being good

I don’t want to have to do what I’m good at. My entire life, I’ve been doing things because I’m good at them and just once, maybe I’d like to opt out of the obligation that being good at something brings. I was reading this magazine the other day, Marie Claire or something, some fluffy thing for the plane, to keep me distracted from the plane jumping around as it hurled itself through space. A woman had written this article about her divorce and said that while she loved her husband and she had kids and there was nothing terrible going on in her marriage, it wasn’t how she wanted to spend the rest of her life and one day she was talking to someone who told her that no one grades you at the end. And that she realized she’d been living her life according to all these responsibilities and checklists, and how it would all look on her final grade. So, she changed her life.

I don’t know if I agree with the woman who made the comment that gave her the impetus to transform. We get graded all the time, by everyone. People who expect things from us, who rely on us — it’s not always a bad thing, right? This life is made of relationships and connections and you don’t build that by expecting nothing of each other. So we are graded, sure. And it matters.

But. Does it always matter? Does it matter above all else? When does what’s deep down in our souls trump the world around us? How much do we care about our grades?

Sometimes, I just want to change my life entirely. Go somewhere else. Do something else. Forget all the obligations and responsibilities and weight. I want to spend my days writing and being loved. I don’t care if I’m poor or not admired or not changing the world. I want to be happy.

People do it all the time. They pick up and just leave it all behind. I just got another email from my uncle and his wife who are sailing around the world. They are just stopping in ports as they go along, meeting people, trying local food, getting back in the boat and sailing. They don’t know what the next day will bring, but they know it will be new and different and they’ll experience it together. And they’re happy. Not too many years ago, my uncle was married to someone else, living with his wife and two daughters, doing construction and remodeling the old farm house they bought. I was talking to my grandpa a few weeks ago when he had just gotten off the phone with my uncle.

“He’s my son the sailer now. He used to be my son the construction worker and farmer. I don’t get sailing. I liked the farm house.” And right there, a father was giving his son a grade. And it wasn’t an A. And I thought, we only get this one life and it only lasts so long. I’ll take happiness.

You have to understand, I’m a person who has always lived for As. Nothing was more important than that A, than pleasing those around me, than making sure no one thought bad about me, that everyone thought I was perfect, the best, that I was doing was I was good at it and accomplishing all I could. But these days, the more I think fuck the A. What does that bring you other than other people’s happiness?

Not that it’s as black and white as all that, of course. Bringing happiness to others makes you happy. And being in relationships makes you happy, and there’s always compromise, always responsibility. And you can’t just take and take. I don’t know the answer. I don’t know when you get to make the choices that hurt people.

I’m reading this book, eat, pray, love, about a woman who wanted to change her life. Not that her life was terrible, and I get this feeling completely. She had a successful career as a magazine writer, had just bought a huge house with her husband, and was living the American Dream. But. And it’s the but I understand. She laid on her bathroom floor, sobbing and sobbing. Finally, she prayed to God: “tell me what to do, tell me what to do, tell me what to do.” And God told her to go to bed.

It was so immediately clear that this was the only thing to do. I would not have accepted any other answer. I would not have trusted a great booming voice that said either: You Must Divorce Your Husband! or You Must Not Divorce Your Husband! Because that’s not true wisdom. True wisdom gives you the only possible answer. Go back to bed, said this omniscient interior voice, because you don’t need to know the final answer right now, at three o’clock in the morning on a Thursday in November. Go back to bed, because I love you. Go back to bed, because the only thing you need to do for now is get some rest and take good care of yourself until you do know the answer. Go back to bed so that, when the tempest comes, you’ll be strong enough to deal with it. And the tempest is coming, dear one. Very soon. But not tonight.

It’s a true story. She does eventually divorce her husband, and it’s terrible and awful and he calls her selfish over and over and over and she accepts all that guilt and responsibility and selfishness and she’s extremely depressed and then she drops everything and spends a year traveling to Italy, India, and Indonesia. Because she wants to. Because it makes her happy.

Look, I know life is about compromise and hardship and pain and sacrifice, as well as joy and love, and I know I can’t just run off and live happily ever after. But when I’m alone and I have time to think, the panic can overwhelm me. This is the only life I have. I’m spending it working, because I’m good at this and I like it and I can make a difference here. But what am I doing for me? What in this life is mine? I (dramatically, in exaggerating martyr-like fashion) feel like an Egyptian pyramid worker, carrying stone after stone and creating a beautiful, impressive structure that will awe and astonish civilizations for generations, that will house pharaohs and queens and jewels. And with no time to build a small little home of my own, just for me.

Do I just want to run to something that doesn’t exist? Is the grass always greener until you get there and find that it’s the same color as all the other grass? Or sometimes, is the grass over there really that sparkling color of green that shines and floats in the sun and you walk through it barefoot and your toes sing and you can’t imagine spending your life walking on any other grass?

I don’t want to be like my stepdad. He wasn’t happy. So we moved. Then he wasn’t happy. So we moved. He still wasn’t happy so he quit his job. Then another. Then went back to the first. And we moved again. And then he decided it was our fault, my mom’s fault, someone’s fault, so he left. And then he wasn’t happy. I don’t want to be that person.

But there’s someplace I’m supposed to be. And not someplace I’m supposed to be because I’m obligated, I’m responsible, I should be there. But someplace where I fit, where it feels right, where my toes are happy. I want to go to that place and find peace.

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