20 August 2006

Thinking Too Much is Bad.

I've never been good at being satisfied with where I am. I used to just consider it wanderlust, and not a bad thing at that. But sometimes one sees a pattern develop: settle in, get a bit stir-crazy, launch grandiose plans; next thing you know you have moved several time zones, have a new career and a tattoo of Uruguay on your ass. What's the problem with that, besides that Uruguay is not of an attractive shape for assink, you might ask? The problem is that when you look at how lives are built and lived, starting over every three years is not the way to do it. Leaving on the next jet plane to escape mild boredom, while definitely exciting, becomes a repeating pattern. “Insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results”, Benjamin Franklin purportedly said; to repeatedly flee normal feelings of boredom and expect that in the new place contentment and placidity will be found seems to fit that definition.

That said, how do we remain happy when all becomes humdrum and routine? I suppose, and I fear this more than a little bit, the answer is to entertain ourselves. Eep.

I am reading Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton (pronounce in bad French accent for P.F. Points). I started reading it because even though I have just arrived in DC, and I spent the last four years living abroad, and I haven't even been to the Jefferson Memorial yet, the dreams have already started. The dreams always are what start my exodus from what ever life I am living. They are not the kind of dreams that one awakes from in a cold sweat. They are day dreams, of me, being smarter and having a more glamorous job, and having more time to write, and smoke cigarettes and drink red wine at noon, while sitting at a cafe, and speaking in round vowel sounds of romantic languages to bowtied men who bring more red wine and we all laugh that I once lived in penurious slavery for a wage. Or eating roasted new potatoes and lamb shank and sipping on cold martinis while prattling on in Danish about new art and the article I just wrote about South Africa, while sitting on blond ashwood furniture in an apartment looking over the Kobenhagen harbour. See what these have in common? If I move there, I become smarter and more witty and more successful in everyway. Yes, I am completely insane.

The common theme that de Botton follows is that status anxiety, something we all feel even if we don't talk about it, is caused by assuming that we are all in control of everything, a modern concept indeed. How else does one explain Blackberries (the buzzing electronic kind, not the delicious fruit)? His writing is refreshingly not self help, but it does analyze the idea that, in the west, we prize our meritocracy but that egalitarianism comes with a harsh wind of judgment. If everyone can compete on equal footing in a meritocracy, then the failure to succeed cannot be attributed to external events; in a true meritocracy, which we like to think we live in, my failure to be more important, smarter and more successful is deserved because that failure is my doing. Ouch. That's an ugly thought for a Sunday afternoon.


Saru-San said...

That tattoo of Uruguay... is it topographic? Mercator projection? Galls-Peters projection?

As for the rest, it's all really too depressing to comment on. I think I need a drink.

Mango de Mallorca said...

Have you ever read Adultery by Louise DeSalvo? One of the points she makes in the book is that if you constantly date different people, you never have to change. But if you're in a long-term monogamous relationship, you have to constantly reinvent yourself in order to grow with the other person. And that's the true challenge of monogamy: not boredom, but having to see yourself for who you really are and change.

I thought of the book because I wonder if part of your (and my) wanderlust has to do with our refusal to fundamentally change while expecting different outcomes. I'm totally guilty of that, though--I've been hopping around for the past 10 years, and I'm about to make another move to a foreign country where I plan to be more fabulous, intelligent and successful than ever before. But part of me already thinks that I'll be the same ol' me, no more successful in any way, but just in a different country.

I need to think more about this...

MB said...

Big words, deep thoughts give me headache. Need more funny.

cowchickenwhale said...

Whooaah there.... where's my funny? I read this in the morning. At work. In a job I hate. Go easy.

Lets get back to laughing at ugly, fat naked guys, stupid HR people and crypto-fascist policemen.

And denial. Lots of good old fashioned, healthy denial.

"Cool green grass, cool green grass..."

Anonymous said...

buck up. i need your blogs to help cheer me up. if not, my suicide is on YOUR hands mister.

biobro said...

Hmmmmm. Genetically we share a link, but the wanderlust I did not inherit. Although you having it makes my life a bit more exciting, vicariously! I think you touch on a good point that we ALL face, if to different degrees, that happiness in life may not be becoming a different person (slimmer, smarter, better job) but in fact enjoying who we have always been. Easy to say, hard to do. The challenge of entertaining oneself is never ending, thus exploring new ways to fill your mind and spirit is a life's work. New cities, jobs, diets, PDAs, clothes, shoes, TVs, cars ect. only temporarially relieve boredom, only for the same feelings to return. Good luck on your quest! BTW deep thoughts: not a bad thing on the blog! :)