August 11, 2006

Competition

The other day I checked my email and was delighted to see a message from my best friend from high school. I signed up for one of those 'reconnect with old friends' websites, mostly because I saw her listed and have wondered for years what happened to her. I went off to college and other bad ideas and she sort of disappeared off the radar, which is not surprising considering she married young and started a family. She then divorced young and married again, this time for longevity, and continued the family. It happens in small towns more often than not. The local beauty queen marries a local hero, they settle down after racing to become parents and then a few years into it realize what a mistake it was for them. Fine. Like I haven't made some whoppers of my own? Please. (family is requested to stay resolutely silent on this point)

Anyway, I wrote to Jennifer to say hello and see if she was interested in re-connecting, gave her a quick synopsis of my life (still alive, have job, live here, unmarried) and then I waited. And waited. And then gave up. Until the other day when I check my email and saw in the junk folder a curious address that I was sure was spam (Viagra anyone? Rolex? Weight loss?) but for some nagging reason I couldn't bring myself to delete it unopened. I'm thrilled the gut instinct didn't lie for once, it was from her.

She started things off by saying that she didn't want to write because how could she compete with my life, glamorous as it is. Not the first time I've come across this reaction. How can I compete? And I recognize that sentiment. I used to have it myself before I moved across the ocean and discovered that life is just the same anywhere you live.

My glamorous life. That's such a laugh. In fact, my mother did just that when I told her. Friday night over the phone, as I cleaned the kitchen cabinets out and threw away all the expired food. How glam is that! Friday night and I'm home talking to my mother and satisfying a deep rooted need to throw stuff away and make room for the coffee mugs. That's the life I envisioned alright. I bet Natalie Portman does the same thing.

I do have to admit, I had hoped my life would take on more sophisticated dimensions when I landed, jetting off somewhere new every weekend, champagne at the opera, discussing the finer points of the newest art exhibition, etc... But so far, the only things that have changed are the amount of vacation I take, finally getting rid of my car, and spending time in pubs. And I write this blog. Other than that? Status quo. I still hit the grocery once a week. I still miss trash day. I come home from work and watch TV. (that's a bit new) I don't call my family enough. I still suck at Italian but persevere. I spend too much time in book store and coffee shops. I still dream of living in Italy.

Being single at this age brings a lot of alone-ness. All the friends have slowly gotten married and parent-ed over the years, requiring me to find new friends to spend time with. I read and watch movies because watching other people's lives is better than realizing that the only people you’ve spoken to over the long holiday weekend are the guys that sell you your cigarettes and late night fish + chips. Which is why hobbies are so important. I travel. A lot. That's my hobby. And it's an indulgent one at that, so I'm willing to concede it is the glamorous part of my life. But I have nothing to show for it really. Some photos, some knick-knacks. I usually travel alone, so I'm the only one that remembers that funny Russian waiter or the way the blood red sun set over the Tuscan hills the last time I was there. I clean my kitchen on Friday nights because I've nothing better to do.

When I’m 90 and in a nursing home, Jennifer's kids and grandkids will visit and they’ll relive stories of their collective lives. I’ll be talking to the people who are doing community service and watching the clock.

Where is the competition in that?

4 comments:

jules said...

WELL NOW I'M DEPRESSED.

nicole said...

Me too...or I would be, if I didn't know how much you really do like your life. Well, actually, I don't know that for sure since I really don't know you very well. BUT, I do know from your writing, you are an optimist and you are not afraid to try new things or stick to what you believe in and I think your life might have a little glamour in it - 'the blood red sun set over the Tuscan hills' is most likely something I will never type, let alone see.

I don't believe a woman needs a man to define or complete her in any way, BUT (again) it is a little more difficult to get the kids without the man. The whole focus on the nuclear family is a flaw in our culture, I believe, for this reason; you should also have many kids (nieces, friends, second cousins) visiting you in the nursing home and god willing you will, BUT(once more with feeling) you might have to move back stateside.

I think I'm blabbering, but this post made me pretty sad and I don't know if that's what you intended. Mostly, I wish you happiness, however you choose to define it.

Mikeachim said...

This sounds like the kind of past I write when something dramatic/foolish/adventurous is percolating in my mind...
And I never believe it's a competition, or that lives are lived primarily for the benefit of others. Being independent is a mastery of your own destiny (ugh - sorry) that is impossible when the rubber-bands of social context are taffled around you everywhere. Being independent is the option to opt in and out at will....and sometimes, it's nice to know that you have the power to make the whole world piss off for a few hours.
(I'm speaking of me, here, out of my autobiography. And maybe this isn't anywhere near what you're conveying here. If so, I'm sorry!)
Think of the flip-side, for perspective:
....
You're never alone. You're permanently in the middle of a close, strongly-bound social network in a closely-bound geographical neighbourhood. Everything you do involves considering the needs of others. True autonomy of action is a laughable concept. You can never have a few hours to yourself: you'd fret, and others would fret. You get other people's groceries, all the time. You're never lonely, but you're never alonely.
.....
Personally, me being who I am now, I would have a nervous breakdown in that situation.
What about you, Beth?

F John the 4th said...

Just remember, you're never really alone. Your friends and family are always with you.

We love hearing about your life. You are a risk taker. You've left your country to take on the challenges of living abroad. You travel to Europe. Everybody's day-to-day life is full of mundane details, single life is no different in that respect. It is what you do in between those mundane details that counts.

You are doing things other people dream about, but never have the guts to do. Don't sell yourself short.

Husband optional.