Archives for posts with tag: contentment

A couple of years ago I presented at an academic conference in my professional field, Composition and Rhetoric. I opened the talk by briefly recounting my transition from a degree track in literature to composition. Most of us in writing, I argued, found our way there after first seeking to develop deeply personal relationships with the authors who penned our literary canon and their stories to which we eagerly and willingly gave so many of our waking hours. It was the desire to not just learn, but experience, the lives of the characters that motivated our professional tracks. Perhaps, many of us daydreamed, even to eventually extract enough of the great authors’ genius and inspiration to pen our own masterpiece, to offer new stories infused with the essence of our literary ancestors who kept us up so many nights.

For me, it was the allure of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (leather-bound with gold-trimmed pages, of course), Austen’s tales of difficult love, Shakespeare’s sonnets, Dante’s Inferno, and Eliot’s universal Prufrock. I fell deeply into the philosophical trance of Dostoevsky’s tome of ethical quandaries. I nurtured fuzzy visions of actually accomplishing Miss Bingley’s characteristics of an “accomplished” woman, a list that is both absurd and wonderful. (Who indeed, Mr. Darcy, could fulfill such intensive requirements?) I did not, to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments. I feared each horrific circle of the great Inferno while mining the fluid cantos. I talked of Michelangelo and measured out my life with coffee spoons.

Indeed, it was the allure of so many tales that encouraged the overtly romantic themed pursuits that prompted this very blog.

It was these intangibles of literature that initially drew us and laid claim to our imaginations, softly caressing dreams of being contemporaries rather than descendants of the great wordsmiths. So we were coaxed, and willingly followed, the fantasies of other times penned by impressive hands.

I was reminded of that talk when watching Midnight in Paris, an interesting little Woody Allen film that considers the perplexing nature of the “present.” That is, the common sensation that one’s present time is often deemed “dull” or sub-par compared to past eras, such as we might read in books, perhaps. The difficulty, so implies the film, is finding reasons for contentment in one’s own time when what has come before is so very romantic.

For the protagonist (who is, of course, a writer) his desired “Golden Age” is 1920s Paris, when Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Eliot traded wines (and sometimes woman) with Picasso, Pound, and Joyce, among other ex-patriates of Stein’s “Lost Generation.” Without giving away too much of the plot, the “hero” ultimately determines that our lot is not to yearn for the past, but to deal bravely and contemplatively with our own present, our own lives.

While I will always allow myself the luxury of falling completely into the worlds created on the pages of my favorite books, I am determined that this year, I will consciously and intentionally confront my present. I am committed to engaging in each day as it is happening, not mourning for yesterday or wishing for tomorrow.

To this goal, this resolution, I tip my pen. May I live and write this year in the literary present.




Be forewarned. What I’m about to say may shock you. It might go against some of your core beliefs, and definitely opposes a cherished social maxim. Prepare yourself.

Here goes…

It’s ok to just “like” stuff.

Try not to hyperventilate. I’m fully aware that the above statement directly contradicts the marrow of great thinkers, philosophizers, inspirers, and motivators from antiquity to Oprah. But I’m convinced that I’m right. More importantly, I’m confident that my perspective is more than right. It’s humane.

Allow me to explain.

I was born on the cusp of the Millennial generation. I’m neither one of those “darn kids these days,” nor Gen X. I’m generationally neutral, so to speak. What is obvious, though, about the pure-generationists spawned both before and after my limbo year, is that they are plagued by a consuming need for one thing in everything:


Passion for their jobs, hobbies, relationships, projects, prospects, ambitions, attire, footwear, eyewear, location, libation, vacation, vocation, claymation…Passion for it all. And let me tell you something. The pressure for passion is stressful.

(OK. Maybe I’m not so generationally-challenged. I do feel the need to be passionate. Sacre bleu. I’m switching to the collective pronoun.)

We get pumped with bumper-sticker-ready cliches demanding not just that we pursue “dreams,” but how we should pursue them. We are commanded to “fall in love” with everything we do, to stay “hungry and foolish” a la Steve Jobs, to be both inspired and inspiring, to shun practicality, to ooze desire for our tasks. Byron, Einstein, Emerson, Pascal, Camus, Franklin, all are leveled at us as ammunition against the epidemic marked by domesticating and taming the passionate beast that is our soul, softly lulled to sleep by the banality of modern life.

We, the few, the proud, the passionate, do not merely exist, we live.

(It’s convincing, no?)

The power of this polemic is impressive. We don’t just get jobs anymore. No, no. We pursue only the most fulfilling work that feeds the soul and both completes us and serves the common good. Humdrum employment is only allowable if we acknowledge that it is temporary while we save for our true calling (or if we insist that our job is ironic since, of course, we are hyper aware of the futility of the 9-5.)

We lionize the starving artist, the roamer, the Holden Caulfield’s, the Ginsberg-ians who do not sit quietly while life is lived by others, who Howl.

And this, my friends, is where passion as a prerequisite for living gets cumbersome.

The problem with requiring passion is that we can, in turn, create stress, frustration, slowly becoming annoyed with ourselves and others if we perceive a lack of this nectar. Not knowing fully, perhaps, what being passionate “is,” we are still pretty sure we know what it isn’t. Even if we are figuring out whether or not we ourselves are the personification of passion, we feel fairly confident we can spot the dispassionate. Passion surely isn’t the CEO, the banker, the broker, the cashier, the housewife, the content, or the obedient. The truly passionate will not rely on routine, a planner, Microsoft Excel, or motivation. The passionate will simply “do” because passion is the catalyst for action.

As lovely as it sounds to float around in a utopia all fluffy with passion, it simply isn’t realistic, and it isn’t fair. We must free our psyches from the dictatorship of passion. We need to allow ourselves to be practical. We must recognize that sometimes, it’s perfectly acceptable to just like stuff.

Case in point: I am very thankful to have a job, particularly in the reality that is our current economic situation. But, do I love my job? Do I wake up before my alarm giddy with anticipation to jump in my car and get to my job? Do I fall asleep at night freshly bathed in the comfort of believing that what I did in my job that day was astounding? No. But I like my job, at least most of the time. I like the fact that I have health insurance and dental. I like getting a paycheck. I like being productive.

Now, is it possible that there is a job out there I could be passionate about? Possibly. But I have no idea what that could be at the moment, and I don’t feel compelled to continue encouraging the spirit of discontent I’ve been fostering the past few months because I’m not passionate about my work. I’ve done that already. It’s exhausting.

Instead, I’m embracing the opportunity to be in “like” with stuff. I’m allowing myself to desire passion without requiring it. I’m legitimating the option to be simply content with my employment. I’m letting myself finish my dissertation without demanding that I salivate over opportunities to revise my chapters. I’m reading Austen, not Salinger or Kerouac.


Because my approach is not only practical and functional, it’s humane. I’m not denying the significance of passion, and I’m certainly not halting my pursuit of it. But I’m not demanding it in everything in every moment.

So, to all of you who are also in “like” with your life, either in its entirety or in part, I validate you. Salute!


Looking back at my previous few posts, I couldn’t help but laugh at how absolutely fabulous I make my life sound. Contrary to the anecdotes embedded in my ramblings, I do not spend my days touring Europe, practicing headstands on Paradise Island, and taking courses to satiate random fancies. Quite the contrary…(well, except maybe for that last one…).

Why is this necessary to point out? I believe there is a misplaced assumption in our society, and especially for women, that in order to search for “fulfillment” one must get on a plane to somewhere exotic, take a year off work to “search for oneself,” or create distance in formerly close relationships. In short, to do something drastic and, consequently, exciting. My problem with this approach is that for the vast majority of people these options do not exist, including for myself. Most people don’t have access to the funds or the time even if the funds existed. Most people don’t want to break relationships to get to know themselves. (Now, I do realize that situations arise for some that require drastic measures. Sometimes relationships must end. Sometimes savings must be sacrificed to move. Sometimes life must be restarted. But this is just sometimes, and just for some people).

For most of us, we aren’t searching for collossal change. We lead ordinary lives, doing ordinary things, like grocery shopping and walking our dogs. For most of us, we simply desire the opportunity to add a little spice to our everyday, but seldom have the energy or perseverance to commit to endeavors that could be considered impractical. How many of us have scores of scrapbook materials and half-finished scrapbooks, or can get only as far as “where is the bathroom” in another language?

It is so easy, though, to convince ourselves that our periodic ennui or stress stems from not seeking self fulfillment, from a sense that we lost ourselves. We start to shy away from taking pleasure in the domestic, from the simple. We watch Bravo and tell ourselves that we could do bigger and better things in New York, Paris, or Rome. We make bucket lists and resolutions and piece together inspirational quotes from word magnets on our fridge. We evaluate our day-to-day and come up wanting.

In general, I do not travel much and spend more time in vicarious spontaneous adventures with characters in books and films than I do in actuality. I work nights and weekends in addition to my “day job” of being a student, and have had this type of schedule since I was 16. I have no trust fund, and the closest I get to designer duds is the stack of Vogues in my closet. I look forward to repaying student loans for an indefinite number of years, loans acquired while working towards a degree with almost no job prospects (gives the term “terminal degree” a whole new conotation). Most of my hours are spent doing exactly what I am doing at this moment, sitting behind a desk at the library distracting myself from my dissertation. Overall, my days are pretty tame and uneventful.

Not that I’m complaining, though. My life is quite enviable.

(Please rest easy. This post will not end as an intermittent diary entry wherein I bare my soul. It is ok to read on).

I started this blog recently to better understand why I frequently suffer from the disease of severe impulse, then all too quickly lose the symptoms. While I hope to learn much in this journey, I can claim with unbridled conviction that my fickle ways are not the result of discontent. Not to write in bumper stickers, but God has blessed me in every sector of my life. I hope to become more consistently thankful because none of this came from me.

Let me get the mushy stuff out of the way before I write any more posts: My husband is awesome, my three dogs are adorable, and my family is unquestionably cool. My friends? Tops. My jobs? Flexible and therefore excellent. Even my bosses are great. I live in a place with a surplus of solar-infused Vitamin D, and I have the luxury of being a student since infancy. I was homeschooled until college and so do not have scars from high school (this, I am discovering, is one of my most cherished blessings). I could write tirelessly and still never complete a comprehensive composite of everything good, and none of my examples would include a solo trip to India in search of nirvana.

At this point, what I’m realizing is that my desire to sail, learn Italian, and practice yoga comes from a very simple place, I want to, and so far noone is hurting from me trying.