“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” — Henry David Thoreau
“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” — Anonymous
In other words, you never really know. Just because you think your friends and neighbors are living it up in the penthouse on the top floor doesn’t mean they don’t feel as if they’re way down in the depths below, digging in the dirt, up up up to rock bottom.
Frankly, I’ve always despised the latter quote. It’s such a pile of hackneyed drivel, a hopeless (and for anyone with a quarter of a brain, useless) cliché. “The grass is always greener…” People, often my friends in the UK, used to always say that to me back in the mid to late ’90s when I was obsessed with trading New York City in for London.
I knew it was their way of saying they’d exchange home bases with me in a second (or that any exciting, exotic city on earth is merely home to the people who live there), but to me, the way they said it, the curt shortening of the cliché, carried the unmistakable whiff of dismissal and condescension. It was like they were saying that my desire was inconsequential. It didn’t matter what I wanted because someone else (them?) wanted what I already had.
Well, it mattered to me. So what if people on the other side might have looked at my lush, fertilized lawn and thought they would have preferred to have been stretched out on it, and I looked at theirs and thought the same thing? That didn’t invalidate our shared desire to jump over the fence from opposite sides. It certainly deserved to be acknowledged with more than a passing cliché.
One shouldn’t give up dreams and aspirations just because what one already has is good enough for someone else — which is what the dumb cliché seems to be trying to sell us. Here’s some far more constructive guidance: Never lose perspective of what is already right in front of you. Try to take that trip to the other side, but always remember, once you’re there, life still won’t be perfect. It never is.
That’s what I’ve wanted to tell a few people recently when I’ve mentioned my upcoming travel plans (Dubai on July 10, Berlin on July 15), and they’ve said, “I want your life.” I’m glad my travel itinerary sounds exciting, but I’m not sure why anyone would want to walk in my uncomfortable shoes. For one thing, my feet are so big and bunion-ridden that they wouldn’t fit most people. But more than that, despite what other people might perceive as endless travel and excitement, my life is no more extraordinary than anyone else’s.
We aren’t where we are, but what’s inside. Just because I’m in Bangkok or Dubai or Berlin doesn’t mean that life magically becomes a no-problems zone. If you get on an airplane with a cloud over your head, it travels with you to your next destination. There’s no outrunning it. Travel can give you a new perspective, and it’s sometimes better to be miserable in a different setting, but the mental benefits of temporary relocation are mostly ephemeral.
If you stay long enough, more than a few days, routine begins to set in. If not, you’re just looking at more packed suitcases and another empty room that you’re about to leave, packing and unpacking, driving to and from the airport, going through security at the airport, waiting in the airport, waiting on the runway, taking off and landing. Not that I’d dream of knocking frequent travel (some people are so well suited for it that what I see as downsides hardly register), but on the list of things in life that give me the most pleasure, it has a lot of competition, which, I suppose, is another thing to be thankful for. A lot of people only have food and sex.
When I start compiling my list of biggest thrills, travel never comes out on top. That honor would go to writing. Nothing in my life lifts me up, pulls me out of my sadness, turns a frown into a smile, quite like writing does. It’s my lifeline, the reason I jump out of bed in the morning, full of energy and fire. Sometimes love takes its place — and then I want to write even more. Most people probably see writing as a means to the wrong end — making a living, not emotional rescue. What emotional rescue could I possibly require? I get to spend so much time in Bangkok!
“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” — from the traditional spiritual
Those people who think they want my life don’t even know the half of it. All they know is what I tell them, or what I share on Facebook, or what I write in this blog — if they even bother to read more than the titles of my daily rants as I post them on Facebook. Nobody knows whatever other trials I may or may not be going through — whether they’re love-related, family related, health-related or something else — because as much as I admire the ability of people like Fiona Apple to put it all out there, be naked to the world, I’m not particularly comfortable with public emotional nudity.
Hell, I imagine that if I were to get an unfortunate medical diagnosis, I’d be like one of those stoic characters in soap operas who keeps it all inside and suffers in silence. It wouldn’t be so much because I’d want to spare anyone the pain of worrying about me (the conventional soap thinking), but because I couldn’t bear the sorrowful looks and the rote though well-meaning words of comfort. They might be okay when I’m suffering from a cold, but with serious illness, I’d probably need something more substantial than “Get well soon” and “Feel better.”
Don’t worry. As far as I know, I’m in tip-top shape. My point is this: The tricky thing about other people’s lives is that they’re never as great as they seem in photos, in emails, in Facebook status updates, or in your imagination. And even if they are, so what? Once when I was comparing my life to the lives of rich celebrities in the same age group, my best friend told me to just live my own life and stop worrying about the lives of people I don’t even know.
That can still be so hard to do. When I’m depressed or down in those aforementioned depths, it’s easy for me to feel like everyone else couldn’t be happier. The world keeps turning, and life begins to feel like a party I wasn’t invited to. I’m thankful that it’s never a prolonged state — I think that might be what is known as clinical depression — but it’s one that I fall into as regularly as anyone else does.
When I’m in despair’s tight death grip, I imagine that everybody else is doing fine. But somebody once told me that after a break up, when you’re at your lowest point, wondering if the other person is suffering, too, always remember, if you’re thinking about them, chances are they’re thinking about you, too. I’m not so sure that’s true, but I’m pretty sure that in love and in life, none of us suffer alone.
I know what it sounds like, and no, I’m not suffering — a lot. But I will admit to being a little lost. Recently, someone, after hearing about my last two and a half years of wandering, asked me what I’m running from. The truth is, I’m not running from anything. I’m running to something — more accurately, searching for something. I just haven’t figured out what that something is yet.
“I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” — U2
No, it’s not the most dire strait one can find oneself in. And I’m thankful that I was given the opportunity to spend so many years toiling in New York City so that I could be lost in some really cool places. I realize that I have it better than so many people, so my point here is not to complain, “Woe is me,” because at the end of the day, I know that woe barely knows me.
I’m just saying that no matter what they read on Facebook — and don’t believe everything you read on Facebook! — nobody should want my life, especially when theirs is probably equally fulfilling, only different. There is more than one side to any story worth reading, and just because one flaunts the glamor shot on the cover doesn’t mean there isn’t disappointment and heartache all over the tear-stained pages within.