Monday, May 17, 2010

Have my cake & eat it, too.

After (hilariously) making yet another list of books last week here on the blog, I dove in. It was like I suddenly gave myself permission to eat dessert first.

I’m not good at that. I come from a family of good Christian Midwestern farmers of mostly Danish stock. What that adds up to is the idea that life is toil and hardship – you work very hard and maybe at the end of the day if you have any energy left, you can do something you enjoy… although even if you do, you never have idle hands! Honestly, it’s slightly psychotic, or rather masochistic. Or a bit of both.

Ingrained in my brain is the story of how my grandfather said he became a success. It was the hour before dawn and hour after dusk that he worked in the fields when everyone else was sleeping or being with family when he made his money. The rest of the time was what barely allowed them to scrape by. And he did become a success, owning several farms, apartment complexes, and more. In fact, the people at the apartments thought he was the janitor because even into his seventies he’d always be the one to do all the work when things went wrong. That’s how I remember him… with that giant ring of keys, which weighed about as much as I did back then, in work gear heading out to one or the other of his sites again.

So when I was in college, I decided to study art. But my parents made it clear I needed an “academic” major as well. I obediently obliged them. The thing is, I would end up spending all my time on classes that were tedious rather than investing some of that time in my major classes because, well, I loved doing art. Classes I would have aced I struggled with at times as a result. And now I deeply regret not taking full advantage of the facilities the art department had because once I graduated (and had the time) I no longer had access.

This disposition carried over into my finding a job/career. I’d pursue things I was interested in, but never anything that brought me bliss. Mustn’t enjoy what I do, not deep down. That was somehow wrong. So my varied professions gave me great and diverse experiences (oh my goodness – the stories!), but not real joy. There was no true satisfaction that what I was doing was something to which I felt any sort of “calling.” Therefore, I’d work extremely hard, get very good at it, then get bored. There was no passion behind it. So I moved on.

This mentality I was brought up in (toil and suffering first, pleasure last), instead of helping me progress has held me back. Not just from reading the books I’m most looking forward to, but from doing the things I’m most passionate about. From living a joy-filled, complete life.

It’s a hard thing to break out of. Truly. I’ve known about this for quite a few years, and have attempted to extricate myself from it. But it’s so pervasive in all areas of my life. Obviously it’s worth the effort. And, too, this extreme pairing down I’m doing with my “stuff” invades my being enough that I’m stripping down and purging some of the non-productive internal processes and ways of thinking and being as well. But I do wish I could simply relax and enjoy without feeling antsy, guilty, or frustrated.

When it comes to the books I have, the permission I gave myself was to read exactly what I want… not to feel the need to have read books I feel are “important” but for which I know I will honestly hate reading. Those classics that show only the depravity of life, for instance, really needn’t be read – not by me. I, quite obviously, understand the hardships life can bring; the difficulties from which some souls never climb out. I chose to dwell on and read about those who perhaps struggle, but who find a level of grace they never expected.

In that revolutionary act of permission-giving, I find I again desire to read some of the books that felt rather obligatory only days before. Perhaps in the same way when I break out of this “toil” mentality, I can find a deep joy in the very things that wore on my soul previously. I hope so. I love dessert.

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