Things are really good for me right now. I recently moved into a wonderful little house and have a decent job as a copywriter, a partner whom I love, and two happy, healthy dogs. After work, I play soccer, I paint or crochet, walk the dogs, water the plants, and read. On the weekends, I have fun: see friends and family, drink, travel.
But I just can’t shake the notion that I will wake up one day and be 80 years old and feel like I’ve wasted my life.
Every week I feel like I’m waiting for the weekend, and every weekend I’m anxious about the monotony of the upcoming week. It feels like an unbearably average life. I’m doing what I want to be doing, but everything is so leveled out that sometimes I want to scream. I crave stories and adventure. Do I buy a van and travel the country? Should I move to Argentina? Shave my head? Break my own arm? I’m so happy, but I have a constant urge to wreck my life.
How do I break free — or how do I learn to be content with being content?
Hey there, UA!
First of all, I’m not sure what about having a stable job and living in a house is “normal.” That sounds incredibly exotic to me. Accounting for inflation and the fact that the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse are presently doing doughnuts on humanity, you’re living an alternative lifestyle. What will you do next? Plant a garden? Dig a pond in your backyard? Fire up the grill?
In all sincerity, before you show up to Argentina bald with a broken arm, I think we should discuss the relative nature of excitement. Regardless of how we spend our time, our minds settle back down to a baseline. My abuelo might look at my life and see “the Joker, but gay,” while your average Gen-Z Brooklynite who parties every night and pumps out viral TikToks might see me as a twee watercolor shrew living in a mushroom.
Be we daredevils or bureaucrats, we have a way of constructing our own normal and then sticking pretty close to it. If we didn’t do this, we’d live each day entirely unhinged, which sounds cool at first but is more like riding a roller coaster without a seat belt. I’ve been on that ride a few times, and it’s not fun. It’s actually pretty dangerous!
As you’ve noticed, there are times when our regular state of affairs starts to feel smothering, when we dream up all the possible realities we could be inhabiting and think, Did I choose wrong? This is bound to happen no matter which path we travel down. I’m writing to you now, for example, from an apartment I’ve been away from for over a month due to a book tour, work obligations, and an unexpected romance. When I got back to New York, I thought, Wouldn’t it be nice to be in one city with one job, one bar, and one gym — possibly forever?
Those with stability seem to crave flexibility; those with flexibility seem to crave stability.
It would seem that just as we are hardwired to build a “normal,” so too are we hardwired to entertain the destruction of that “normal.” As with any urge, the key is not to neglect it entirely but to manage our responses. You don’t need to blow the whole thing up, UA. You just need a pressure valve.
One of my favorite parts of returning from a long adventure is walking down a familiar sidewalk with its familiar trees on my way to my regular coffee shop and appreciating anew the sturdy pillars of my daily, regular life. We come to appreciate our normalcy when we dabble in newness, and newness is something we seek out when we start to feel complacent in our regularity. One contrasting the other is what makes each of them special or dear to us, like night and day. This feeling of gratitude, I find, can be achieved through travel, or trying something new, or swimming in foreign emotional waters.
So what I want you to do is get a notebook or sheet of printing paper and write some things down. Ask yourself, What are some things, within reason, I’d be excited to do? What are some things I’m afraid to do? What is a place I’d regret never seeing? What is a skill I’ve always wanted to learn?
Once you’re done, tuck it away somewhere, live your life, and return to it in a week or two. What, on that list, calls to you the most? Can you make it happen?
This is the method that pushed me into my first cooking class, and now I can make pretty good enchiladas. Lovely things can happen when we water ourselves, UA. Next on my list of wild, exciting things I’d like to try one day is homeownership. Maybe you can tell me what that’s like.
Con mucho amor,
Originally published on August 9, 2022.
This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Purchase JP Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons here.