Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Closer I Am

My KUFC manuscript is currently the length of a short story. [waves small flag with WOO! written on it, glum expression on face] I think I'm doing good things. I think it's going to be something I can be proud of. I think. It's just going so goddamn slow, and hard. I desperately want to share pieces of it with others, but I know that's a very stupid thing to do until I have a full MS. Which could take forever, at this pace.

But today I want to talk about something else.

There's been a slow dawning in me over the past, uh, mumble (because it just takes embarrassingly long for me to get a clue), brought finally to a head by this article and this article. This slo-mo epiphany has finally peaked at the point where I have convictions about my lifestyle that I can support and defend.

The first article is a thoroughly pleasant and fun read, and posits a philosophy that I couldn't believe in more strongly if it was a religion.
On the best ordinary days of my life, I write in the morning, go for a long bike ride and run errands in the afternoon, and in the evening I see friends, read or watch a movie. This, it seems to me, is a sane and pleasant pace for a day. 
Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets.
The second article is a little more difficult to read. It's Harper's all the way - kinda over-intellectual and snooty and unenticing, and written so that reading it in Bette Davis's voice would enhance it. But I urge you to read it, read the whole thing. There are wonderful thoughts within.
Sometimes, I want to say, money costs too much. And at the beginning of the millennium, in this country, the cost of money is well on the way to bankrupting us. We’re impoverishing ourselves, our families, our communities – and yet we can’t stop our­selves. Worse, we don’t want to.
It is this willingness to hand over our lives [to work] that fascinates and appalls me. There’s such a lovely perversity to it; it’s so wonderfully counterintuitive, so very Christian: You must empty your pockets, turn them inside out, and spill out your wife and your son, the pets you hardly knew, and the days you sim­ply missed altogether watching the sunlight fade on the bricks across the way. You must hand over the rainy afternoons, the light on the grass, the moments of play and of simply being. You must give it up, all of it, and by your example teach your children to do the same, and then – because even this is not enough – you must train yourself to believe that this outsourcing of your life is both natural and good. But even so, your soul will not be saved.
Toward the end of his essay, the author turns to reflect upon George W. Bush in a way that strikes me, eight years after its publication, as...immature? Inconsiderate? Overly ranty? I'm not really sure, but even though I didn't much disagree with his points about Bush, it soured the piece. So, fair warning. So much intense yesyesyes comes before that whole Bush section that I still recommend the piece wholeheartedly.

Anyhow. I realized the other day that the worst thing that could happen if I worked a little less, and took a little more time for reading and movies and sitting outside on my patio to watch the hummingbirds, was that I wouldn't pay off my credit card debt particularly fast. That's it. That's the catastrophe. We are living pretty well within our means at this point, so although more money would be nice, I've discovered -

I am not trading money for time anymore.

Time is more precious. A lot of people would agree with that automatically without thinking about what it may mean in their lives. There are lots of people who can't afford to make the choice between the two, of course - minimum wagers, single mothers, etc etc. But there's a big ol' swath of the population who probably have the means to choose: who could work one less day a week, or drop back to half hours, or even get a different job. But they don't. Money matters more. Partly because they've been convinced by this culture, on a daily basis, that it does.

I'm not going to get all evangelical about this and claim that everyone must agree the life of a loafer is a superior life, that it should be our ultimate goal as a society. There are all sorts of people who are suited to all sorts of lives. The thing I'm trying to say is that the sort of life which I prefer, and the sort of life to which I'm suited, is a slower-paced and less work-focused life. Not a life you can live in America without askance judgement and the pervasive feeling that You're Doing It Wrong.

But I'm doing it right. I'm doing it right for me. It is so hard to come to this conclusion! It's been serious effort, through inadequacy and despair and all manner of therapy-needing emotions, to figure out that a life with enough space for idleness is not only a choice that it's possible to make, but that I can be healthier and happier than I could ever have imagined if I have the guts to go on and live that way. Guts which I've finally accessed.

Hence, I'm not gunning for a better job (except as a novelist). I'm not longing for more security. I'm even content with our smallish apartment in an unglamorous neighborhood. Because around 2:00, I'm finished with my work for the day. For the rest of the hours before dinner, I write paragraph after paragraph of fiction that I love and believe in. Or I take a walk and feel the sun. Or I just fiddle on the internet, or watch Mary Tyler Moore. Doing some of those things every day is more important to me than virtually anything else except the people I love. And I'm not going to hide from that anymore. I'm not going to be ashamed, or consider myself freakish or disappointing.

It is okay to choose not to be busy. It's okay to walk away from the money church. I swear, nothing horrible will happen, no one will spit on you or eat your brains. Such a life may not be for you - that's something you have to learn for yourself, knowing who you are - but it's a legitimate, possible potential choice, much as it may not seem to be.

Disclaimer: If this post sounded too self-satisfied, or too WOW THIS OBVIOUS THING IS TOTALLY AMAZING, I apologize, but there are no refunds. See you in the park, or at the movies.


Bret Hays said...

You mean, you can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile? You're gonna make it after all!

Katharine Coldiron said...

I'm starting to believe so, but I'm still a long damn way from turning the world on with my smile.

Matt said...

Well, it works on me. Just the other 5,999,999,999 people to go!

Denise said...

I think about the busyness issue a lot, and I keep being confronted by issues like what I'm facing today. I have been invited to my sister's in-laws' beach house, but I need time to get ready for my new job that starts on Monday. This job is a big deal and I'm excited about it, partly because of the money and health benefits (I haven't been to a dentist in like 3 years...), and also because it's a great career opportunity with a lot of potential; however, I don't want to be one of those people who works all the time and misses out on get togethers because of work, etc. I think this is just one day, one perfectly gorgeous sunny day, that I have to let work win, but I hope to myself that it isn't more than that. It's really hard to fight against culture. As we speak I think I'm losing an old friend to this, because she's become so consumed by the busyness/business of her life that she assumes that other people are at her beck and call. It makes me sad.

Katharine Coldiron said...

I'm not sure that the busy trap applies to your situation of today. You don't change jobs every week, nor do you get the job for which you've been hoping for years on end every weekend. Getting ready for something specific and one-time-only with work is a whole different animal than staying at the office until 8 PM every night of the week, every week of the year, year in and year out.

If you're still setting aside beautiful beach house weekends after two years at this job, then it might be time to examine the busy problem. Don't worry, I don't see that happening to you.

You're so right, though, it's hard to fight against culture. I wish I'd emphasized that one more time at the end of this post, that merely considering more leisure as a legitimate option for how to live your life is majorly subversive and difficult in this culture.

And I'm really sorry about your friend. Maybe you could forward her the NYT op-ed. But she'd probably be too busy to read it.

Denise said...

I definitely think you're right about today, and hopefully this new position will be mostly a positive change. But I do feel that urge to be busy and *seem* busy, for no real reason except that it's valued in our culture, and I think it's really annoying. Here's an example: someone I know who works with computers has told me that there are many times during the day when he has to wait for feedback from others before he can continue what he's working on, but when he's in the office he feels like he has to look like he's working even though it's an understood fact that these moments happen. It's just ridiculous!

I definitely know people who talk about being "too busy" with a vomit-worthy amount of smugness. The thing with my friend is that it translates into a conception in her mind that her life is more important than others' and they should therefore work around her schedule, etc. I think this is an important aspect of it, like with Bush clearing the brush...if I'm busy then I must be doing something important, and therefore *I* must be important...Gross.