I saw a girl on a Manhattan-bound train wearing a knock-off Louis Vuitton headscarf and false eyelashes long enough to make a Daddy Long-legs envious. Her look—a sort of Sally-Bowles-does-Brooklyn—was complete with a matching knockoff LV handbag and umbrella. She was seated next to a young man who was as dashing in his way as she was adorable, but she took no notice of him as she was completely absorbed in a paperback titled, Becoming a Practical Thinker.
I had an impulse to tear the book from her hands.
“Don’t do that,” I wanted to say, “Practicality will not get you where you want to go.”
I speak from experience. Every major, life-altering decision I’ve ever made has seemed, at first blush, misguided, misjudged or plain foolish—and ultimately turned out to be the opposite: Moving to San Francisco at 24, for instance, and, 24 years later, to New York, with little to my name in both cases. I’d add here every person I’ve fallen for, every big trip I’ve splurged on, every great apartment taken that I could not realistically afford. And, really, what is pursuing writing but a case study in an impractical career?
This is not to trash practicality; it has its place in life, as surely as does reality (without which there would be no dreams—right?). I find practical thinking quite useful in getting me out the door on time without forgetting my four essentials (wallet, keys, glasses, phone). Nor is this to disparage those who take a more practical path. Rather, this is to point out how our lives are increasingly designed to be not only risk-averse but chance-averse, partly due, in my view, to ever-more consuming technology.
One's outlook today is not a way to see the world, but a scheduling tool that keeps us on task, reminding us over and over of appointments missed (until dismissed), deadlines looming, contacts just waiting to be contacted. (What is more absurd than hearing someone say their "Outlook" is not working?) We MapQuest our days, GPS our nights, all the while tracking our own whereabouts on social networks, as if this might help us find the way back to ourselves when lost. Call me hopelessly impractical but sometimes I think the best way to get wherever it is you want to go is without any directions at all.
Causes Bill Hayes Supports
International AIDS Vaccine Initiative