A friend recently said that when Igor Stravinsky sat down to compose, he was struck by the blank page and its infinity of possibilities. At once thrilling and terrifying, all these possibilities! And even if we were to bisect the page with a large black line, as another friend pointed out, there would still be an infinity of possibilities to come. And then, if we were to draw a big red chicken on top of the line, there would remain, again, an infinity of possibilities for what that page might hold.
This blank-page mindset – so many possibilities yet nothing yet concrete or filled-in – is very real for many of our graduating seniors right now. How many times have you been asked what you’re going to do after graduation? “Do you have a job?” “Have you heard back from the Peace Corps yet?” “Did you get your first-choice med school?” If you don’t yet have an answer, it can be so painful to hear these questions, and to wrestle with them yourself.
So often, what we long for in the face of the unknown is not the best outcome, but really, just something. Anything, really, as long as we can imagine it, and as long as we have a response when people ask us those questions.
I have a couple of things to say to our dear seniors out there, who are still waiting for their pages to fill in a bit. First, remember Stravinsky, and try to focus on the thrill (rather than the terror!) of so much possibility. It is a gift to have many ideas about what you like, and many options to pursue. But when you feel overwhelmed by the multiplicity of possibilities, remember Stravinsky, and know that you’re in good company.
Secondly, imagine that you do dive in and take that job you’re not sure about. Say that job is the big black line on your blank page. As you learn more about your vocation, and yourself, you still get to draw on that paper over and over again. The first black line is not where your art ends. You can take other steps, continue to figure things out, maybe even end up doing something five years from now you never would have dreamed today. Rather than worrying about what you’re going to do with your whole life, think about what you’re going to do next. There’s always time to paint a big red chicken if need be!
Though even Google has not helped me find the origins of the Stravinsky quote or verify its accuracy, I think I will often return to this idea. Even when we think we have it all figured out and our pages are filled with beauty and variety, the infinite remains. In fact, it’s there all the time, and every choice you make only makes more infinity possible.