Life and How to Live It

I think the reason I resist the idea of happiness as the end-all be-all of life is that too many people mistake comfort for happiness. I saw a movie last year called Another Year, by English director Mike Leigh. It covered four seasons in the lives of Tom and Gerri, an old married couple, but the only character in the film that I could relate to was Mary, their lonely, miserable single friend. Over the course of the film, she rejects the advances of another of Tom and Gerri’s friends and hits on their son, who is not only too young for her, but happily coupled with a woman his own age. In doing so, she alienates Tom and Gerri, and as she sits at dinner with them and a few others at the end after a sort-of reconciliation, she realizes that she will never have what they have. To this I say: Good. Seriously, fuck Tom and Gerri (whose names, I realize, sound a lot like that old animated cat-and-mouse duo). Who wants to be like them? If you do, go away. I’m serious.

vV (from V for Vendetta) said, “Happiness is a prison.” That’s harsh, but it contains a grain of truth. Please do not act as if your liking things a certain way is an excuse for keeping them that way. Reading the reviews for Another Year, I was shocked by how many people seemed to think of Mary as nothing more than a lost lamb. I can’t be the only person who would rather be her than anybody else at that table. It’s not because her life is wonderful; it’s because it’s interesting. I hate boring people. I know a lot of people who think Rent is a piece of shit because it features a bunch of entitled young artists who are too hip and cool to, well, pay their rent. But that’s not why Mark and Roger refuse to pay. They do it because Benny, who was their friend until recently, turned on them and started demanding not only that they start paying rent (when he had previously allowed them to stay for free), but demanded that they pay rent on the year they’ve already stayed. That’s shitty, and his giving them barely any time to think it over or come up with the money suggests that he really just wants them gone. Perhaps they remind him of the life he never had the courage to live.

I hear a lot these days about how everybody, sooner or later, sells out and goes to work for the Man. That’s not true, but not because there’s anything wrong with a quiet life in the suburbs taking your kids to school in the morning and working an office job. If that’s what you want, go for it. I just don’t like the idea that it’s that or be an unemployed, broke artist squatting in a loft you can’t afford. You have to work the margins. I remember being deeply annoyed when I saw the trailer for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and realized that they had transformed James Thurber’s clever, subversive story into some vaguely life-affirming bullshit. Here’s the problem with the idea that somebody who feels stifled by their office job can just hop on a plane and go swimming with sharks or longboarding down a mountain: Once you’re done with that, you go right back to your office job. Essentially, the whole movie revolves around the hero finding a girl and settling down, but what does “settling down” actually mean? (And if anyone who has seen the movie is thinking of commenting and telling me that’s not what happens, don’t bother. I honestly don’t give a shit.)

I think that one of the most poisonous lies in our culture is the belief that you get your ya-yas out when you’re young, then lead a peaceful, dull existence for the rest of your days. Please. Reality is usually a little bit more subtle. We can’t all be globetrotting and shit, but that seems like the sort of thing that is best done in moderation anyway. Being a “free spirit” gets boring after a while. Most of the people I know who try that burn out, and it’s because they’re addicted to feeling like an outsider. Because I’m obsessed with Calvin & Hobbes, I’ll quote my BFF, Bill Watterson: “I guess one thing I like about Calvin is that whether he fits in with the wider world or not is almost beside the point, because he can’t help but be himself.” In other words, don’t be too obsessed with being a part of something, and don’t be too obsessed with being different. Nobody can be all one thing all the time anyway.

Somebody—I can’t remember who—once said to me that sometimes, the reason everybody likes something is because it’s really good. I can’t remember the context. I want to say that I was holding back from getting into something (most likely it was Game of Thrones) because, well, I didn’t want to just follow the herd. Of course, I have since started watching/reading that series, and I like it. I hung back from reading the fourth Harry Potter book because I didn’t want to get too obsessed, but that was only what I said when people asked why I was holding off on reading it. The real reason is that I…don’t like Harry Potter all that much (blasphemy, I know). I just didn’t realize it at the time, so people thought I was being a contrarian when I really just couldn’t articulate what I was feeling. That happens a lot.

You can’t get addicted to the feeling of finding “new” shit, as if something new is something better than something that’s old just because it feels different. People want to try new things, but they also want to be sure they’ll like them. As somebody else asked, are you the sort of person who is afraid to eat cake just because then there won’t be any more cake for you to eat? Think about it. And once you do, move the fuck on. I have worlds to conquer.

 

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One thought on “Life and How to Live It

  1. If your goal is interesting, you are seeking it either out of a conditioned response or because in some way it gives you a positive emotional reward. That is happiness, or the best version of it you can get. Some people have a lower set-point for happiness than others, and when that is the case it is preferable to justify that other things are more important, because the alternative is admitting you’re just stuck with less of the only good thing out there.

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