The Proper Binge

“Life itself is the proper binge.” ~ Julia Child

In my life, I’ve never read truer words. I know they apply even to those who don’t want to admit to harboring that very same feeling now and then. You know who you are. Life is the ultimate challenge, and if we don’t meet the challenge every day, we fail as humans. What sets us apart from one another is how we meet each challenge, and that’s what makes life interesting, frustrating, satisfying, and inspiring.

In the last two years, I’ve held a self-enviable position wherein I don’t have to get up to go somewhere else to make a living. I can work in the comfort of my home, in my jammies, drinking a Bloody Mary for lunch as I work if I so choose. This is a life I worked long and hard to achieve via too many years juggling up to six jobs, and it makes me happy. My income is nowhere near what it used to be (the 90s were the last decade I suppose I could qualify for having the almighty ‘disposable income’), but I’m not concerned about money in the same manner that I used to be. Sure, I believe I should be paid in a proper and timely manner for the work I’ve done, and no, I can’t travel at will or do everything I’d like to, but I’m not complaining. There are trade-offs, and being able to read, write, go to my favorite wine bar at will, attend the 9:45 pm screening of a film, or spend a week at the beach with friends is far more interesting to me than fretting over methods of paying for something that I can’t afford. I do just fine, and as long as I find my own life interesting, two points for me.

What I find frustrating or disappointing is when someone boosts their own worth by playing “one-up” or refusing to understand that people may be happy for them but not impressed by their constant show-and-tell life. Hear me now: It’s mind-numbing to listen to a person’s constant calendar of spectacular events, expensive purchase list, and been-there-done-that while being lectured that something you’re doing or interested in is wrong, strange, or nothing that could possibly appeal to them. Now hear this: We’re all different. Let’s get over ourselves, enjoy our differences, and move forward. Personally, I find great satisfaction in not being trapped by a world dictated by age, financial status, interests, or surroundings.

Satisfaction comes in many forms, often whooshing past us without settling down to be savored. How do we recognize it? That’s tricky. We can start by keeping ourselves open to the possibility of satisfaction rather than assuming satisfaction can’t be achieved. Here’s a simple case in point: When Netflix released the entire first season of House of Cards, my first inclination was to watch all 13 episodes at once. And why not? I could do that, and nothing – not commercials, not the producers, not the world – could stop me. (All right, Time Warner Cable could have stopped me by engaging in one of their freak internet outages, but let’s just say I wasn’t even thinking of that.) However, when I realized just how seductive and inviting that web of political backstabbing and manipulation actually was (much in the way West Wing requires a seven-season re-visitation now and then), I pulled back and allowed myself space between the episodes. To me, that was wholly satisfying because my enjoyment lasted far longer than if I had binge-watched and never savored the anticipation.

Like satisfaction, inspiration can be found where we least expect it. Of course, inspiration means different things to different people. It can be in the arts, in science, in medicine, in teaching, in anything a person undertakes. Each time I finish reading a well-written book, I’m inspired to write harder and more mindfully of the string of words I’m connecting. When I see a painting that captures my attention, I’m inspired to look deeper into whatever it represents. People who are selfless inspire me to be a better person, and the universe knows that there can never be enough selfless humans. Recently, a friend told me of a project some students at DePaul University had undertaken, fashioning those destructive, ubiquitous plastic bags into layers of warmth and protection for the homeless. How inspiring this is! A handful of today’s youth (probably burdened to their foreheads by student loans) is attempting to ameliorate the world by tackling two issues at once without great fanfare or recognition: reducing the impact of these bags on our environment while contributing to the welfare of our neediest citizens. I give them a standing ovation.

Go ahead. Evaluate what makes you tick, then binge on life with care and respect.

(7/20/2013) UPDATE:  The group of intrepid DePaulers who were mentioned above are plarn-ing (plastic yarn), and they can be found on Facebook here:

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