Friday, January 6, 2012

Life Is Not A Magazine. It's A Good Thing!

A couple years ago I was going through a bit of a hellacious period. Inspired by a book about interior design, and also probably something I read by Martha Beck, and also an issue of Country Living that I found at a thrift shop, I started what Pirate Redbeard now refers to as "doing my pictures."

Basically I leaf through magazines and catalogs, cut out the pictures that please me for obvious and/or inexplicable reasons, and glue them into a big-ass spiral-bound sketchbook. It was unusual back then for me to do something that had such a lack of clear, definable purpose. I just kind of liked it. I couldn't explain why I was doing it, and for such a goal-oriented, results-driven efficiency slave, that was a weird feeling. But some wise people who have their lives reasonably together encouraged me to keep doing it just because I liked it and who cares, so I did.

I've been doing it when I feel like it for two or three years. What I have now is an unwieldy book full of pictures of like, people jumping into lakes and wearing vests and riding around on old-fashionedy bikes. Lots of stationary and rusty doorknobs and "distressed wood" and fresh produce and pets and big, fluffy comforters on big fluffy beds. And tents and trees and people doing yoga and carrying around picnic baskets with baguettes sticking out of them, smiling those smiles that say "We're shooting this fall catalog in mid-August and I'm trying to make it look like I'm having a festive, fun time with my baguette but actually it's like 1000 degrees and I'm wearing a toggle coat!"

Anyway... I see that what I was doing back then, from the dis-comfort of my dingy rodent-infested apartment above a laundromat, or as I like to think of it, the Lair of Despair, was trying to build a road map, a way out, a point on the horizon to aim toward, my own personal star of Bethlehem.
Seriously people, go to Montana.

And I've made some major progress since then: I own hiking boots now. I live in a big, beautiful apartment with hardwood floors instead of carpeting like that of an elementary school library. It has Victorian-times flourishes like skeleton keys and decorative glass windows. I went camping in western Montana (which by the way if you've never been is one of those places people go to to take pictures of to put in magazines, and you should totally go there). I got a big, fluffy, ivory colored duvet to snuggle under. I [attempted to] garden last summer. I own gardening clogs! They make little fart sounds when my feet get sweaty!

But and's a down day.

To enumerate: First of all, January = gross. I'm mainlining carbs. Piles of dirty laundry cross-fertilizing with the clean laundry. The work that I'm currently doing to pay the bills is boring and annoying and work-y. And even as I take steps toward my bigger and better things career-wise (i.e. apply to grad school), I can't help but be struck by the contrast between the vision for my life that I write about in my application essays ("omg Ima do a million things that I'm awesome and perfect for and it's going to be PERFECT") and, you know, my actual life.

Now, being the mood-management ninja that I am, I have mastered the use of earth-shatteringly innovative stress-management techniques such as "go for a walk" and "complain to your boyfriend." These did help, and a friendly cat did come up to me and nuzzle my leg on the walk, and they probably did prevent a more massive plunge into the darkness.

But, they also didn't stop me from projecting all sorts of pessimistic thoughts into the future, about what a cold and ugly winter it's going to be, how all I'm going to have time to do is work work work, there are no more good holidays until May, how many more gigantic stacks of BS I'm going to have to hurdle in order to get to (god willing) grad school, how I work sooooo hard and have it sooooo rough,  I barely remember what pleasure is anymore, blah blah self-pitycakes, as Sars might say.

Luckily, when I get like this, eventually somewhere in my brain a wire gets tripped and I'll recall things like how my grandparents fled their country of origin through war-torn Europe with only the clothes on their backs and within months of being in the refugee camp they managed to get a theatre troupe going despite not having any materials and having to make elegant Shakespearian costumes out of, literally, burlap sacks.  And I'm willing to entertain the idea that, fine, maybe I don't have it the roughest ever on the face of the planet. And maybe I should suck it up and do something about my situation.

I pulled out my big book of pictures and leafed through it, an activity that usually leaves me feeling kind of warm and fuzzy and inspired and soothed. Except... this time, it didn't!

It was having the opposite effect. It made me feel MORE depressed.

Because my life is so NOT like a magazine. My pictures are all fresh-baked pies and claw-foot tubs and bonfires and monogrammed canvas storage containers and a cup of tea by an artfully placed hard-backed book...

Compare that to my daily life, which lately is more to the tune of microwave popcorn packets and  clumps of kitty litter and picking up prescriptions and cursing at ATM machines and jumping up and down to stay warm while the gas pumps and squinting hunchbacked over a computer screen.

As I flipped through the pictures, I began to feel overwhelmed. How will I ever manage to make my life look like a magazine? Farmer's market veggies are so expensive. Our kitchen is so tiny and so frequently filled with dirty dishes. And when's the last time I've even seen a canoe, much less a hot air balloon? There is so much work to be done! Pictures to be hung! Beaches to prance on! Dressers to decoupage! I must make a list! I must hurry!

But as I gazed at all these pictures I've amassed, I remembered what attracted me to them in the first place. The reason I like these images of pretty rooms and delicious foods and soft blankets and people in windbreakers climbing mountains is because they're not about lists and demands and impossibly high expectations. They're all about being comfortable. Enjoying the scenery. Appreciating a nice soft blanket. Breathing the fresh air, eating the fresh food, sitting on a cushy chair. Sensory input. Simple pleasures. The moment.

I don't know why it is that it's so hard to remember this seemingly simple, ages-old idea of slowing down and enjoying the ride. I don't know why it's so hard to accept that every hour of every day doesn't have to be a rugged, earth-shattering, chakra-aligning, backwoods spiritual epiphany adventure.

As many a wiseperson has indicated, there is no "there" to get to. This is it. And frankly, "it" is a mixed bag.

And it's OK!

Come to think of it, even though a good chunk of my day was a computer-hunched hair-tearing suckfest, there was also that other part where Redbeard and I lay down on our backs on the grass on the well-manicured lawn of the University of the Sciences, and breathed in the unseasonably temperate air, and looked up at the clouds.

It was right out of a magazine.

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