It was hard for my dad to describe to me what he did at work when I was little. He was a mechanic in the Air Force, specializing in hydraulics for F-16s. When I asked, he would tell me about how fluids turn into pressure and how wind creates lift, conversations that floated above me but must have ended up still tucked into a corner of my mind where I listen to them now. But then, I must have given him enough blank enough looks to usually have him end with a gruff, "I fix planes."
I have the same problem telling my kids what I do. Sometimes, I go with the easier answer: I talk to people, and then I write about what they tell me. But when I get stuck in thoughts, sometimes darker than I can share with them and that pull me away from them in the moment, it's harder to explain the other navel-gazing oddities I write. Especially when my own focus floats away from me.
I thought I could bring the Zen Buddhism idea of the beginner's mind to finding me a topic for this week. Over dinner, I asked them what I should write about. I expected an answer about Minecraft or how I should do a treatise on my favorite color.
"Cups," my 5-year-old son declared. We took a beat to look at each other. It was so absurd but expressed with such confidence that I couldn't help bursting out with slightly maniacal laughter, making them laugh hysterically. We laughed together, but for different reasons. Theirs was a glee that children have when they get a reaction they hadn't intended or necessarily expected, slightly adrift without the fuzz of contextualizing I have constantly in my head. That overthinking was stopped cold with such a simple answer.
I could give the topic a try. I hoped that perhaps I could get it to stick by discovering that millennials were killing the cup industry, but no such luck — just napkins. Maybe I could slide into optimism, thinking that, generally, when the tired question comes up, I'd probably pick the thought that my glass is half full instead of half empty. But the older I get, the more I wonder what type of liquid it is and who gave me the glass. As age adds parts anxiety and analysis to simple concepts, things get murky, and language adds to how we stumble through our thoughts.
Because even when I think about how my cup runneth over, and it does daily by being blessed to be a Mama to these beautiful kids, it's hard to explain to them that I'm also thinking about the negative concept of that overflow. My mind debates the mess to be mopped, the paper towels to be bought and the guilt from harming the environment incurred by using paper towels. And there I am, away from the moment, mulling why I'm supporting the insatiable maw of consumerism.
The endless thinking before the writing can make you tired. It's not the bone-tired that comes from hours with a wrench working on a plane, but maybe the thoughts that come up when you don't want to think too hard about where that plane will fly.
Someday, I'll be able to explain in more detail what I do for a living to my kids. I can explain to them that I look into the tempest of a cultural teacup and then attempt to make sense of it. And if that idea may be too enormous or tedious to them then, I'll just explain, less gruffly, that I just try to fix words.
Cassie McClure is a writer, wife/mama/daughter, fan of the Oxford comma, and drinker of tequila. Some of those things relate. She is also the executive director of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and can be contacted at [email protected] To find out more about Cassie McClure and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Engin_Akyurt at Pixabay