I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to get suspicious of all these gentle, thoughtful, and compelling essays about how the good-enough life is a good-enough one to aim for — that greatness is a misleading concept, and that living an ordinary life, a “medium chill” life, a totally regular, totally pleasant life in which one is a decent person, with a nice family, some good values, a few nice friends, and a nice job, is the kind of thing we should all be striving for.
I mean I get it and it’s true, probably, but doesn’t it seem a little fishy that these pieces of advice are arriving in the mouths of people swinging for their own fences? Striving for their own greatness? Perhaps???
In an essay today for the New York Times that also won an award from the Brooklyn Public Library, Avram Alpert (a Princeton writing teacher with a forthcoming book who is also at work on a screenplay) writes of the “good-enough” life and the long history of rewarding ordinariness that humans have found over the span of recorded history. The Buddhists, the Romantics, everyone enjoyed being fine and not especially special. Okay, sure.
The between-the-lines message SEEMS to be that mediocre “success” is what we readers should all be aiming for, while I, the author, sort of, kind of shrug that off and go for broke! (In addition to being a writer, lecturer, and playwright, Alpert also edits a magazine and co-directs an art and theory program. He is also apparently at work on three other books. He’s also a year younger than I am, which is painful.) I don’t begrudge anyone the desire to go for broke, and I admire it, even as I can’t tell how much I am myself joking here, but I just wanted to say that I will no longer be convinced by these truly calming and moving essays advocating for ordinariness, good-enoughness, and achievable success.
I will not rest until I have ruined my life striving for fame. Well, that is a joke, sort of, but at the same time, doesn’t everyone want to tear at the edges of things? To see how far we can go, how far we can push, before being knocked back? Who just stops in the middle on their own?
It is especially fishy that some of these chillness advocates have gone on to seemingly abandon the concepts in their own lives. David Roberts, of “medium chill” fame (the Grist essay celebrating a calmer, middle-of-the-road life), now tweets fairly constantly and writes for Vox after professing to “step off the ‘aspirational treadmill’ and accept some material constraints in exchange for lives with more free time, relationships, and experiences.” For instance. He is also a good writer.
Anyway, I call bullshit on all of this. We are all striving and scrounging until our fingers bleed, and it’s fun.