Saturday, September 14, 2013

You can't have it all, but you can have cake

Those magical moments when what you want and what you have match up - that's what 'having it all' is about

Ms Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook is the current guru in negotiating this imperfect paradise. With her enviable job, helpful husband, two children (not to mention her bestseller), right now she is Queen Have-It-All.
There is a statistical theory, degrees of freedom, that proves that every single choice you make narrows your choices (the choices you might make in the future), rendering having it all impossible. I dropped out of advanced algebra; nevertheless, I will attempt to explain. Take Mr Anthony Weiner, for instance. Mr Weiner discovered that he could not be a US congressman and tweet a picture of his penis. Becoming a congressman ruled out that possibility. He could not have it all.
I'm sure when Mr Weiner found out he couldn't have it all, he changed the definition. "Having it all" meant having his pregnant wife not leave him. "That's all I want," I bet he said to himself when he was exposed and had to resign. "Just don't let Huma leave me." In other words, "all" shrank. However, once he persuaded his wife not to leave him, he wasn't satisfied. "All" expanded once again.
Having it all seems to breed wanting more. And since we can't have it all because it is statistically impossible, and since there is no such thing as more than all, the whole notion seems, I'm sorry to say, depressingly American.
In many countries, having it all is learning to read. Having it all is getting to choose whom you love. Having it all is walking to school without worrying that you might get raped on the way.
One of the most revolting parts about the American female version is that having it all defines "all" one way: marriage, children, career. It assumes all women want the same thing. Success rests on achieving three goals (life viewed not as a continuum, but an end point), and these goals, as it happens, are exactly the ones that will declare you a success at your high school reunion.
This might not be a coincidence.
Never underestimate the power of high school. It's the identity everyone wants to live down, the approval everyone aspires to. Being able to check the boxes - marriage, children, career - is more important at a high school reunion than anywhere else, which is why I think that high school, not feminism, is the reason an idea of happiness got framed this way. It instantly creates the social world of high school: haves, have-nots, wannabes and freaks. Freaks are those who aspire to other versions of life, who want to march to their own tune. Thanks to this definition of success, they will always be freaks.
My friend Molly graduated from high school in 2003, and keeps bumping into her classmates on Facebook, even those she hasn't spoken to since high school. Daily she is bombarded by photos and news of the have-it-alls. She keeps redefining what she wants, she says, by seeing what everyone else has. Getting away from high school is supposed to free you from the pressure to conform. But now that there's no getting away, high school is forever. Perhaps Ms Sandberg is not Queen Have-It-All. She is Prom Queen Have-It-All.
To me, having it all - if one wants to define it at all - is the magical time when what you want and what you have match up. Like an eclipse. A total eclipse is when the Moon is at its perigee, the Earth is at its greatest distance from the Sun, and when the Sun is observed near zenith.
I have no idea what that means. I got the description off a science website, but one thing is clear: It's rare. This eclipse never lasts more than seven minutes and 31 seconds.
Personally, I believe having it all can last longer than that. It might be a fleeting moment - drinking a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning when the light is especially bright. It might also be a few undisturbed hours with a novel I'm in love with, a three-hour lunch with my best friend, watching a Nadal-Federer match.
Having it all definitely involves an ability to seize the moment, especially when it comes to sports. It can be eating in bed when you're living on your own for the first time or the first weeks of a new job when everything is new, uncertain and a bit scary. It's when all your senses are engaged. It's when you feel at peace with someone you love. And that isn't often. Loving someone and being at peace with him (or her) are two different things.
Having it all are moments in life when you suspend judgment. It's when I attain that elusive thing called peace of mind. Not particularly American, unquantifiable, unidentifiable, different for everyone, but you know it when you have it.
Which is why I love bakeries. Peace descends the second I enter, the second I smell the intoxicating aroma of fresh bread, see apricot cookies with scalloped edges, chocolate dreams, cinnamon and raisin concoctions, flights of a baker's imagination, and I know I am the luckiest person in the world.
At that moment, in spite of statistical proof that this is not possible, I have it all. And not only that, I can have more.