Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Good Life

I spend a shitload of time pondering the sorts of things that make a life good. Like, does a life have to be big and impressive in order to be good? Obviously, the answer to that is NO. Do you have to have a PhD in order to have a great life? No, but I'd like one. Are moderation, vegetarianism, and yoga necessary components of happiness? No, maybe, and I have studied too much Sanskrit to talk about Americans and yoga. Do you need love? Probably. Friends? Definitely. n.o.c.? Absolutely.

After much discussion - with myself, with others, with a bottle of rye - I've come to the conclusion that many kinds of lives can be good ones. Obviously, a good life is nearly impossible to craft if one is plagued by hunger or poverty or bombs or dysentery, but let's lay those circumstances aside because, at the moment, there's not much that I can do about them other than feel vaguely and persistently indignant - something must be done! - and give homeless Rick another granola bar (I try not to give Rick money, because Rick likes to smoke crack). Anyway.

I bring this knobby topic to the fore because I've been working to organize myself - my life - in the absence of official expectation. All of my bills are on autopay, my checks are directly deposited, and n.o.c. can feed himself. Other than a three-day think tank (groan), there is not a damn thing that I have to do. So, I get to do what I want to do. All day. Now wait - wait! Think about this for a minute - how do you live your life when there is nothing that you must do? I'm not talking about how you spend your time on a lazy Sunday or about how you drink gallons of banana monkeys and you cook yourself to a crisp while vacationing in Majorca. I'm also not talking about what you do when you're spending months in an ashram or backpacking across Europe. I'm talking about how you would live months of obligation-free life right where you are. In that chair. In front of that computer. Oh, and you can't spend any money. Important point.

I come from a long line of Southern Protestants, which, in case you're unaware, means that I'm often riddled with guilt about everything. I hide it well, but I'm generally perseverating about people I haven't called, thank you notes I haven't written, floors I haven't scrubbed, chairs I haven't reupholstered, physicals I haven't scheduled, applications I haven't finished. I've also spent a goodly amount of time in New England, so I'm basically f*cked. Doing what I want to do makes me feel devious and afraid that I'll be discovered and punished. For example, whenever I reread an entertaining book for pleasure, I feel compelled to hide it before anyone sees. Naps seem lazy and self-indulgent, so I have to fall asleep "accidentally" while doing something else. Buying food for myself while traveling alone seems wasteful, so I sit and watch others eat while I patiently wait for fifteen tasteless pretzels and a shot glass of water. All of this reading and writing and pajama wearing and cobbler eating that I've been doing? I feel as though I need to fast and self-flagellate.

Guilt be damned, this morning I sat on the couch for three hours and thought. Just thought - nothing measurably productive about it. That's what I wanted to do. And while I did it, I realized that having the time and space to really give things a solid f*cking think is a big chunk of what you need to live a good life. I know that Socrates beat me to this punch thousands of years ago, but sometimes a reminder is in order.

What else did I want to do today? I wanted to see n.o.c. off to work and pack his lunch. I wanted to write, I wanted to research and I wanted to do it all in my motherf*cking nightgown. So I did it. And then I wanted to take a nap, because being a self-fulfilled, good-life-living person is tiring shit, so I sat down with a book that I'd read before and pretended to read until I fell asleep. And then I slept through my guilt.


enhabiten said...

I really like this post. I'm going to go back and reread. I agree with so much you say and "think on" many of the same topics you bring up. I don't think it's simply protestant guilt or new england puritanism. It's hard to live the sort of life you talk about. There's not a lot of mainstream support for it. So, it's not just that insidious internal voice but a lot of external disapproval. Am I wrong?

keri said...

I think you're absolutely right. Not a day goes by without someone asking me what I'm DOING with my time.