Don’t people’s lives sound a lot more interesting or exotic on paper than they are in the big scheme of things? I run into this problem, if you could call it a problem. I look at the day to day, mundane process of slogging through life, and I doubt my life looks particularly interesting. But other people tell me how amazing it sounds to dash off to different European cities on the spur of the moment. Yes, maybe these “highlights” sound fascinating … whether the moving from country to country and taking on new challenges and whatever, but all the mundane stuff like dealing with immigration authorities (as I used to do), tax authorities, walking through knee-deep snow to get to the mailbox, shoveling snow on a daily basis just to be able to walk from car to house, the boring task of choosing what food to eat, making sure pictures are hung straight on the wall, vacuuming, getting medical checkups and so on… all of that is, well, not that exotic, interesting or sexy. (For any person who has only lived in one place and not lived somewhere significantly different… or a person of any nationality who has stuck with what is most familiar in one place all their lives, the novelty of the day to day differences can seem cool and exotic for some time if the frustration of it does not push them over the edge first.)
My life produces more than its share of monotony, especially since I do push myself to work A LOT. I do sometimes do very random, spontaneous things that sound thrilling when tossed out casually, e.g. “I dashed off to Brussels for the weekend” or, as I recently did, “I went to Berlin one day just to see a movie and fly home.” But life is still mostly about going to the store, buying too much dental floss, fighting to get sleep, making sure not to hit the random moose who runs out into the road, feeling sorry for myself on rare occasions (5-10% of the time, maybe?) because I am “alone” (even though I readily choose this), etc. etc. By comparison (and why should we ever do too much comparison?) others may feel that their lives sound dull, but for me, most people’s lives are fairly interesting (some more than others)… in the end, it is more about what they have to say, what they bring to the conversation. I think I would be boring and empty if all I had to talk about was something that was “surface exciting”. Monotony can be, in fact, comforting sometimes.
How many conversations end up being about balance? It all comes down in the end to balance, doesn’t it? I love the idea of a perfect balance of monotony/routine and spontaneity. But while I have monotony, I am always doing weird stuff and making plans to “set sail” (as someone once eloquently put it)… but this is also why I am unsettled, why I cannot commit to furniture or force myself to make the kinds of domestic changes I should make. Different levels of bucking the trend. I don’t want to make the choices. I don’t want to make the choices at all. I don’t want to admit that this is “it” and somehow imagine that by not furnishing the inside of the house to my taste and doing renovations is somehow making all of this temporary, something I can walk away from in a heartbeat. This might be one of the ways I fool myself. I don’t think anything is ever permanent, but my need for running and running and seeking adventure need not be at odds with my (somewhat hidden and unrealized) desire to settle in somewhere, even if it is a place into which I don’t settle into a daily life.
Ownership is a funny thing, isn’t it? I did not mind taking the step of owning my house or various pieces of property I’ve had in my ownership for brief or long periods of time, but that was mostly because comparing it to the idea of renting was more terrifying and a good deal more expensive. But then, perplexingly, owning a table is a much more difficult proposition. In fact I don’t really own any of the furniture in my house. All of it belongs to a friend; I am the recipient of sort of temporary furniture that may or may not be temporary. And I like it because I feel no ownership or connection to it. I am just a babysitter. Maybe it all comes down to my not wanting to care about stuff. I have prided myself on being mobile and spontaneous (which is funny since I come from a family of pack rats). I love getting rid of things… and not acquiring too many things in the first place (except maybe kitchen stuff).
I have given thought to the idea that getting rid of stuff, and by extension making major changes in life, is sometimes a form of running away from oneself (getting rid of yourself), and I know sometimes that I am guilty of this. “Guilty” might be too strong a word, but it fits for the moment. I think of a poem (“I Cannot”) by Polish poet Anna Swir, which simply reads: “I envy you. Every moment/You can leave me./I cannot/leave myself.” Sometimes being able to leave oneself would feel so liberating. And completely without compromise. Just you – and not even the you that you are today. A new you, again and again. But then, you would not really be able to leave yourself – the real you – no matter how many times you reinvent. Ownership – owning yourself – your own.
And would anyone know the difference? Particularly if you have lived your entire life conditioned to stand on your own two feet (and what else am I doing?). At some point, it actually becomes tiring to be perceived as that strong and independent. While I may like making my own decisions and doing what I want in life, I cannot see that there is an alternative. I have considered sometimes that I have reached a point where people seem to think I am incapable of compromise and relish the total independence, as if I cling fiercely to it. In fact it might not always be the ideal – I like the idea of discussing and making decisions with someone else, if for no other reason than to get a second opinion. It is not so much that I second guess myself, but I think there is a certain amount of emptiness in how I do things. No misunderstanding though: people just perceive that I am incapable of compromise, but I am not incapable. People look at my life and see that I have plowed ahead and made choices, travels, moved abroad, studied, taken career, financial, property decisions on my own, and that signals that I am like an uncompromising bulldozer. But I have to – I have to live my life. I know many people who have spent lifetimes sitting on the sidelines, waiting for someone else to show up and instruct them in what to do. I don’t judge them for wanting partnership – who doesn’t on some level – but in the absence of it, is life long enough to just sit and wait, letting fear manifest in excuses? In this way, in fact, it is not me who does not compromise. It’s those who do nothing and make no choices, just waiting. That is the true compromise.