A handsome German philosophy professor reminded me recently that “Europeans work so that we can live. Americans live to work.” I reminded him that Americans were the reason the Allies won the war and I patted him on the shoulder.
It’s true, though. I’m up here in Door County and though I’ve had a string of hours here and there of feeling a world away from responsibility and labor, I come back from this world and feel anxious I was away so long. This is not a quality I admire in myself. Writer Annie Dillard once said, “How you spend your days is how you spend your life.” Consider that: How you spend your days is how you spend your life.
I spend my days working toward some sort of floating cloud of satisfaction. Here are three accomplishments that didn’t satisfy me enough to say, “I got to the cloud and I’m good.”
1. Going to the senior prom with a popular guy
Jed, you basically made senior year for me and it’s okay you didn’t kiss me. You were really tall, so maybe that’s why. You could’ve hurt your back. It’s cool.
2. Graduating from college
I was even valedictorian of my department, which just gave me bragging rights and excruciating pressure to give a good speech at commencement. I didn’t knock it out of the park, but it’s cool.
3. Making Quilty the show and being editor of Quilty magazine.
I left the magazine and it closed, but it’s cool.
There are many more examples. The worst part is that doctors, the media, our grandmothers, our German philosophy professors, they all tell us that stress is bad and that we should relax, take time off. I am getting better at this; the road trip this summer was good for me, very good. But the pressure to relax is twisted.
Here at thirty-six years old, I have discovered that one slice of relaxation and non-work — just one slice — per day is possible. Tea in the morning with no computer. Eating lunch at the table or on the couch in silence: no radio, TV, or Internet allowed. Taking a walk with a German philosophy professor. This way, I can say that how I spend my days is how I spend my life: busy, but with breaks.