Bubblegum and Basketballs

I had Kraft Dinner for lunch on Sunday.

For normal humans this would be unremarkable, but it was my first time eating Kraft Dinner. I’m 57 years old.

At some point I simply decided that I wouldn’t like Kraft Dinner.

That I wasn’t a person who ate Kraft Dinner.

I imagined it would taste like bubblegum and basketballs.

We carry around mental models of who we are, the things we do and don’t do, the kinds of friends we have and don’t have. Where our upper limits lie.

I don’t eat Kraft Dinner.”

But deeper.

I recently read about “life quakes,” a term coined by Bruce Feiler, in the book Anatomy of a Breakthrough by Adam Alter:

These are the wolves that upend our fairy tales,” Feiler wrote about lifequakes. Lifequakes are sticking points, Feiler noted, because they place roadblocks in whatever path we are following. They prevent us from pursuing the lives we previously imagined living and so leave us stuck as we attempt to construct revised lives in their wake.

I have lived through a series of lifequakes in recent years, and I have needed to construct a new life in their wake. As much as this has been all manner of debilitating, it has also presented me a chance to retell my story to myself. Some of these retellings have been involuntary, others I’ve had to reach for, still others seem tantalizingly just out of reach.

It is destabilizing to walk through this: as much as there are exciting new things to try — horseback riding!, improv! Kraft Dinner! — there is the absence of familiar guideposts that makes a boomerang back to old ruts, in roads that no longer exist, alluring. There is an equal and opposite tendency to chart wildly ambitious courses through unfamiliar seas because, well, what’s the worst thing that could happen! And the tension between the two impulses.

Alter writes on about lifequakes:

The most important feature of lifequakes is that they’re hard to predict. You don’t plan for a lifequake the way you might anticipate an impending plateau, so instead you need to develop a general tool kit for managing unwanted change. “Life transitions are a skill,” Feiler wrote. “They’re a skill we can, and must, master.” A particular lifequake may take you by surprise, but recognizing that lifequakes and other profound sticking points are inevitable puts you several steps ahead of the many people who respond first by asking, “Why me?!” 

At my most optimistic, this skill at life transitions is the one I hope I’m cultivating: gifted a decade of lifequakes, big and small, I’m learning to see them, and to see myself and how I react to them, and getting better at seeing the opportunities chaos offers.

It turns out Kraft Dinner is tasty.

Who knew.


Thelma's picture
Thelma on June 28, 2023 - 12:45 Permalink

There is so much for me to think about in this, Peter, thank you. Finding new stories to tell myself has been an ongoing project, and this nudged me to keep at it!

Olivia Rukavina's picture
Olivia Rukavina on July 6, 2023 - 17:59 Permalink

This is the year of the New Future!