Is It Quitting Time?

2011 September 28

“If I don’t become a spy, I’m probably just going to stop.”

There are not many people who could utter a line like that and have it make perfect sense in the moment. My friend K is one of those people.

What K was getting at was the idea that eventually you have to stop raging (okay, unless you’re Dylan Thomas) and just dig in and make your stand where you are. You get tired and discouraged or you get shaken to the core and have to put your priorities back in order or you just realize that the time you’ve been spending on round pegs and square holes is time you won’t get back, is time you could have spent cultivating an unencumbered, at peace you. And being okay with the fact that that person isn’t exactly who you’ve been fighting for all this time. That’s the kicker, of course.

Needless to say I’m not at that point. K has always been the more zen half of our friendship, able to refer to people as “lovely” and “genuine” without an ounce of patronization to it. By contrast, I have a crippling weakness for the word “douchebag.” I’m 10 lbs of rage in a 5-lb sack. But so are most of the people I like the best and relate to most closely – creative, driven, second-guessing, meticulous, hyperbolic, ambitious, egotistical, pedantic, talented, verbose, know-it-all, sleepless, idealistic variations on a theme. These are people whose wants almost swallow them whole, who always feel as if they’re trying to beat the clock, who tear it up and start again and again and again, who are viciously hard on themselves because they don’t know any other way to get things done. These are my people. And they’re not happy, not contented, not at peace. And maybe they’re we’re suffering for it?

It’s like when you’re first learning to write and you grip the pencil as hard as possible in order to eke out the letters, but if you never learn to loosen your grip, you get that weird bump on your middle finger* and then it’s 20 years later and your hand cramps while writing the rent check because you’re still forming the letters the only way you know how. It’s more effort than is needed and pretty inefficient, but it’s what works for you. And so is pushing and fighting and struggling. It feels natural and necessary and an acknowledgement that there are great stakes at risk here, even if we can’t precisely articulate what those stakes might be. It’s terrifying to contemplate that this effort might be for naught, that it may never pay off, that maybe you aren’t making progress, you’re just making your life so much harder than it needs to be.

But it’s not so easy to quit gripping, to stop raging, to be okay with who and how you are in the here and now, either. It’s pretty overwhelming to imagine stopping, just dropping what you’re doing right now and not picking up some new cause or quest. In fact, it might be even harder than all the pushing we’ve been doing in the first place. Maybe that’s why there’s always one last thing on the agenda ( becoming a spy, finishing that novel, losing 10 lbs, ) that keeps us from finally finding out what it would feel like.


*I still have mine; I rub my index finger against it when I need to tell my left hand from my right.

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