For several months now I’ve taken a step back and tried to ask myself what matters most to me in my life. When I pare away everything that doesn’t matter, the answer is dangerously close to nothing at all.
This is influenced by a number of factors. Being a gay man I don’t follow traditional life paths. I don’t have a wife and kids to worry about so I can focus on myself, but I have to take responsibility for choosing what gives me a sense of purpose instead of letting nature do it for me. Also I just turned 35. Gay men, on average, live shorter lives than everyone else, so I’m probably halfway to my dirt nap, if not further along. If I don’t ask this question now, when?
Examining the last three years, being honest with myself I’ve only gotten deep, lasting pleasure from two sources: reading and long walks. When I tire of the former, I do the latter, and both are practically free. I actually really like my job, but I’ve decided to cut my hours to 8 days a month so I can tackle a long reading list.
Maybe that sounds a little crazy, certainly unorthodox, but I’ve built up enough savings that I could live off of it for 3-4 years as it is, but I have no debts and those 8 days will prevent me from having to dip into it. This accumulation of savings isn’t because I denied myself things, but because I didn’t want anything. This goes back to what I was saying about paring things away. I live cheaply and see consumerism as a trap. Whether it’s because of depression, apathy, or just who I am, I don’t care about most of what society is offering. I eat cheap but healthy. I don’t take trips because I’ve discovered that it’s true “wherever you go, there you are.” I buy everything used that I can. I workout at home. I drive about 15 miles a week in an old, paid-for car. I don’t go to the movies, watch TV, smoke, drink or do drugs. I have a $15/month cell phone. I might eat out a few times a year. I rarely desire sex and although I get offers (not bragging, but in the gay world it’s easily attained) in the last two years I’ve had sex maybe three times.
I spend almost all of my free time reading public domain or pirated ebooks. Boring? Well, in a Thoreau-like fashion, after “paring away” all all the other crap that life is supposed to be centered around, this is what I’ve found that I get real consistent pleasure from. Regardless how long I do it, doesn’t feel like a waste of time. I can watch TV for about five minutes, listen to music for a couple of hours and watch maybe two classic films in a row before I start asking myself what I’m doing with my life. I’ve only got myself to care about, if I want to spend 2/3rds of my month reading and wandering around, who’s harmed?
Contradictorily the most powerful feeling I’ve experienced in this whole self-examination is finally not giving a shit, which comes from the realization that, in any ultimate sense, life is meaningless. It doesn’t matter what anyone does. As some people believe religion, I believe with all of my heart that we are lucky collections of matter given temporary animation through various bio-chemical processes which will decay and return to the earth and be forgotten forever. It’s one thing have a nagging suspicion this is true, but _embracing_ the meaninglessness is another. For me it is a relief, life is now wide open. Life is worth living and life can be wonderful, but we start out with too many illusions about what life is supposed to be. I find this is where much of my depression came from; pointing myself in the wrong direction for finding purpose and turning up empty. Most people are too busy to even know where to start in this process, they’re happier with ready answers given either by society or positive-minded life-coaches. They barely know what to do with a 3-day weekend, much less 10 days off at a stretch as I’ve had for the past couple months.
Speaking of comparing oneself with others, I’ve come to believe we should be just as thankful for “non-experiences” as we are for lived experiences. I think less about what I want to do, and I am grateful for the things I haven’t done; a job I hate, sitting in traffic for two hours a day and dealing with road rage so I can sit in a cubicle and answer to a boss I hate.
Then there are things that I am guaranteed to never have to deal with, ever; screaming kids, a materialist wife, paying for daycare and diapers, a second job to pay child support, a divorce that takes half of my assets and ruins my life. Regardless what else happens, none of that, _ever_ gonna happen. I’m thankful that I’m happy and content with far less than most people. That is a gift, wanting less. I’m grateful for my sexuality which I see as a gift too that kept me out of many of the traps of society which are laid for the average man. Nor have I known the pressures of living a certain type of lifestyle, since it was never an option to begin with.
When I’m still up in the early morning (being on a nightshift schedule) and it’s 30° outside and I hear people driving to work, clutching their frozen steering wheels, people who had to get up at 5am to feed the kids breakfast, I don’t feel I’ve missed out on a thing. I touch up the spaceheater a notch in my little office and continue reading, speculate when it will be warm enough that I might go for a pleasant walk. When I’m out and about and see a mom with screaming kids, I’m able to go about my business and I’ll probably never see them again. Part of this is just dumb luck, and I am thankful for that too. So I think we should be just as grateful for non-experiences as you are for experiences.
Looking at it this way I think I’m “living the dream,” not in the future, but right now. The ever-elusive “American Dream” is something we’re told to work our entirely lives to hopefully achieve when we’re too old to enjoy it. Being humble as I am, I’m living it already. Only having to work 8 days a month at a job you like? That sounds so alien to most people they couldn’t understand it. Sure I could work and save more money this year, but it’s a year I’ll never get back. I’m comfortable, I’m doing OK. Money you can make back, time you can’t.
I don’t want to be that guy in The Twilight Zone episode who finally has time to read everything he wants after the world ends, but he breaks his glasses and can’t read a single word. No more putting things off, no more “dreams,” a dream is something you never get around to doing.