Thursday, March 14, 2013

How Do You Make Today and Every Day the Best Day Possible?

Dylan: "So where did you call home before you came here?

Chelsea: "Everywhere and nowhere."

-- Dylan and Chelsea's pre-foreplay getting-to-know-you bar banter on The Young and the Restless

"Yesterday is but a dream. Tomorrow is only a vision. But today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope." -- from the Bhagavad Gita, as quoted by Yogi Hari during Victor and Nikki's faux wedding on The Young and the Restless

More words to live by -- and relate to -- on daytime soaps, this time on the March 14 episode of The Young and the Restless, the one in which Jack also promised Phyllis a weekend trip to Istanbul, the subject of a freelance travel essay I turned in last week and a place I've been dreaming of returning to since I began working on the piece. I was in Istanbul exactly three years before today, and I've been living in that other place -- everywhere and nowhere -- since I left Buenos Aires two years and two weeks ago. Hopefully, wherever I end up next, I'll get to use that line on a guy as hot as Steve Burton (Y&R's Dylan) before ripping his shirt off. That would be a day well lived.

Which brings me back to the wedding quote, which resonated even more powerfully with me than anything Dylan and Chelsea or Jack and Phyllis said. That's partly because I spent an entire semester in college studying the Bhagavad Gita and partly because I've been trying ever since then -- most earnestly over the course of the last six and a half years or so, since leaving New York City -- to reach that higher state of consciousness.

I'm not completely sure what constitutes a day well lived, but a day in which one doesn't have to go to a job one hates, a day in which one doesn't have to talk to people one doesn't find the least bit interesting, and a day in which one doesn't have to indulge in a string of activities to fill up time -- that would be an excellent start.

But in a Western world in which our lives are defined by our full-time jobs as are we, it's impossible for many to grasp how a person can be perfectly content without one. I rarely have a conversation with anyone I haven't seen in ages where I'm not questioned about the quality of my life without a regular 9-to-5 gig: How do you do it? Why do you do it?

I rarely have an answer to either of those questions -- in general, I just do it -- nor do they for the ones I sometimes fire back at them: If you didn't have a job, what would you do with your time? If you didn't have to work, would you still get up early every weekday morning to go to an office? It's incredible to me that most of the people I know either have jobs they hate or jobs they never look forward to going back to on Monday morning, yet they cling to them for reasons that have nothing to do with financial survival. Their jobs are who they are. Their jobs define their lives.

I can't say I'm above that way of thinking, even without the 9-to-5 gig. People see me as a man, or as a black man, or as a gay black man. I see myself, first and foremost, as a journalist and a writer. It's what I do. It's who I am. The big difference: It may define me (if I'm the one doing the defining), but it doesn't define my life, which I suppose is one benefit of not having to do it in an organized setting. (The other would be that I'm probably better at it now than I was when I was compelled to do it in a specific time and place. I certainly spend more hours doing it now -- these blog posts don't write themselves, you know -- almost all of them happily!)

For those without the luxury of not having to go to an office five days a week or more, what if every day were like Sunday? Well, maybe Sunday -- described by Morrissey in his college-rock classic "Every Day Is Like Sunday" as "tired and grey" -- isn't the best example. After all, so many people in the 9-to-5 Monday-through-Friday work force spend Sunday dreading Monday.

What if every day were like Saturday? What would they do then? I suspect few would be able to answer. So many clockwatchers spend all week looking forward to Saturday, yet they probably can't imagine a world where every day is like Saturday.

Is it because they all take the cliche "no pain, no gain" too seriously? Is gaining a Saturday only truly enjoyable if you've endured the pain of a Monday-Friday work week? It can sort of understand why, for some, that might be so. When one is free to be wherever one wants to be, do whatever one wants to do, do it with whomever one wants to do it with, every day of the week, it's easy for one to begin to take that freedom for granted. It's like the person who has too much money who eventually becomes conditioned not to see the value in anything.

Having interests and passions that don't necessarily involve another person helps, but there's also so much value in stillness. Unfortunately, we're conditioned to believe that life is better when it's constantly filled with activities. I see so many Facebook status updates where people are thankful for a rainy day because it gives them a good excuse to stay in and do nothing. Why do they need an excuse? Probably because that's how they were raised, that's how they were taught to be. "Idle hands are the devil's workshop" goes the old saying that we hear over and over in our youth and then recite as adults. Boredom is bad and busy is good, as if busy is never boring, and not being busy has to mean being bored. As Pet Shop Boys might say, being bored is just being boring.

Once in third grade, I was sent to time out by my teacher, Mrs. Pepper, because I had finished all of my work early and was sitting quietly at my desk. My crime (in her words): "sitting in my desk doing nothing." She underlined the last part for extra emphasis. No wonder so many of us grow up thinking that a day well lived has to be filled with verbs. Thank God, I've outgrown that.

I can't say I'm not above taking my own options-filled life for granted, though. I'm only human. I'm pretty sure that one day when I re-enter the full-time 9-to-5 work force, I will look back on my current situation and ask myself, "Why wasn't I more grateful when life was sweet?" I probably won't even recall all of those banal questions I fielded from friends and strangers back then -- "What do you do with your day?" Don't you ever get bored?" "Are you here because of a guy?" (because once you've finished uni and are out in the real world, the only reasons outside of family and friends to be based anywhere are a job or a man) -- with such eye-rolling disdain.

I'll probably sit at my desk, look out the window and long for the days when I had nothing to do (other than write, read, run, eat delicious meals, burn them off at the gym, listen to music, watch movies and TV, travel, enjoy the silence and the solitude, see the people I wanted to see when I wanted to see them, and engage in charity work, which, shamefully, is still on my to-do list) and all day to do it in. I'll no doubt miss the good old days when I wasn't always a slave to deadlines, when I could spend 30 minutes or more analyzing a single sentence, sometimes agonizing over it, and the time would fly by. That might sound boring as hell to some (to most), but it never is to me.

Perhaps that awareness, not in hindsight but beforehand, is the key to a day well lived -- a day we enjoy to the fullest by doing nothing, doing everything that we actually want to do, or finding moments of joy in doing things we don't want to do. A day well lived is, above all things, one we recognize as being well lived while we're living it.
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