I recently read a number of books by Elizabeth Berg. A friend told me I would like her writing and I do. I think my favorite of the five I read was “The Year of Pleasures.” It’s about a woman who leaves behind her old life and starts a new one.
Those sorts of stories always appeal to me – maybe because I’ve done that a few times. It is a heady experience. I haven’t done it in a long time and part of me wants to again. Maybe it’s a bigger part than I want to admit.
A few years ago I met a man on a trip who felt much more for me than I felt for him. He wanted me to marry him and move to his home country. Part of me just wanted to come home, put my stuff in storage, pack my essentials, quit my job, and move to another country and another life. I never told anyone just how seriously I considered it. I thought about it. A lot. For a long time.
Unfortunately, the thrill of thinking about it was not in the man, but in the starting fresh and the newness of what that experience would offer. How would I work when I didn’t speak the language? I couldn’t just go and live there – I would have to get married – how difficult would that be to get out of? (And, ultimately, there’s the problem – that you’re thinking about getting out of something before you even get into it.) What kind of job would I find when I came back to the states? Now, with a bit more life experience, some of those wouldn’t hinder me. Logic prevailed. Sometimes I think logic is what keeps us mired in the ordinary.
One of the questions I always ask myself when I’m tempted to do such things is, are you running to something or from something. It’s often a mixture. And for me it’s a conundrum because part of what keeps me from running at all is that I don’t want to leave some aspects of my current life.
Obviously, leaving the life you know and going into a completely different culture is a pretty big change. Not to mention that there would be another person involved.
That, ultimately, is what caused me to stop considering it. I didn’t love him. I wasn’t going to love him. And what he thought was love was probably just intense fascination with someone very exotic by his standards. The problem with exotic is that it doesn’t work well for every day life.
Daily life requires a lot of the ordinary, and that’s the life he envisioned and wanted. It was not then, nor is it now, the life I want. He didn’t know me well enough to know those things aren’t really my forte. Daily living requires a lot of attention to details like grocery shopping and laundry and sweeping the floor. Those are the very things I want to run from. But they follow one into any culture, anywhere in the world.
And, actually, that’s not even really true. What I want to run from is the mundane. – in any form – from what the carpet nap is so I can set the vacuum correctly to the mindless prattle of small talk, which I abhor. Chores can be mundane, but they’re not necessarily in that category. There are times I enjoy the satisfaction of neatly folded clean towels and my part in that. What I want is to have thoughtful discourse in daily life – it simply seems to be constantly shunted away because of all the attention one must devote to the “chores” of living.
The trick is that one must have the time, space and environment to have insight. And insight comes as a result of thinking about experiences. I view experiences – from travel to reading to conversation – as fodder for future insight. Fodder + Thought = Insight.
Another important component of insight for me is to discuss it with others. It’s there that it can expand into something more meaningful. I long for this sort of connection and conversation. I think it’s what people mean when they say they want to be around smart people. “Smart” isn’t about knowing facts – we can look up any fact relatively quickly – “smart” is about people’s thoughts about those facts. I have very few people in my life who want to engage in this sort of conversation on a regular basis. It’s something people always say they long for, but it’s not something they make time for.
Ordinary life is filled with extraordinary moments. And I work at appreciating them – from a yellow butterfly flitting over the remains of my garden yesterday to the sparkle of a tray of blue, silver and white ornaments waiting to be hung on a tree. Those moments are experiences – and valuable ones. It’s worthwhile to be in the moment – whether you’re up to your elbows in dishwater or up to your eyeballs in laundry – be thankful you have food that messes up dishes and clothes that need to be washed.
The trick, as with so many things, seems to be in the balance. To balance being grounded by the mundane and having time and space to mentally and emotionally soar beyond it.