I’ve got the power?
When I was younger, around eight or nine, I was the master of my own universe. I had all sorts of ideas about control—namely that I had a lot of it. I made up all my own games and managed to coerce the neighborhood kids into playing them with me. I did my homework in a flash and then did my friends’ homework just to speed things along. I raised generations of silkworms from egg to moth—a child’s turn at playing God (I was both provider and occasionally, sadly, destroyer). I even believed I could alter the truth with a colorful and pervasive set of lies (my years as a compulsive liar ended when I hit puberty—I promise). In the orchestra that is life, I was my own conductor. I set the tone and the pace for the whole performance—and that’s exactly how I liked it.
Things have really changed, needless to say, with college successfully beating into my brain that I have no control. Okay, an exaggeration—I have very, very little control, certainly in contrast to my godlike early days. I mean, look at my life now. A day without the library is a day loaded with guilt. My time is currently under lease to five different Wash. U. professors and this newspaper. However they choose to divide it up, that’s between them and out of my hands. Yes, I understand that I’m the one who sold my soul. I made the choices that got me into this mess. And I make choices all the time—I’ve hardly surrendered my free will. But now I more vividly understand the distinction between good choices and bad choices, and the pressure to make the good ones has reached a crescendo. So what choice do I really have?
And here I am, so much older, so much more experienced, so much learning under my belt. Of course, one thing I’ve realized is that there is no such thing as control in healthy relationships (well, there is self-control—but who has that?). You just have to let go—isn’t that what they always say? Well, I have absolutely no desire to exercise power over other people. But hey, the timing is always off, or the distance too great, or the circumstances too bizarre. I sure would like to have a little more power over some of that stuff. I’ve tried to fight all those things in the past and have only a bruised ego and a fat lip to show for it. Is that really fair? Should there really be so many things that affect me that I can’t do anything about? Shouldn’t I be allowed to fight back?
You’ll tell me what any knowledgeable person would tell me: the only thing I can ever have control over is myself. But what does that really mean? I have only minimal control over my appearance: I can change my shirt and put up my hair, but I don’t exactly have the funds for massive plastic surgery (why mess with perfection anyway?). And my body never listens to me—it trips me up with every step and occasionally makes me stutter instead of speak. What kind of control is that? And sure, I’m free to make my own choices, but you already heard what I think about that. So for now, I know what’s advisable and what’s not—I’m trying my very best to stick with advisable. I guess even freedom has its limits.
I’ve decided it’s a great misconception that power comes with age. I could never be powerful now the way I was when I was in elementary school. The years have made me a tad more impotent, all this learning and experience dumbing me down. But perhaps there is something to letting go of the desire to control. I now recognize that I don’t have total authority over my time, my body, my feelings or (much more generally) my life. And that is becoming more and more OK. So is just stepping back and appreciating how my world and the people in it are helping to shape me. Maybe the weight of all the things I can’t control will help me be strong enough to muscle myself into changing for the better. Maybe I should start raising silkworms again.