Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"We don't understand life any better at forty than at twenty, but we know it and admit it."*

Lots of people I know have grand plans for their lives. I have political activist friends who put their money (and time and effort) where their mouths are. I have deeply, devoutly religious friends who try, every day, to touch lives and make the world a better place. Heck, I am married to a serial altruist who works like a fiend at his job not just because he loves it but because it makes a difference, a real, definable difference, in the lives of disabled children and stricken adults.

I, on the other hand, am a slacker. Left to my own devices and barring the need for income or effort on the children’s behalf, I could be very content lying around on my couch all day, reading multiple novels concurrently, noodling on Facebook, racking up ginormous scores on WordTwist, eating takeout, napping regularly, and exerting myself pretty much only to go run or do some desultory yoga.

I have come to terms with this aspect of my personality. Fairly early, as it turns out, as most people face up to their basic ordinariness round about that crisis-inducing 40th birthday (or, if you’re really an overachiever, 35th).

In my early 20s, however, I decided that I was never going to take Broadway or the design world by storm – nor did I especially want to, considering the level of effort and concentration it would have required, and I settled, more happily than not, into a regular and relatively lucrative career of painting scenery. Which it turns out I did very well, with little effort on my part. Yay for undiscovered natural talents.

When I got bored with that, I somehow managed to stumble - through the efforts of an old friend I ran into at a funeral, of all places – into technical writing, and more specifically, medical software manual writing. Stultifying as that sounds to most normal people, I found it fascinating. I loved it. But a few years and two babies later, our lovely little documentation company was bought out by a trucking firm (I know. WTF?) and I quit, to go to grad school.

I finished grad school by (sensibly, yes, but also) placidly accepting that any woman with a husband, a house, and two children under the age of three cannot possibly devote all her energy to her schoolwork. In fact, she is lucky she gets to do it at all, let alone agonize over it and redo it and tweak it till it's perfect. Somehow, I managed to graduate with honors anyway, and it was time to get a real job. Quel horror (and no, I don’t speak French. Or Italian, or Spanish. Too much work involved...)

Yet I once again somehow landed a plum job working fifteen hours a week, ostensibly doing research for a professor and organizing his research and papers, but in reality, working about five hours a week and spending the rest of my time with my co-workers, meandering over to the park to buy Thai food off the trucks or running down to Starbucks for a “quick coffee.”

I got my first “real” job at a local university library, but I worked only part-time. When a full-time position opened up, I was not even tempted to apply. The full-time librarians spend a lot of time and energy playing politics and attending meetings; I liked working the desk. It entertained me to track down obscure German medical journals for the ILL department or to set up foreign students’ laptops for wireless access in Japanese. I didn’t HAVE to do any of these things but the fact that I COULD amused me. They would have amused me far less if I had been required to do them. Because that’s just how I roll, dudes.

And then, you know, I had another baby because if you have four children at home to care for, no one expects you to get a REAL job. And you can go get coffee any time you want; hell, you are practically expected to.

I dealt with my feelings of insecurity and inadequacy about my inherent laziness early on, which is about the only time I was ahead of the curve. I spent many of my teenage years striving to be extraordinary and all it did, in hindsight, was stress me out. (Well, yes, there's the handy degree from a venerable educational institution, but even that, really? Dumb luck.) I'm a fairly ordinary kind of girl - reasonably intelligent, cute enough when I put forth a little effort, sometimes - but only sometimes - very funny...I have taught myself to be more easygoing, more relaxed, to chill and try to enjoy and appreciate my life more. And I am truly okay with my ordinariness.

I approach my forties (two birthdays from now) – the birthday of crisis and sturm und drang – fairly contented with my lot in life.

Which is fortunate, as I really don’t have the wherewithal to do much about changing it.

*Jules Renard


Anonymous said...

My crisis hit at 25, when I was pregnant and poor, and all of my friends were out earning either graduate degrees or tons of money.

Once I acknowledged my general laziness (I passed on taking the MCAT because I knew I wouldn't like working doctors' hours, after all) and lack of motivation, I cruised into 30 very easily, and I'm relaxed as I look forward to 40.

I can't say I want to get old and see my body fail, but I've been a little old lady in spirit my whole life--it's not a big deal. If I can find a way to finance a life as a Mom Who Lounges with Books, I'll be all over it.

Jess said...

I could have written this post. With different details, but still. I've always been a little worried that some day this laziness will come back and bite me, but other than that I'm fine with it. It's working so far.

KPB said...

Ok, so you and I? Clearly separated at birth.

? said...

I have linked to you in my story as the lady under the stove...an interesting character

? said...

to be continued and I will fit...will make sense soon...stay tuned

Bearette said...

I think having 4 children must be the equivalent of 4 full-time jobs. Definitely a "real job." :)

Kathy said...

I SO identify with you and with the subject of this post!

nutmeg said...

You see, this is one of the major reasons why I still blog - to see myself writ large on someone elses blog! You really must, must, must read Tom Hodgkinson's "How to be Idle" and "How to be Free" - they are a hoot.

Also, congrats on the change in the White House! I watched Obama's speech live here in Australia and I had a few tears in my own eyes. Just think, we were doing the same thing at the same time - half a world away.