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Sorry folks, still no complaints here

Having your dream come true can be a sobering experience. The now-completed move from the Heartland to the Pacific Northwest, and from work to non-work, has made me less prone to write for you. I stayed away partly out of modesty, partly out of embarrassment: how dare I express the slightest complaint while living here, where I can hear seals barking and see ferries passing by from our windows? Who would read or believe it? Yet how could I admit that life really is better out here?  I know my readers: the stats for this blog show that people prefer postings about depression or ambivalence, unhappiness or dark feelings, over the simple joys I aim to extol.

Joy is had nonetheless, and Honey Girl–pictured here on a recent trip to Vashon Island–incarnates the attitude I seek every day: silent acceptance and easy pleasure over whatever comes her way.  (Including joy of discovering disgusting-looking crap by the side of the road.)

Salty Honey Girl

Today’s New York Times loosened up my self-censure with a cheerful article about other people who are unlikely to complain:  “Retiring at 43? You’re on FIRE” by Steven Kurutz. Although the happy people featured in this article are all male and younger than me by a decade or two, I too feel like I’ve escaped from the rat race ahead of my time, by retiring from my tenured position at age 60 instead of 72 (or never!). Academia may seem privileged and it is a comparatively “easy” way to make a living, if you don’t mind spending your life writing stuff no one wants to read and sitting at a desk for 30+ years, but ….  I just got sick of it. And especially sick of living in the “college town” where I was stuck for 27 years.

Even if we are now the poor folks in the Seattle neighborhood we call home, it’s worth it to live in a place where people look and act like they are happy to be here. There really is a difference–it feels like we’re in a different country, maybe Bhutan or Denmark. A place where people can attend open-air concerts without fearing a shoot-out, and leave their windows open without worrying about sirens destroying their sleep.

So I’m off (on foot, naturally) to the local library now to check out a new kind of reading material: how to be happy with less, how to embrace frugality despite the status-seekers around us, and how to find meaning in life without the “official” identity of a job. Sounds like the life of a well-loved but unremarkable dog…  like our mixed-breed pal Honey Girl. Although she doubtless misses Chloe and her other pals from Indiana, she has made many, many new friends already! And she is certainly untroubled by the existential navel-gazing that’s been consuming me….

So this post is, like most of them, primarily for me. If I had to give myself some advice, I’d say: “Get over yourself! Be happy while you can! Stop feeling guilty over a dream come true. Kick the gloom habit.”

As Carl Hiaasen writes in Assume the Worst: “Here’s all I know about happiness: It’s slippery. It’s unpredictable. It’s a different sensation for everyone.  But one thing happiness is not is overrated. When you luck into some, enjoy every minute.”

Got to go now. I hear the seals barking … and a ferry boat horn too.

brian seal from West Seattle blog 2010Samish_helo.jpg

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4 replies on “Sorry folks, still no complaints here”

Hi Riel! Thanks for writing. Your comment brings up a really interesting issue actually, about the meaning of work. The French word travail has its origins in the Latin tripalium which signifies a three-pronged instrument of torture as well as a machine with three pointed arms used by blacksmiths to immobilize horses while they were being shoed. Hence the idea of a painful constraint. The English-language equivalent, on the contrary, comes from the Middle English werk, derived from greek ergon, “activity.” So it is unsurprising that we in the Anglo-Saxon world embrace work more enthusiastically than our Latinate cousins. Our language encourages a focus on the potential to perform something, or an effort to overcome obstacles and achieve an objective or result, instead of the painful daily grind conjured up by “travail.” So I guess the answer to your question depends on what language you’re speaking. For me, sewing artful textile gifts and teaching kids to write stories is my vocation… from the Latin vocare ‘to call.’ If all our activity was derived from a calling or a vocation, we would be much happier, I think…

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First of all, Julia, a correction for the record: people did want to read your work! But yes, despite the relative flexibility and pleasures of the academic profession, not being able (many of us, at least) to choose where you live is definitely a downside. There are some terrific FIRE blogs out there—Get Rich Slowly is one. The blogger does a great job of having a constantly evolving set of links on his page to other blogs or news articles that discuss just the kinds of topics you mention. Life sounds wonderful in Seattle: keep the positive posts coming!

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Thanks for writing, Amy, and that is really nice of you to say. I’m sorry to have dissed my fellow academics, I meant to say that most people don’t seek out academic books to read for fun. I know I don’t !
Just got back from the Pacific Coast, near Greyland, WA. We awoke to see the ocean with a huge grey cloud formation piled up above it, covering half a blue sky, and a rainbow arching out of the ocean ahead of it to the north… amazing natural beauty. Thanks for the blog reference; sounds good.

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