It’s been five years since Tabitha totally and completely finished with school, but tonight she has homework. It’s due tomorrow. She’s put it off all week.
She places a piece of plain, white letter-size printer paper on her coffee table, in landscape orientation. She sits tall, smooths out the paper, and then smooths out her shirt. And then, smooths out the paper again. She rotates it to the left just a bit, because it’s not centred, and then to the right again. And then she smooths it out once more. Satisfied, she gets up and pours herself wine from the box.
The white paper glares up at her with its pristine impudence. Her scuffed coffee table, with its light brown faux wood finish, is muted beneath it. She rolls her eyes and considers putting the sheet away, but she doesn’t want to disappoint Charlotte.
Tabitha sips her wine and sets her plastic cup down on a folded up tissue coaster. She checks her implements: her laptop; a half-finished roll of tape; a mostly-sharp pencil; a pair of scissors that have been with her since childhood.
Homework is not something she ever expected to have to do again, outside of maybe helping her kids with it. She imagines helping her son with his history homework. She imagines guiding little Tabitha Junior through the water circle (or was it water cycle?). She imagines laughing nervously at math questions, and saying, “Ask your father, he’s the math guy.”
But there are no children. There is no father. There is Jerry, but he’s taking his sweet time popping any questions, and even if he did, it’s not like they could afford a kid. Can’t afford much of anything these days.
But she has homework, assigned by Angus. Exuberant Angus, with his easy attitude, his confident voice, his flannel shirt, and his furious sideburns.
“Make a vision board, Tabby!” he said a week ago, in what she assumed was a Scottish accent. He told her he was from Inverness, but she has no idea where that is and was too embarrassed to ask.
She supposes she could look it up.
Focus, Tabby! she chastises herself. It’s homework time.
She opens her laptop and asks her search engine a question.
“what is a vision baord”
The search engine replies, “Did you mean vision board?”
“Yes,” says Tabby, clicking the helpful link. Then, she reads, and there’s a lot.
There’s no shortage of guides and howtos and FAQs. There’s a whole family of boards: dream boards, affirmation boards, goal boards. Thousands of people offer their experiences and expertise. Even Oprah weighs in.
Tabitha’s head spins.
Many talk of corkboards, which she knows she’s heard of but isn’t totally sure what they are, so she clicks a link which takes her to another link which goes on and on, until she’s reading about the history of cork. Corks lead to wine, as all things do, so she finishes the rest of hers and pours another cup.
Focus, Tabby! she thinks when she sits down again.
She closes the research tabs and wonders if she should buy some corkboard. There’s many fine vendors selling it, but the prices seem all over the place. She notices there’s different sizes, and of course, different brands. Is that important? Are some brands of corkboard superior? She’s about to start another round of research, but stops cold.
Am I procrastinating? she wonders. This feels like college all over again. She used to think she had a gift back then, of endlessly being able to push work back and back and back, yet all the time appearing busy, but she’s learned since then that pretty much everyone was like that. Not Charlotte though, although Charlotte did say she used to be like that too.
“But then I got my life together!” Charlotte said, when they went out for sushi a month ago. She put her hand on Tabitha’s and started shivering, like she was exploding with excitement. “I have a gift for you!”
Charlotte handed her an envelope. “It’s an early Christmas gift!” Tabitha opened it up with a frown, suddenly self-conscious that she didn’t have a gift to reciprocate with – although, seriously, who does gifts in November? – and wondering if she could cover lunch for both of them and still make rent. “I think it’ll really help you, Tabby. You know, get your life together.”
Tabitha pulled a card out of the envelope, read it, and scowled at Charlotte. “What the hell’s a life coach?”
It turns out, Angus is a life coach. Flannelular Angus, with his powerful arms and wedding band. Gainfully self-employed Angus. Angus, who wasn’t still working the same job he had in high school, like Jerry.
“You put your dreams on the board! Your goals!” he said, when he gave her the assignment. “It’s like a compass that always points in the direction of your greatest desires. Helps you focus on the future, on what’s truly important.”
“Oh. What is truly important?”
“Well that’s up to you, isn’t it?”
Tabitha purses her lips and lets out a horse snort. Definitely procrastinating. She takes a sip of wine and looks at the daunting white paper again.
What to put on it? What are her dreams? This is dumb, isn’t it? Dreams were great for kids, but when she looks into the future all she sees is more and more crap piling up and fewer and fewer opportunities slipping by each year. She sees a buzzing grey blur, ever expanding, swallowing up every horizon. All she hears is a ringing in her ears, and all she smells is the crisp ozone of burnt electronics.
She finds it hard to breathe, so she takes another sip of wine. Her mind wanders, and as it often does, it wanders to her rent.
I could put money on the board. But she fears that’s crass. What would burly Angus think, if she dreamed of something so petty as money? On the other hand, her board is bare and if she doesn’t put anything on it, it will remain bare. She decides if she’s going to do this thing, she might as well be honest about it – at least, a little honest.
She gets up, digs around in her wallet and purse and finds a twenty. It seems like a waste to put a couple solid meals on a vision board though, so she puts it back. Then she digs around her miscellaneous drawer and finds a nickel. She returns to her coffee table and tapes the nickel to the top left corner of the white sheet.
There, she thinks. She sits back and enjoys her vision board, which is ninety-eight percent white paper and a nickel taped to one corner. It’s starting to come together.
But then she’s out of ideas. She decides to look for some inspiration on the internet, and does an image search for vision boards. Immediately, she regrets it.
“Holy!” she exclaims, seeing all the colourful inspirations. When she side eyes her own little be-nickeled paper it makes her feel small. She takes another sip of wine, and dives deep into a visual journey of mounting inferiority.
It’s clear to her that these boards were put together by people who have dreams. People who have goals, ambitions, and hopes. People with real lives. Professional vision boardists. What is her little paper compared to them? She has nothing to put on her board because, she concludes, she’s not a real person. She’s not like Angus. She’s not even like Charlotte. She bets Charlotte makes a new vision board every day. She wishes dearly she could be like these illustrious internet people, instead of a mere shadow of a person.
Wait, she thinks. Is that… a dream? She looks at the images of other people’s vision boards, finds one that looks real pretty, gorged with photos of exhilarating vistas and vapid snippets cut from magazines. With a click, she sends off the thumbnail to her printer. A moment later, she cuts it out and places it on her own board.
Is this cheating? she wonders. A vision board within a vision board; an aspiration to have aspirations. What will Angus think? She decides to continue being mostly honest, and gets some more tape. A moment later, the top right corner of her vision board, fully one-sixteenth of the whole sheet, is filled up with a smaller, cooler, and blurrier vision board.
She sits back, and a timid smile flickers on her lips. It is coming together.
Her image search, while soul crushing, did reveal some important secrets to her. One, it’s okay to write stuff on your board, so it doesn’t just have to be pictures. And two, the pictures don’t have to be photos, they can be hand drawn.
She remembers being pretty good at art back in her school days, and even though it’s something she hasn’t done in years – because who has the time, and as her father is fond of saying, “There’s no future in it” – it occurs to her it’s something she wants to take up again. Well, that’s a dream, isn’t it? With a trill in her heart she decides to draw something inspirational.
She starts off with two heavily stylized figures, smiling and holding hands, inside a heart. The style is stick-figure, but their faces tend more towards distorted realism. Their eyes are too big, their expressions – unnerving – and the shading implies a mania behind the toothy grins. The end effect is surreal and unsettling, but she nevertheless likes it and decides to keep it. After all, it’s only fitting she and probably-Jerry would appear on her vision board.
Then she erases the sideburns on the man.
She decides that she needs lots of practice for drawing people, but that’s okay. It’s an aspiration. Next she draws something else, a still life. Indeed, she remembers the last still life she drew in Mrs. Dew’s class, and for a moment she’s connected to herself across space and time. Her mind grows quiet in supreme focus and her hand moves of its own accord, retracing those ancient lines.
When she’s finished, she sees she has sketched a perfect roll of toilet paper, with the leading sheet hanging off to one end. The shading gives her a chill, and when she sees the gentle pattern in the two-ply – so real she can feel it – she grins.
I still got it! With the stick figures and the toilet paper, about half her board is full. She feels inspired to write next, and decides to indulge that inspiration.
She writes: 5 tomatoes.
Then: loaf of bread.
Then, line after line, she jots down what groceries she’ll need the coming week. She gets up to check her fridge, her cupboards, confirming all she needs. She’s tired of wasting time, going to the store uncertain of what she has and what she ought to buy. Fed up with buying impulses. Her mother always nagged at her to make a list, but it always seemed like such a bother. Never had she guessed it could be fun.
When she finishes, she remembers a flyer she got a couple days earlier. It’s still in her recycling, so she digs it out and – there! – she clips a coupon for mayonnaise. It’s the last thing she tapes to her vision board. Then the last last thing she does is pencilling in “vacuum” in the bottom left corner.
She sits back and beholds her work of art. It’s disheveled, disjointed, and distressingly utilitarian. She has no doubt Charlotte and Jerry would make faces. But, the board’s not for them. It’s for her. She takes a sip of wine, reasonably satisfied.
When she sets her cup down again, she sets it down too hard and some wine sloshes out. A drop splatters the vision board. For just a moment her breath catches in her throat, but then she figures, Yes, the wine belongs there.
When she meets Angus the next day for their second appointment, she’s nevertheless nervous.
“Yes, well,” he says, while beholding the paper at arm’s length, “you can’t really fail a vision board. So no worries there, Tabby. The important thing is it works for you.” He sets it down, though his eyes linger mistrustingly on the figures inside the heart, their faces leering at him. “It seems like organization is an important thing for you? And the future?”
“I guess,” she says, and then frowns. “It was hard. It’s like, it doesn’t make sense to really have dreams, with all the… stuff going on.”
“Like it’s overwhelming?”
“But you made a grocery list.”
“Yeah,” she says. “I guess that made it a little less overwhelming.”
Angus nods. “You write a thing down and you can stop worrying about it.” The stick figures continue leering in mockery. “Let’s focus on lists for this week.”