Well, folks, it’s still January. We are on the eve of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Barack Obama’s second presidential inauguration. So many vital, important things are going on in the world, it was surprising to note what thought struck me today.
I love my hair.
Honestly, I do, but I don’t spend a lot of quality time thinking about it. Or maybe I just don’t want to admit to myself that I do, because that would make me shallow. Really? Noting the fact that my hair is a pretty color, neither red nor blond nor brown but some interesting mix of all three? Observing that it has the soft texture of straight hair, but enough body in to make it fun to play with? Admiring that as I reach my mid-forties, it has yet to go gray? That makes me shallow?
Well, probably, yes.
But it is something that I like about myself, and those things are rare. So perhaps, even in the face of far greater things, I will enjoy this item of randomness for just a moment. Lately, I’ve felt a lot of dissatisfaction with my self and my life, and some small piece of contentment is reassuring, even if it stems from something kind of dumb.
Once in acting school, my movement teacher, Don, had us write down five things we disliked about ourselves. Most of us were able to do that with ease. That finished, he challenged us to write down five things about ourselves that we liked. It didn’t have to be big or important or profound, he told us. ”You can say ‘I really like that patch of skin above my right elbow.’” It just had to be something.
It was harder than you might think.
Oddly, our shallow, self-involved world does not encourage us to think well of ourselves or our lives. To think that we can be improved, perhaps. With the right moisturizer, deodorant, hair extensions, shower gel, we can have the friends, career, car and spouse that we’ve always dreamed about. But to be content with ourselves the way we are? Nope, not possible.
I’m all for self-improvement. If there are things in your life that you sincerely want to change, go for it. Make a plan. Start today and let me know how I can help. But how many of the changes that we want really come from our own desires, and how many are imposed on us?
I won’t lie. There are things in my life I’d like to change. I’d love to find exactly the right guy, someone who will love Zoe as much as I do. It would be a dream come true to spend my days writing, creating work that I’m really proud of, and get paid for it, enough to make a decent living. A second bedroom in my house would be nice, an office that could double for a guest room. And enough room to put out my lovely dining room table that’s currently packed away in the closet. A living room big enough to entertain more than three of my friends at a time. (The reasonable maximum is five. Once, I squeezed in thirteen people. It was awkward, but I’m proud to report that I’m still on speaking terms with almost all of them.) Maybe a dog (THAT IS A SECRET, DO NOT TELL ZOE, I WILL DENY EVERY WORD AND THEN I WILL HURT YOU). A set of diamond stud earrings, not much, maybe just a half a carat each, or maybe a carat now that I think about it. Enough resources to take a lengthy vacation every year. Possibly a lake house, somewhere not too far a drive but far enough to feel like I’ve gotten away. And one in Ireland, down in Glendalough. Maybe a little villa in Italy. With a butler.
Somewhere in there, I got carried away. Not exactly sure where.
Of course, the thing of it is, I know people with all of them items I listed. (Except the houses overseas and the butler. If anyone of my acquaintance has those things, they’ve kept very quiet about it.) And wouldn’t you know it? They sometimes find it difficult to be content with their lives. They still talk wistfully about things they’d like to have, someday. I think the Queen of England sometimes lies awake at night thinking about that one thing she’s always wanted, that she may never have. (Of course, in her case it’s probably two consecutive minutes where the whole world just leaves her the hell alone.)
Of course, all these people know that they’re blessed, and are reasonably content with their lives. (Except maybe the Queen. We haven’t discussed the subject in any great length. I don’t take it personally; she’s a dog person.) Truth to tell, I know I’m blessed, and I’m reasonably content with my life. But that doesn’t stop the nagging sense of dissatisfaction every once in a while, or those repeated dreams about rooms that need cleaning out.
So…how do you find the balance between gratitude for what you have and ambition for what you want? There are two ways to look at it:
1. You can aim for what you already have, and succeed, or
2. You can be grateful that you have something to strive for, even though your quest may fail.
Not long ago, I went to the movies with one of my favorite 11-year-olds, and we saw The Hobbit. The latest chapter – okay, technically prequel – to Peter Jackson’s movie version of the Lord of the Rings series lived up to my expectations. Though in person I more closely resemble an elf than a hobbit, I found myself relating to Bilbo on a very personal level. The Shire is lovely. I am surrounded by all my favorite things, and I enjoy them. But perhaps I need to leave the comfort of my grandmother’s chair once in a while and see what lies down the road. It could be that the occasional adventure is as rewarding as a good book.
Moving to a bigger house is financially impossible just now, diamond earrings would be a little much to wear to work, and I’d find myself meeting new people (and thus possibly Mr. Right) if I strove for something new. So, narrowing it down, I think I will focus on the writing. The book is coming along, but it still needs work. Lots of it. (At some point, it will need beta readers, so clear some time in your schedule.)
It’s scary, this writing thing. What if nobody wants to read it? What if it never gets published? The only thing scarier would be knowing that I wanted to write, and never took the time to make it happen. The only way to be happy, oddly enough, is to try doing what makes you happy, and see if it clicks. And hey – if it all goes horribly wrong, I can always make myself feel better by sitting in front of the mirror and playing with my pretty hair.
If society sees contentment as an unreachable destination, does that mean enjoying the journey to it is an act of civil disobedience? Oh, I hope so.
It’s a new year, my dear literary companions. Let’s rebel.
Kimberly is going to focus on her writing and let the rest of the stuff go…unless anyone know a butler who works cheap. Then she’d be willing to reconsider.