Thursday, January 20, 2011

Life of Leisure

I don't like having nothing to do. And that's a ridiculous phrase anyway, isn't it? Nothing to do? I've talked here before about one of my mother's mottoes: "Only boring people are bored." So I don't mean I'm bored. I can always find something to do; the issue is whether it's worth doing.

I never watch daytime TV. I'm just throwing that out there at the outset. Notice I said that in the present tense. In our old house, the kitchen opened onto the TV room, and while I cleaned the kitchen or cooked or baked or whatever else I might need to do around the stove, sink, and oven in the course of the day, I would often put on the TV for "company." I hated the arrangement. In our current house, the kitchen is separated from the TV room by a living room, and that's how I like it.

My point (I try to always get there eventually) is that I had the TV on for a few minutes yesterday and "Let's Make a Deal" was on. The studio audience was clothed in ridiculous costumes and wigs, all hoping for the chance to win a vacation or a shopping spree if Wayne Brady would just notice them. I got the same "ick" feeling I get when I see people waiting two hours in line for a 3-minute roller coaster ride. The "ick" feeling is this: Really? That's what we have time for today? Our lives are so easy and our need for a thrill so intense that we have to seek it out in a sweaty line with 200 other people in need of the same thrill? We're so desensitized to what used to pass for joy that we have to come up with new means of feeling that way?

I'm reading At Home by Bill Bryson. It's a short history of the house--how various rooms came to be--and it's fascinating. It's also a reminder of how little "real" work we need to do these days. Preparing a meal, doing the laundry, staying warm, staying cool, getting from point A to point B--these are all things we hardly think about anymore. Or at least those of us fortunate enough to live above the poverty line, which, face it, is most of us in the U.S.--don't have to think about them. So what do we think about instead? And how much do those things really matter?

I read a book a number of months back called Monique and the Mango Rains. The author, a member of the Peace Corps at the time, writes in the beginning about how women in Malawi don't have a favorite dress or a favorite food. They have a dress to wear--one--and they have food to eat . . . whatever might be available to them and not a cupboard full of choices. And, really, they're happier than we Americans are in many ways because (and this is me talking now) they don't have to manufacture happiness.

I love my warm house and clothes and food when it's snowing outside and the windchill is below zero and my "work" for the evening is loading the dishwasher and giving my kids a bath. That's a good life. I don't want to give away all but one dress or live on tomato soup. I just want to make sure that whatever I'm doing in place of struggling is worthwhile. And I want to be grateful. And I want to be happy and to teach my kids that happiness is available all around them--not just on game shows and roller coaster rides.


Becky said...

Bobbie, I just finished At Home myself. I started it as the holidays were winding down and it was a perfect read for slowing down and thinking about what matters.

AngryBaker said...

I just wrote a really long comment that upon second read had nothing to do with your post.

However, I did just add At Home to my library request queue and that is somewhat related.

Bobbie said...

Now I want to know what your comment was, AB, even if it wasn't related. I'm all for tangents.

Iuliana Blakely said...

great post and great writing, as usual. I should take writing classes from you. Can one even learn how to write? I am sure skills can be improved, but the skills have to be there to begin with.

Bobbie said...

Thanks, Iuliana. You're very kind. A good friend of mine did a post on this topic this week (writing being something you learn vs. something you just know how to do). Here it is if you're interested:

I think good writing is almost equal parts: innate and learned. Those who feel they're natural writers likely still have a lot to learn.

AngryBaker said...

My short term memory isn't great, but I think I was rambling about the Salon article and how I've been thinking more about the way I look to other people and if what I say I value is actually what I'm spending my time and effort on. I spent all week trying to enjoy my domestic life and I did, which was kind of weird.

I think I was just focusing on your last paragraph and not so much on the prevailing attitude that we must be happy this instant in bigger and better ways. For another interesting take on happiness you should check out David Brook's recent article, Social Animals, in the New Yorker.