitively. I need to know that big projects can unfold on their own without prematurely bludgeoning them for definitions. I need to play with being quiet long enough to listen, even when other people want answers.
On Sunday, I moved a free sofa inside from a nearby curb, I unsuccessfully Swiffered the concrete floors, and I painted a swatch of “Milky-Way” white on the wall. To quote Gil Fronsdal from a recent Dharma talk, “The path itself seems so precious; getting to the capital seems secondary.”