I’ve had a longtime fantasy that I am going to tell you about, even though it’s embarrassing.
(No, not that fantasy.)
I am sent to some faraway exotic land —
(No, not that one either)
— where I’m in a very large community of English speaking families, but I’m the only one who has time on her hands and I’m put in charge of things I have no business even dipping my toe into. But because there’s no one else to do all these things — I think they’re all busy working on whatever project has us all in this place to begin with — I get to do all the things no one else has time for. The fun stuff.
Expectations are extremely low, so no one cares that I’m lousy at all the things. They’re just so happy there is someone to do it, they gladly turn it all over to me and praise me to high heaven for being mediocre at best.
In this version of my Shangri-La, I am the high school girls’ soccer coach. I also direct the choir, where I get to sing all the solos. I am the church social director. I’m the dance teacher, the art instructor, I run the library, and I’m in charge of decorating every bulletin board in the entire town.
There are a couple hundred hours in a day, and I have unlimited energy, and the big 64 box of crayons. And not once does anyone ask, “Why are you in charge of this?”
Because deep down in my soul, my overriding fantasy, my dream to beat all dreams is to do everything. All the things. Things I’m good at, things I’m bad at, and things that when people see my name on the list to do them they are terrified.
That is the fantasy.
How cool would it be to live as though you could do anything you wanted and it’s all possible, there are no limitations, societal or otherwise? No one will judge you, everyone will love you, and there you are, adequately talented lovable you, leading all the townspeople on a cross-town bike ride when you can’t even properly ride a two-wheeler without training wheels.
I’m at the age where people have started to ask me what I will do when I retire. It’s awkward because I don’t have a job from which to retire, and any of my retirement plans I really could be doing now. Maybe that’s why I look at retirement as holding so much more stuff to do, so much more work, than people who have real jobs.
Everybody else watching The Americans is thinking how cool it would be to be a spy. I want to work at Phil and Elizabeth’s travel agency. For the past five years, every shop I walk into I think, “You know what? I would like to work here.” And then I picture myself getting dressed in the morning in my comfortable shoes, stopping for a coffee, and unlocking the front door, turning on the lights, sweeping the sidewalk and turning the sign to We’re Open.
That, too, is the fantasy.
I want to do all the things that are just out of reach from what I can do now.
I want to write novels that make people laugh their asses off and then cry crocodile tears at the end. I want to write genre-bending screenplays that are unique and groundbreaking and get me in a strapless chintz gown on the red carpet. I want to write charming and funny short stories that when you’re done you think you’ve read poetry. You close the book and just sit there for a second.
I want to make videos and give workshops. I want to write about everything. Things I know about and things I start out knowing nothing about but learn along the way. I want to co-author a book with each of my kids.
I want to design and make costumes for period plays in community theater. And be the director, the choreographer, and wipe the tears of the diva who doesn’t think she can go on.
I want to be a self-published author’s book marketer. I want to host writers’ retreats and workshops where I make all the food myself, plus I get to stand up at the big whiteboard with a pointer.
I want to organize a White-House-scale Easter Egg hunt where every child gets the eggs he wants, even the kids who don’t seem into it, but who are secretly stressing about it inside. I will first develop a formula to make sure that happens.
I want to wear a headset and carry a clipboard every single damn day.
I want to interview prospective jurors about whether they should be on this jury or whether they should maybe wait for the next one. Either way, whatever you think is best for you.
I want to make workbooks on how to be happy and I want to illustrate them myself.
I have an idea for a business where I work with local tourism offices and businesses to encourage locals to jump on the staycation bandwagon during the off season or year ’round in places like San Diego and Cleveland. I call it Tourist at Home Adventures and you can get discounts to museums and stuff that visitors do but residents never do.
I have another idea for a business where I make Rice Crispy treats into animal shapes and wrap them in pastel cellophane with beautiful ribbons and sell them at farmers’ markets. They are adorable. I sit behind my table at the farmers’ market and knit blankets for babies who are going into foster care.
I want to run a bookstore where there is an author talk every Friday night and a kids’ story time every Saturday morning. Used and rare books are upstairs in the loft, and magazines and coffee are sold in the front. A passageway leads to “Ernie’s Corn Fritters” next door, our partner shop.
I want to run for public office. Something small where I could talk to my constituents on a daily basis and not be a big shot. “This is not a stepping stone for me, politically,” I’ll say and I’ll mean it.
I want to be the wedding coordinator at San Francisco City Hall. I would personally do everything from fluffing up the brides’ trains to dealing with the state and county regulations for marriage licensure. “Hello,” I’d say when frantic and frustrated brides and grooms called with questions and problems with red tape, “How can I help you have the wedding of your dreams?”
I want to run a B&B where I get up at 4 in the morning and make homemade muffins from the blueberries I grow in the back garden, serve breakfast and then clean and make up the rooms, each featuring a different quilt with a story. My sisters will make the quilts and they’ll get to stay for free. I will also host a happy hour on the front porch every evening at 5 o’clock with wine and cocktail wieners. Rain or shine.
I want to run a writing workshop for children and teenagers, where they can come in after school and work on their writing and I’ll walk around and give them encouragement and cookies and help them get published. “Great job!” I’ll tell them, especially the ones who are quiet and unsure and uncomfortable with writing down their feelings and frankly uncomfortable with just being. They will grow up to dedicate their Booker Prize winning books to me.
I want to work at Jo-Ann Fabrics. Also at every retail store I’ve been to in the past five years except Target.
I want to be the woman at Hospice who walks the halls, looking for someone who might want to talk about World War II and the pitfalls of drawing an eyeliner line up the back of your leg to imitate nylons. “Oh, that must’ve been great,” I’ll say.
I want to be a foster parent. I want to take in kids of all ages, newborns who will wake me up every 75 minutes for expensive prescription formula and to have mucus sucked out of their noses, and I will also wake them up at least once in between each 75-minute sleep session just to hold them and kiss their heads and sing Elvis songs to them; middle schoolers who need help with their homework and want someone to sit on the bleachers and watch them play soccer or hockey or baseball or basketball or fencing or — I’d even watch skateboarding and even though I say I’d rather slit my wrists, I won’t; 6-year-olds with ADD, ADHD and all the other A’s and D’s; and teenage arsonists.
I want to write songs with haunting lyrics and hummable tunes that get stuck in your head. I want to write a memoir. I want to help people write their own life stories.
I want to have a salon in my home where every Sunday afternoon people feel free to drop in and there will be a big pot of chili on the stove and someone will bring his guitar and we’ll eat and sing and talk about politics and current events and there will be an old Treeing Walker Coonhound who steals her way into everyone’s hearts.
This list used to be longer. I had to remove some things just because time is running out. I will never run a marathon, be a surrogate mother, or join the Peace Corps. And my window for Poet Laureate is probably closing pretty fast as well.
Life isn’t long enough and dreams have an expiration date. Retirement is certainly too short and not timed well at all. The phrase the retirement of your dreams is a disappointment if you have a list like mine. I feel a little like I’m setting myself up to fail.
Still it doesn’t seem fair that I can’t do all the things. I’m willing to do my part. I want to work hard and I can go without sleep for a long time if there’s enough coffee that’s not the vending machine variety. And I realize even if I did all the things, it wouldn’t earn me enough to support the supplies I would need.
Which is why I need my husband to retire with a pension so I can be kept to the style to which I’ve become accustomed to fantasize about. That big box of crayons isn’t getting any cheaper.
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Diane Laney Fitzpatrick has been writing Just Humor Me for more than ten years. It was never part of her fantasy, but she still loves doing it and hopes to continue well past retirement, whatever that means. If you’d like to get an occasional email reminder of Diane’s writing, subscribe to her newsletter here.