Summers in Pennsylvania were the highlight of my year as a kid.
Every summer, my mom and I would drive down from New York and spend a week visiting her side of the family in southeastern PA. It was the stuff childhood magic is made from: buying corn from a stand on the side of the road, choreographing swimming routines in the pool with my cousins, long walks to visit neighbors who’d welcome our arrival with Sunny D and Klondike bars, roaming freely on a bike—and one year when I was 11? 12?—in an orange VW bug with Scooby Do painted on the passenger side door.
It always felt warmer in PA, in temperature and in spirit, and I loved everything about it. Fast forward a decade or two and here I am, living in Pennsylvania year round. At first, because my job was here. Now, because my life is here.
My eight-year-old self would be pumped.
Sometimes I’m pumped, too. But more often than not, I miss the magic that was so easy to find here as a kid. And while some of that is due to not being eight years old anymore, I think more of it is due to only choosing my life halfway.
A small but eye-roll-worthy example: I was in a little bit of a funk this weekend. Mostly because of the constant and unnecessary pressure to make the most of all the things, all the time. At one point I was deciding between going swimming or driving down to an overlook to read by the river. Easy decisions, wrapped up in all sorts of privilege. And to figure out what I wanted to do, I didn’t think about what I actually wanted to do. I thought about what I would wish I was doing more in the midst of the other choice. If I went swimming, how much would I wish I had picked reading? If I read, how much would I wish I had picked swimming halfway through?
This. is. the dumbest. This is a Fear Of Missing Out mindset born from a) anxiety, b) not choosing anything wholeheartedly, and c) a “You can have everything you want!” culture. It’s a complex lie of control when what I needed most was a little choice. And contentment. And chill.
Later that same day, I was sitting in the backyard waiting for three generations of friends to come over for a bonfire, complete with s’mores. Jenny was telling me about her afternoon and Olive was stretched out in the grass. A hummingbird stopped by the feeder, glowing in a silhouette of sunlight. A neighbor peeked over the fence to see how our garden is doing. And then, as we were chatting, an old playlist offered up this Punch Brothers song:
My, oh my, what a wonderful day we’re having.
Why, oh why, are we looking for a way outside it?
How long, O Lord, can you keep the whole world spinning under our thumbs?
I have such a good life. It’s an absurdly good life. And when I don’t actively choose it—when I keep my options open for fear of missing out on something marginally better—I miss it.
Sometimes I feel like I’m playing the shell game with my life, the one where a prize is hidden under one of three shells. Someone shuffles them around again and again and at the end, you have to guess which shell the prize is hidden under. It’s like I think that my real life, the best possible one, is the prize hiding underneath one of those shells. And if I pick the wrong one, I’ll come up empty.
When, really, I choose the shells. I choose to hide the prize. I choose to keep guessing where it’s hidden.
And the whole time, I could choose to stop playing the game.
Because the prize has always been mine for the taking. I can choose my real life—the good life that’s already unfolding with or without me—and walk away.
Actively choosing my life is the foundation of the pyramid of decisions I want to get better at this month. And while I’ve clearly identified the problem, I’m not 100% sure I’ve identified the best solution, other than constant reminders? Maybe I’ll carry a shell around for the rest of the month. Real subtle.
At the very least, I’m glad for this reminder right now. Because my eight-year-old self was right about a lot of things, including how magical it can be to live in Pennsylvania in the summer. She couldn’t yet understand the fury of merge lanes in PA and drivers who cannot participate in merging, but she was right about the warmth of the people and the place. And roadside corn stands and pools and neighbors with Klondike bars. The Sunny D can stay in the 90s.
“It’s Never Going to Be Perfect, So Just Get It Done” by Tim Herrera. True of writing. True of life.
After forgetting reusable options far too many times, I finally bought a reusable utensil set for my purse and I am very excited about it.
I’m dreaming up a whole wall of Henry Rivers travel posters.