When I was ten, our TV broke. "An act of God," my mother commented facetiously. On a stormy night, lightning hit our house and fried the poor thing. For years my parents had admonished television watching anyway, only allowing my brother and me to watch movies. It went without saying that the machine would not be replaced. "Bored" was a dirty word in our house. "You're not 'bored,' you just haven't found what to do yet," was my mother's response in my more feckless moments. As I sat around that summer, pondering the possibilities with thirteen hours of daylight, I started day-dreaming. I wished more than anything that my dad would build me a tree house. He had been a carpenteer, it wasn't that he was unable, maybe it was the lack of tall trees in our New Mexican yard. Over the years I had brought up the possibility of building some sort of platform in a juniper tree. Nothing had transpired. If only I had a tree house, I could live out the adventures of my childhood dreams! Then it occurred to me, why couldn't I just build a treehouse on my own? Yeah! I could build things, I had just seen my father re-model our house, I knew the process. A tingling itch overwhelmed me, energy bubbling from my exponentially expanding imagination. I started moving around, fidgeting to circulate this idea fizzing in my head. I looked at our yard. The trees were still not suitable for a platform, I couldn't change that, but what about a playhouse on the ground? I sought out the pile of left-over adobe mud bricks from the re-model and calculated about how many were available, just enough for an eight foot by six foot house, a little room for me to play. Scouring empty space in our packed dirt yard, I traced off the square footage and began digging a foundation. It was hard work! New Mexican earth is not soft, I soon enlisted my best friend, Aaron, and my little brother to help with the digging. We soaked the earth with water, eating watermelon while we waited for mud to form. Then we continued. All day for a week we dug and dug. It was finally time to start the actual building. By the end of the summer, I had convinced our whole family and Aaron to help out. My dad even got invested, going to the home improvement store to buy tarpaper for the roof and cutting custom vigas. We salvaged an old door and cut it down to 10-year old size. Just perfect for me. As I sat on the flagstone bench, feet on the brick floor I laid with sand, looking out the back window, I thought back to that tingling feeling that started the whole project. That was the beginning of my addiction to dreaming about projects.
“What could I do with ten thousand dollars?” The minute I saw the email in my inbox from Smith College’s career development office, my mind shot off in a dozen different directions. “Student Prize Contest, winner gets $10,000 for her project, international development and health initiatives prioritized.” Like a starved rabbit, the carrot incentive of prize money got the wheels of my brain whirring. I had just been in Brazil for a year, and after that I’d been in Cameroon. I could definitely call up some of the contacts I had made to think of something to do with that money. What about that teacher I had met in Cameroon? They worked with the second largest middle school in Bamenda, I could do something with the kids there . . . What would be international development related? Teaching kids writing skills maybe. OR, why not work on something about climate change? I knew enough about it to teach a course. I bet that would be a competitive topic! I called Okwen, my then fiancé. “What do you think about doing a summer program with middle school kids teaching them about climate change?” I asked eagerly. He has always been my sounding board for ideas, reciprocating his own contributions and pointing out gaping holes my enthusiasm skips over. “Well, that might work, but WHAT about climate change, are you going to teach science? You don’t know very much science.” That was a good point. I would probably end up teaching them the basic science and then all of the terrible ramifications of human activities. What a downer that would be. Without realizing it, I was staring at my wastebasket. The visions of teaching in front of a cinderblock classroom with eager students floated across my unblinking eyes. I refocused my attention and saw a crumpled plastic bag in my garbage, a despised object that I almost always rejected when retrieving purchases from the store. “What if I focused the project on educating kids about the dangers of cooking in and burning plastic bags?” I shot out, an epiphany on my lips. That was IT! That was a rationale good enough to win the prize. Never mind that hours beforehand, I had not even thought of spending my summer that way, when there is money to be won, I’ll come up with something in a flash.
Fast-forward six years. I thought my days of dreaming up projects on a whim were over. I have a small child, a career, I have lived abroad for two non-consecutive years and spent fives years besides on the East Coast. My restless wandering is over. Or so I thought until I attended a Fulbright mentor training in Socorro last October. Heading South from Santa Fe at 7am on a Sunday, I had two hours of driving to reflect again on my own Fulbright three years prior. What sticks out in my mind frequently is how much I missed my family. But, there are days when I miss the smell of dust on the fabric in the market, the sand along the city roads, and the ginger beer. The music is what I miss most of all, coming from an unexpected window or tantalizingly reverberated from blocks away. I would like to go back to Senegal one day. Maybe it was all of this reminiscing, or maybe it is my fatal flaw of feeling compelled to seize an opportunity, but when I heard of the Fulbright Specialist Program for teaching abroad for two to six weeks, I couldn’t stop a planning frenzy from starting in my mind. What if . . . Oh I could do so many things, city planning lecturer in Cameroon, dance in Senegal, maternal health awareness in Brazil. What I need is a harness for this dreaming mind of mine. Or, maybe I just need to replace my addiction to the tingle of inspiration. The adrenaline of excitement about all the possible things I could do with my life. Then again, I feel alive when I get swept up in the possibilities. Lightning flashes ideas leading me forward into that future just over the horizon, like puzzle pieces laying down a concrete plan as if it had always been there to reveal. Day-dreaming, night-dreaming, storm-dreaming, when I catch the inspiration bug, it seizes me and won’t let go (even if I want it to), until I’ve given it a try.