Reading the post of April 13 now, it is painful to witness how conflicted I was. The blog post speaks of a person who was trying so hard to find happiness. In vain. The grumbling negativity she heard daily only compounded the sadness she felt over her employer, the woebegone infrastructure of the town she called home, and the despair she felt from the constant news of local youth dying violent deaths, week after week. No wonder the daily grind was such a grind.
Five months later, I am surprised, actually, to announce that it’s all gone! No more sadness over the employer, nor sorrow over the town that was left behind. As for the “daily grind”: what daily grind?! My partner no longer grumbles angrily or blows off my efforts at cheer: he too feels good! It feels like 1979 again, when we first met and fell in love right in this town. Wow!
The insights screaming from this development are clear: as Alan Jasanoff writes in today’s New York Times Book Review: “Nature does not see the brain as a prime mover … the environment always plays a role.”* Instead of reaching for an anti-depressant, perhaps we should consider what’s wrong outside our heads instead.
My case is striking. Five months after eliminating the medications I was taking, there are no adverse effects. It was sometimes a bumpy ride, but nothing good happens without incurring some pain, does it? You just have to hang in there. Did I sometimes wonder if I should get back on the anti-depressant? You betcha. But I didn’t. I stuck with my decision, and guess what? The sadness went away when the environment changed.
Our country is so gorgeous out here! Check out the pics from last weekend’s trip to Grayland near “the other South Bend” on the Pacific Coast. Who knew that rainbows could arise right out of the surf? Or that water on the sand could make such pretty patterns? Or that driftwood could be infinitely fascinating? (Honey Girl loved it too, though she got a bad case of sandy mouth from biting the waves!)
I do not regret a thing. Neither changing my name, leaving my career, nor opting for a much smaller house located thousands of miles away. Some friends remain; others will fade from memory. Time will tell. The inner turmoil has calmed. The practice of T’ai chi and meditation continue to provide strength and solace for life’s ups and downs. Instead of toiling over a job I no longer loved, I feel the warmth of a little flame and a growing sense of contentment. It feels like I’ve discovered what the Buddhists call “right livelihood”: a pastime one can pursue forever, with no regrets.
Remembering Epictetus’s advice in The Art of Living, we must put aside questions of popularity and acclaim, and remember that pursuing one’s own vocations—no matter how quirky or unpopular they may appear—is what makes life worth living. As he wrote in the chapter “Create Your Own Merit”: “Never depend on the admiration of others. There is no strength in it. Personal merit cannot be derived from an external source. … You have been given your own work to do. Get to it right now, do your best at it, and don’t be concerned with who is watching you.”**
Living here has helped me become stronger and more committed to that stoic philosophy. My new vocations may be unprofitable, they may remain unknown, obscure, and be forgotten to the world. But they fill me with joy, they lighten my step, and they make me happy. (FYI: The five new kids who’ve joined “Write YOUR Story” are hilarious! We are already having a great time together and the future looks bright.)
What more could one ask of life?
And yet, academe has not entirely let go of me. Not quite. In a couple weeks, I’ll be speaking (via Skype) to a conference of graduate students at Michigan State. I was originally invited as an expert on the French Enlightenment. I expected the organizers to dis-invite me when they learned that I am no longer wedded to that identity: I quit that job in July! Much to my surprise, one of the organizers has since become a client of Honey Girl Books and Gifts, and both organizers embraced the idea of speaking on a very different issue. Without dissuading people from a life of study, I will aim to share some of the wisdom I’ve gained this year.
My title? “The Wisdom of the Side Gig: On finding happiness in and out of academe.”
The Frankenstein Patchwork Pillow no. 2, “Scary Thoughts”: on sale now for only $25 via HGBG’s Etsy shop until 9/30/18.
*Alan Jasanoff, “Sick in the Head.” Review of Eric R. Kandel, The Disordered Mind: What Unusual Brains Tell Us About Ourselves. In The New York Times Book Review, 9/23/18, p. 21.
**Epictetus, The Art of Living: The Classic Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness, p. 12.