Sometimes I think being an overly self-aware insomniac book nerd is more trouble than it's worth.
While reading in the wee hours of the morning, I recently came across passages in two books that made me pause and reflect on the path my life has taken.
Don't get me wrong. I like to introspectively examine my life as much as the next person. At the same time, I believe that too much introspection can frequently become a masturbatory exercise in self-absorption.
To tell you the truth, I often think it'd be better if I slept more and read less.
Anyway, here are the two passages.
The first is from James Frey's "My Friend Leonard."
"Gauguin was a stockbroker in Paris, married, had five kids. One day he came home and told his wife he was leaving, that he was through supporting the family, that he had had enough. Just like that he fucking took off. He said he had always felt he was a painter, so he moved to a rat-infested shithole and started painting. His wife begged him to return, his bosses told him he was insane, he didn't care, he was following his heart. He left Paris, moved to Rouen, went from Rouen to Arles, from Arles to Tahiti. He was searching for peace, contentment, trying to fill that fucking hole he felt inside, and he believed he could fill it. He died in Tahiti, blind and crazy from syphilis, but he did it. He filled his fucking hole, made beautiful work, made beautiful, beautiful work."
The second is from Nick Hornby's "Juliet, Naked."
"I have a thing for Dickens. I'm reading his letters at the moment. There are 12 volumes of them, and each one is several hundred pages long. If he'd only written letters, he'd have had a pretty productive life, but he didn't only write letters. There are four volumes of his journalism. He edited a couple of magazines. He squeezed in an unconventional love life, and a few rewarding friendships. Am I forgetting anything? Oh, yeah: a dozen of the greatest novels in the English language. He's pretty much the one guy whose life you could look at and think, man, he didn't mess around.
But there aren't many people like old Charles. Most humans don't get to do work that's going to last. They sell shower curtain rings, like the John Candy character in that movie. (I mean the rings might last. But they're probably not what people talk about after you've gone.) So it's not about what you do. It can't be, can it? It has to be about how you are, how you love, how you treat yourself and those around you, and that's where I get eaten up."
Regarding the above, I know only four things. All are related to one another (the first two are probably inversely related, the second two perhaps a little less so.)
(1) My daughter means everything in the universe to me.
(2) Quite honestly, there are moments when the thought enters my mind that caring for her has removed options in my life that would possibly otherwise make my life more personally fulfilling.
(3) I have a job that pays well, provides little intellectual or emotional challenge, and does not require much effort. However, this job not only ensures for my daughter's well-being but also allows me to spend an inordinate amount of my free time with her (which is partly what attracted me to it in the first place.)
(4) I have never defined myself by what I do.
Before we go any further, let me just say that I am acutely aware that even having these thoughts is a luxury of which I am not unappreciative. This blog has always been a place where I sort out my thoughts in written form.
Shit, if my health insurance covered therapy, this site probably wouldn't even exist.
All I'm saying is that, regardless of one's station in life, I think it's healthy to sometimes visualize or fantasize about the life that you want to live. Frequently, this forces you to make extremely tough decisions that seem painful but may ultimately make you much happier.
On the other hand, this is also probably the kind of thinking that made John Travolta turn down the lead role in "Chicago" THREE times so he could focus on his real passion project..."Battlefield Earth."
Look, I'm not going anywhere or enacting any serious life changes anytime soon. At the same time, I sometimes make mental lists of alternate lifestyles I fantasize about living if I didn't have a child.
Here's the current short list:
- Living in a small studio apartment in Paris with a girlfriend and spending all our free time reading and writing together in a dingy cafe in the Latin Quarter, where we would both wait tables just enough to pay the rent.
- Apprenticing with a top sushi master in Japan and then opening my own restaurant in the East Village that would only seat 6 people at any given time.
- Moving to Colorado, being a ski bum in the winter and a fly-fishing bum in the summer.
- Working as a foreign war correspondent alongside Christiane Amanpour.
When I shared these thoughts with a buddy of mine, he told me I was having a mid-life crisis and that I should just shut up and buy a Porsche.
This led to a very in-depth conversation that ultimately provided great insight and incredible perspective on my future professional life and emotional well-being. I couldn't believe that after 40 years on this planet that have involved much soul searching and professional therapy, I had finally figured out in this one conversation what I would truly enjoy doing with the rest of my life if I didn't have a child.
I'd be Batman.
In all seriousness, do any other parents out there fantasize about how your life would be different without kids or a spouse? If you're single or childless, are you living your life how you'd imagined? Why or why not?
An inquiring insomniac wants to know.