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. :P 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. :P

I recently read this blog post, which is exquisitely thoughtful and well-written, and a very honest look at what it’s like to be a not-so-grown-up in today’s non-stop world.

It’s a sad fact of life that the more connected and plugged-in we become as a society, the more disconnected we ultimately become from one another. For many people, a job isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle…one where your boss or co-workers can contact you at any time of the day, from anywhere in the world. In an economy where more and more people are attempting to empower themselves by working for themselves, trying to do what they love while earning a living, it’s not just a project or a passion, but a commitment.

The days of life working in a fairly well-balanced setting are long-gone. It’s no longer as simple as going to the office from 9-5 each day, spending time with your family or friends, having an hour or two to read or pursue your hobbies, and then getting a good night’s sleep. No..we’re all going, moving, stressing, thinking, creating, contacting..constantly. If you’re one of those people, like myself, who is inordinately stressed out by the need to be “on” all the time, it can be a tough world out there, and you don’t even understand how stressed the world around you is making you until something dramatic comes along to tell you. In my case, so much so that my body ended up in adrenaline overload, and I found myself diagnosed with an anxiety disorder…and however much I’d like to say I’m the screwed up exception, I’m not. Studies show every third person you meet is receiving treatment for anxiety or depression.

We don’t live in a balanced world. We don’t have the time we should have for joie de vivre, creative energy, or enjoying the little things. So many people I know don’t have the time to escape to a new destination for a weekend, have a leisurely weekend brunch, or even watch a two-hour movie without checking a phone or e-mail or answering a phone call. Yet, the sacrifices aren’t paying off. Today’s Americans work more hours than ever before, are in more debt, are more overweight than ever before, and if you’re a part of Generation Y, you’ve probably noticed your parents are having health problems at 60 rather than 80. And, the news isn’t any better for us, as we’re projected to be the first generation in centuries who don’t live as long as their parents.

There’s something we’re not doing right, and my long-time resistance to the lack of balance our lifestyle creates has led many to use words like “irresponsible”, “slacker”, “bon vivante”, and even “lazy”. (that last one, I certainly am not.) But, as many my age have found, even the person most determined to enjoy life to the fullest and not cave in to the pressures of “the way the world works” have found it hard to exist as a type B personality in a type A world.

I, personally, have always had a difficult time with this as it applies to my friendships and relationships with others. I am drawn, almost by instinct, to very focused, high-achieving, highly intelligent personalities likely to spend more time at the office than enjoying life with me. This has been an issue of contention in my world since I was 20, and the universal response was that I was simply immature and thought the world revolved around me, when in reality, most people are meant to put more energy into work than into enjoying life and building relationships, so that they have the freedom to concentrate on doing so later. Needless to say, most of these relationships with people who have gone on to be extraordinarily successful in their lives were filled with a lot of drama, and I realised very quickly that I’d never be happy with the type of person who was always “plugged in”, always in a different world, even when we happened to be spending time together.

While many of my friends have conjectured that understanding the difference between myself and the way the world works is responsible for my discovery of the benefits of polyamorous relationships, it’s really not. I think I simply look at the world a little differently than most people. I don’t live for “later” at the expense of “now”, because look how well it’s worked out for the workaholic, materially-driven Baby Boomer generation. “Now” is the only thing that’s guaranteed. “Later” is a question mark. Not a single person on this Earth knows how much “later” they’re going to have, and putting your life on pause, missing out on great experiences and people in order to secure a “later” that isn’t guaranteed…it has never made sense to me. Maybe it’s because I’ve always instinctively felt I’m not meant to be around quite as long as everyone else, and if I am, I may not have the health or vitality to make the most of my “later”. I’ve seen that happen to so many members of my family. I don’t want to duplicate the same mistakes. I’m not much of a gambler; there’s a streak in me that’s far too practical, that needs to be in control of the outcome.

When it comes to life, I am happiest accepting I am not in control of the outcome. Good things will happen. Bad things will happen. But if you start becoming so focused on your later that you don’t have the time, money, or energy to see what’s right in front of you now, that’s when you stop living and start going through the motions.

I don’t think I have enough days to go through the motions, and I only realised I’d become the kind of person who was when my world turned into something obsessed with deadlines, achievement, doing better, earning more, moving in a positive direction. Rather than celebrate my small victories, all of the sudden, everything around me seemed so inadequate. Everything that had previously made me happy wasn’t enough…I needed *more*. And in order to get that, I had to put in more stress, more hours, meet more deadlines, stay up until 5 AM more frequently. For the first time in my life, I was successful at something I’d built myself, and completed—-and I became terribly, terribly ill, and the whole thing came tumbling down. I quickly lost everything I’d built, not for the first time in my life, and this time, I didn’t have the physical or mental well-being to rebuild. I’m slowly getting stronger, both physically and emotionally, but it’s a process. I’m happiest and most able to cope with life when I take things one day at a time, when I remember to live each day as if I am not promised any more days in the future.

The truth is, I am not. While you don’t want to hear it, neither are you. The best you can do is to do what makes you happy, each and every day. For some people, that *is* working too hard, investing too much, in order to achieve the dream of accomplishment and creation that motivates some people. For others, it’s spending time around loved ones, appreciating the small things. For still others, it’s travel, adventure, meeting new people, doing new things.

I was at a concert last night (which I’ll discuss in a later blog), and remarked to The Guy I Am Currently Dating that it was fun to count the number of people who were incapable of sitting still and talking to the person next to them during the 15 minute break between acts. Even as they were dimming the lights, more than a dozen people in our section still had the glow of their iPhone/Android screen on.

Why, as a society, are we incapable of just chilling out? If we’re not working all the time, we’re making sure our calendars are jam-packed with social events and places we need to be, until it seems every moment of every day is scheduled and accounted for. Most people I know (and I am guilty of this as well) can’t sit and watch a TV show, talk to a friend or partner during down time, hang out at a leisurely lunch or have coffee with another person, or read a book without checking their e-mail, Facebook, telephone, or other device. And, in living in this overly connected/disconnected way, are we getting more out of our “now”, or less?

One of my favourite things about playing bar trivia with my friends, something I do twice a week, is that there are no phones or electronic devices allowed. Occasionally, it drives me crazy, wondering if I’m missing an important call or text…but more often, it’s a liberating feeling. I have the company of people I like, playing a game that’s fun, in an atmosphere filled with food and drink and laughter. What else do I need, and why should that not *always* be enough?

I love technology. I just love it enough to realise that I, like most of the world, am slightly addicted to it. I love having a full social calendar, a job that enables me to make money, creative interests that stimulate my intellectual growth. Yet, I should be able to relax long enough to watch a TV show without thinking I’m missing something if I don’t pick up my phone or check my e-mail. I should be able to go camping without walking around in circles trying to get a cell signal.

We don’t have a lot of balance in our lives. And while I’m blessed to have people in my life that are going to support me in all of my endeavours, and a great guy who will let me work when I need to and puts up with me texting in the car instead of talking to him, something inside me just still tells me the way our world works isn’t right.

If you know me at all, you know that more than anything, I’m a fan of real, honest, soul-baring connection. Yet, with most people, I get the sense that they don’t know what that is, and that it can’t be multi-tasked. I don’t think it’s the fault of the people I know, but simply how our society is wired.

I’m never going to be a Type A workaholic, I’m never going to put success and material things ahead of the things that truly matter to me, and I’m never going to be happy in a world that’s consistently disconnectedly connected.

I value the fact that I have some people in my world who look at life the same way as I do, people who still see that value in talking on the phone and catching up over a conversation at Starbucks, or even better, the 7 PM martini even though it’s a Wednesday. Yet, I don’t know a single person, including myself, who is immune to this constantly moving, ADD, plugged-in lifestyle…all I know is that, for a little while, at least, it is a relief to me when circumstances force me to be disconnected.

The other night, my electricity went out during a bad thunderstorm. It was inconvenient, because it was in the evening, and it was before I had a chance to have dinner. It was the evening, and rapidly getting dark. My TV didn’t work, my internet didn’t work, my lights didn’t work, and there was a 2 hour wait for pizza. So, I ended up lighting a ton of candles around the house, sitting on a blanket in picnic-fashion, eating a dinner consisting of yogurt and cheese and crackers, and reading a book on my Kindle until a friend called to talk to me.

When I answered the phone, I told him, “I’m having a quiet, romantic evening in…with myself”. (It really wasn’t that romantic, but it was relaxing, and that’s just as good.) We proceeded to chat on the phone for a few hours, and though I was relieved when the power came back on (no AC in the summer in Atlanta is really insufferable), I didn’t check my e-mail or turn on any of my electronics until after our conversation.

I realised, that was the first day in forever and ever I hadn’t multi-tasked a single thing I was doing, and it was liberating.

Can we all just slow down, chill out, unplug, and enjoy one another, the world around us, and simply being? It’s not like we have unlimited opportunities to do so.