I meant to spend time today writing about the trouble I got myself into while visiting Charlotte last week, but suddenly and without warning, got overwhelmed by work. So, on a related note…..:
It’s no secret that Americans have a lot of unhealthy habits. Study after study is being performed in order to prove that many aspects of the way we live are not only decreasing our quality of life, but leading us to live less healthy, economically prosperous, and long lives than previous generations.
America, as a culture, does not understand the concept of joie de vivre. We eat too much, drink too much, and smoke too much, but actually have little appreciation for the joy of these bad habits, engaging in quantity over quality. We work more hours than ever before, but often make less money in the process, and so few of us actually enjoy what we do, choosing instead the route of “working for the weekend”. We surround ourselves with people, yet rarely connect with them. We utilise all sorts of technology to make our lives easier and more productive, yet spend hours on end wasting time to fill our eight-hour quota at the office or because there’s nothing interesting on television.
Americans do not understand the joy of living, not really, and it’s because we are not taught to focus on that. We are instead, at an early age, taught the benefits of busy work, following rules, keeping pace with the rest of the class, suppressing individuality, not questioning authority, putting personal feelings aside when necessary, and focusing on achievement as a stepping stone to more focus and more achievement—which may ultimately be rewarded, but may also leave you feeling as lost and empty and confused as those who checked out and chose to simply not care. Not only are we not a particularly happy, vivacious culture, what we’re doing isn’t working for us. The next generation of children are the first in centuries to have a lower life expectancy than their parents, yet we’re steadily raising the retirement age to compensate for a bankrupt Social Security system. Half of college graduates in 2012 are unemployed, yet the average student loan debt is $50,000. Today’s young adults in their 20′s and 30′s are getting married, having families, and buying homes 50% less frequently than their parents. 40% of the country does not have health care, and another 25% of those covered are not covered adequately.
Yes, it’s fair to say we consistently engage in a system that does not work, but judge and criticise those who choose not to buy into that system.
That’s why it’s inspiring to me to read about the work habits of writer, feminist, free-thinker, and bon vivante Simone de Beauvoir. She is legendary for her copious writings on feminism—ideas which extolled the virtues of living alone, maintaining a self-sufficient income, polyamoury and non-monogamy within committed relationships, and nurturing creative gifts rather than children—as well as her relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre, a relationship documented by an incredible number of daily communications detailing their lives, together and separately. She published numerous books, was known for her great number of friends and lovers, her entertaining social presence, and was a patroness of all sorts of artists, intellectuals, and free-thinkers. She was, quite simply, very much ahead of her time, and someone I greatly admire.
However, the interesting thing about Madame de Beauvoir is that, for all her free-spirited ways, she also maintained a reputation for being one of the hardest working artists of her time. She managed to avoid burning out by working 7 hours a day—3 in the morning and 4 in the evening—without distraction, and took 2-3 months between books to travel and rejuvenate each year.
She worked far less than most any of us could imagine, and yet, remains one of the most prolific writers in literary history. On top of it, she lived comfortably, found time to have the kind of friendships and love affairs most of us spend a lifetime searching for, and was quite involved in both the cultural and hedonistic pursuits of her era.
The question is, does living a more balanced and well-rounded lifestyle not only make your life a more enjoyable one (I’m fond of saying that since you only live once, and you never know when the ride is coming to an end, it’s fairly silly to waste time filling your life with obligations and things that don’t inspire any sort of passion, as most of us do.), but make you a more brilliant, accomplished, cultured person?
Many Europeans still believe so. They don’t work as many hours as the average American, Japanese, or Indian citizen, but many enjoy a higher quality of life and longer life expectancy. There is an attitude of enjoyment rather than excess, of appreciating the simpler things rather than moving as quickly as possible, and celebrating love and friendship as keys to a happy life.
The next time I’m tempted to spend my day in front of glowing pieces of technology, wearing my PJs, I think I need to remind myself that Madame de Beauvoir would hardly approve. Of course, she didn’t live in the suburbs of a city that is the poster child for the evils of urban sprawl without a car, so I think she might understand why I’m not meeting friends for a 5 PM cocktail and gossip in the middle of the week.
However, my unconventional schedule is probably something that most Americans don’t understand, but it works for me. I try to get up around 11, work until 4 PM when my pieces are due, and then spend the rest of the evening socialising, reading, watching TV, or catching up with friends and family on the phone. New assignments come out at 5 PM each day, so if I have a heavy workload, I’ll start work again at 12 AM and see what I get done before bedtime, at 3 AM. If I don’t, I’ll use the time to write in my journal or work on creative projects. I find I have the most creative energy and fewest distractions after midnight, simply because I’m a night owl. Of course, this doesn’t work for me on the weekends, when I’ll typically stay out later than I should, enjoy life, have a few too many drinks, and only have the afternoons to get anything done. However, I then often have extra time on Sunday, a day I don’t often schedule anything to do…so it balances out. Most people are surprised–given my relatively laid-back, unambitious attitude toward work, love for sleeping until 11 AM, and general desire to have life be a fun, entertaining ride—when they learn that I often work 7 days a week. It’s just that I’m typically working when everyone else is not. *laughs* Like Simone de Beauvoir, I have the freedom to take time out here and there, something I would not have in a more traditional lifestyle.
I so very much live in the wrong place for me, in the wrong atmosphere, maybe even in the wrong time period. I have, throughout my life, generally felt misplaced. However, after a decade, Atlanta still doesn’t feel like my home. It feels more like a transient stop along my journey that somehow turned into a third of my life. It’s a shame, in a way, I have so many connections that are dear to me that make me want to remain in a place I’ve never quite belonged. I wonder what it will take to make this place “home” to me, other than a 9-5 corporate job, a car, and a little bit of liposuction.