Okay, I’ll just say it: our lives can be tedious, soul-sucking affairs.
Of course, we are not supposed to say that. We are First-Worlders. We have jobs. We have, if we’re lucky, people who love us, and who we like to be around. Many of us have health insurance and some kind of pension and we might even have a little money in the bank. This is the life we are supposed to want as Americans (and Britons and French etc…) and we are told it is the standard that the world wishes to work towards.
Even though I’ve been around the sun quite a few times, I’m new to what we call the so-called ’normal’ life. I didn’t have a real job until I was over 40. I spent the time before that pursuing (and attaining) life as an actor and writer, something I had wanted to the exclusion of everything else since I can remember wanting anything.
I achieved it. I never had fame but it was also not something I pursued. I worked doing anything they would pay actors to do: commercials, voice-overs, stage plays, trade shows. I also wrote things for myself to perform that turned into plays that got work-shopped and (some of them) produced. I wrote reviews of plays, I wrote prose (unpublished) and poetry (published, but I’ll not tell where).
Why leave that life, you ask? Good question, not simply answered. Basically, that life (with very few exceptions) is not set up to support the Normal Life mentioned above. I was an artist when I found someone I wanted to marry— not wanting marriage before that— and continued that life for many years. When my wife became pregnant, it became clear that steady income was required.
This is not true for everyone. I know many people who continue to be in the arts and have a family, and though at times difficult, they often find a way to make it work. I, personally, could not. It was not a choice; I simply couldn’t get up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror with the knowledge that I didn’t do my best to guarantee that I could feed my family. I blame my parents.
I had taught myself computers and found work doing tech support. A regular job with benefits. We moved somewhere with Good Schools. Bought A House. All of the things we are supposed to want, and should strive to do. No horror stories here; it was all, for the most part, really really good. Not storybook good; good with a healthy dose of real life— unexpected deaths, injuries, depression, tough time for the country, etc. But every time I think about my son— a teenager now— I do not view anything I had to do to get this amazing human out into the world as a waste of time. Not for a second.
So, what about the tedium and the soul-sucking, you ask.
To me, it’s fairly obvious. The trade-off for ‘steady’ and knowable income involves a certain amount of sameness. We are even allowed, culturally, to hate working. It’s WORK. There is tedium, there is boredom, there is sameness, there is constant exposure to the things we don’t like about other humans. This is part and parcel of what we are supposed to pursue. Those Jobs People Love are the exception, and it would be hard to imagine a world set up any differently. Absolutely Loving Your Job All The Time is a romantic fantasy along the lines of I Always Have Nothing But Love for My Partner. In the real world, that is a goal that will only produce disappointment.
Maybe it’s my outsiders view on how the whole ‘Normal Life’ thing is supposed to play out. It is presented thusly: we are supposed to get jobs, work hard, support our families, save our dough. When we are older and children are out on their own, we are then allowed a measure of carefully regulated freedom involving a large recreational vehicle or a cruise ship; there may be a fishing pole or a few glasses of nice wine.
I am not the first person to think that the above can feel like less like retirement and more like just waiting around to die. It seems like the economy and much of the populace in general is starting to come around to that idea.
We are now in a world where many people will not get to retire; they must keep working to keep their health care, to keep supporting their children or their grandchildren. There are people who do not wish to retire.
That older model is also built upon the idea that one’s body starts to fall apart as one closes in on age 50, and it’s a precipitous drop from then on. While there may be some truth to that, the current culture seems to have embraced fighting that downward slide, making an active lifestyle as an older person not such a rarity.
What I have found, though, is that, for whatever reason, there are people like me who don’t want to wait until they are older and crankier to see the world. I’m in my 50’s and my knees are shot now. I’m going to walk on Icelandic glaciers in 15 years?? I don’t think so.
I want to travel now. I want to see things that I may never get to see again. Like many people, I have friends who have received the call from a doctor and were dead in less than a year; healthy, life-loving people, hit by cancer or a car.
How to do this, though? I don’t make a lot of money. I needed to figure out how to travel and satisfy those urges while I still remembered everyones birthday.
So, I did. I solved it. I travel now, and I work, and I’m not retired.
This is going to tell you what I learned, and how to do it.