Getting Philosophical as a Birthday Looms

Not too long ago, I learned of the Buddhist exercise that is tantamount to writing your eulogy for the life you hope you will have led.

I hadn’t given the idea that much thought until the recent days.

See, the thing about legacies is, they don’t just happen. They take years — often, decades — to carve out. Who we are, who we were, isn’t just some momentary snapshot — it’s a grainy 8mm movie that never stops playing.

Every day we have opportunity to contribute more to  our lives. Every day is another stroke on the canvas of our legacy, another swath of colour or texture that contributes to the work of art that is our life.

These days, I’m caught in a nasty swirlie of knowing the choices I need to make in order to realize the legacy I want to leave behind. Books don’t write themselves, words don’t land on your screen like fruitflies in your wineglass. Isolation is needed. Sometimes that isolation turns into hours spent writing, sometimes it’s a wasted opportunity. Much like life.

And I don’t like that I need to make those choices. I don’t like that I somehow lost my whole social summer because I couldn’t balance what I had going on and incorporate socializing into it as well. It pisses me off that I can’t manage to be more social yet accomplish everything I want to accomplish. I’m angry that I have to be torn between these things.

Yes, I like my alone times. But I also enjoy having my cake and eating it too. I’m a greedy sensualist; not only do I want it all, but I can taste it all in anticipation.

But I can’t do it all. Not anymore. Choices have to be made, or I’m spread far too thin. Girl can’t be everything to all people, and often barely can be enough for herself. Shouldn’t I have more energy than I do? But I guess my days and weeks are as heady and hard as they sometimes feel. Life feels like an unending obligation, sometimes.

It just can’t remain this way, not indefinitely. I need to find it in me to do the work that needs doing. Most of that means just finding time.

I’ll be undertaking a drastic schedule change this week, as I start early-morning shifts that will leave me free after 3pm a few times a week. It’s all in the guise of attempting to manage my time better.

Time management.” It’s the laughable modern Holy Grail. A myth. Everything is geared toward it now. “30-minute meals”, smart phones, fast food, TiVo — everything is supposed to help contribute to “convenience” in our lives. Instead, we all get busier, busier, and busier, and life slips away ever faster. None of us gets done in a day what needs to be done. Why? Because a world of distraction was built around us, obligations layered upon obligations.

Last year I read a fantastic novella by the much under-appreciated British writer Jim Crace, A Gift of Stones, about life at the end of the Stone Age. What did people do then? They caught and raised their food, prepared it, they practiced their livelihood, and they talked to people around them. That was the human condition, that’s all there was. They all had the same obligations every day: Sustain thyselves, sustain thy livelihood, know thy fellow man.

A part of me longs for that. An old rickety home in the country filled with lush comfortable belongings, where I spend my nights writing, listening to the wind playing tricks with trees and dogs yapping in the distance. A place where life can stand still and one day bleeds into the next, where lazy mornings aren’t filled with a feeling of torn lack and longing, where the urban world doesn’t speed at me day in and day out.

I like my sheltered life sometimes, but because of my ADD tendencies and my proximity to Just About Everything In The City, I’m constantly left feeling torn, like so much is happening that I’m missing out on — movies and concerts and coffeeshops. “What am I missing tonight?” is something I’ll often find myself wondering on writing nights.

Yet I’ll have these phases where I experience so much, am out so often, that I get burnt out and long for the quietude of my little home again.

Then along comes some conversation where I’m enlightened about the Buddhist eulogy-of-a-life-lived exercise, the questions rear up and I find myself wondering how unsatisfied I’ll be with myself and the life lived if this — quiet mornings, wind whipping through my apartment, typing in my bare feet, as the last days of summer slip away — represents the status quo for too much of that life.

Balance is always the conundrum. How does one find it? Does one ever? For me, I probably never will. I’ll always feel torn by the duality of who I am — good with people but ultimately comfortable being left in solitary thought, too.

I suppose it’s ultimately like chocolate and a diet. Cutting back is essential to your success, but enjoying it is essential to your soul. Never exclude anything entirely, and never overdose on it, either. Too much all the time means you never appreciate it when you have it; you take it for granted. But occasionally enjoying it, when it’s quality over quantity, fills the soul a little and makes the lonely hours in wait that much more worthwhile.

How much will others contribute to the life I will have lived? How much will I let them in, over the years to come? How much will I give to them, be with them, and appreciate them? And vice versa?

I turn 36 this week. If statistics are to believed, my life isn’t even half-over. Yet I’m in that week-before-my-birthday midlife crisis that always come my way. So few of us lead the lives we’ve imagined for ourselves, but is it a life we’re happy to be living?

My complaints are small, typical, and nothing worth breaking a dream over. I used to say I had no regrets, but the older I get, the more the small and infrequent regrets seem to snowball and crash into the reality of my life. Sure, I have regrets. I have a lot of the regrets had by many people who get stuck on the financial tightrope of lower-middleclass life. I wish I could travel more. I wish I could dine out more. I wish I could know what a real spending spree felt like. Most of my regrets have dollar-signs attached, which is to say, they’re regrets that won’t break my heart anytime soon.

I commented to a friend once that I’d love to have the trappings of success, but could never live in the trap of success.

The truth is, when I do look back at the choices I’ve made — the ones that have left me happier in my off-hours and more broke because I’ve chosen a low-paying low-stress low-demand job, so I can enjoy my day-to-day, despite the ways it causes me to cut back and miss out on the perceived things we’re supposed to live for, well… I’m pretty comfortable living with those regrets.

We all pay prices for the choices we make. At least I know, and can live with, the prices I’ve paid.

Because, if nothing else, at this point in my unorthodox life, I really have managed to do it my way. Broke, not far from home, but my way. And if I can pull a Sinatra and make that claim when I’m in my 80s and gumming my food, then all the regrets in the world won’t mean fuck all against the quiet satisfaction I’ll feel if I go to my grave singing Frank’s brassy classic under my last raspy breaths.

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