One sleepy morning when my son was 11 or 12, he stood at the open refrigerator door, sighed, and said, “I have eaten all the breakfast foods.”
Of course he hadn’t. Never had he eaten baked beans or kippers or eggs flavored with shrimp shells or other morning food people eat elsewhere. But I understood his lament. I too have felt finished forever with new breakfast foods…and a number of other things. Hunger for experience exhausts possibilities…especially when what’s left seems harder and harder to come by.
I envy people who embrace routine. They have a voracious appetite for assembling clothes before bed or checking schedules each morning. They are happy to have cottage cheese for lunch again, and, should it be missing, they taxi around the salad bar patiently. And they always, always, always floss.
I floss too—I have my own regularities—and wish all my habits were so satisfying. I’d love to exorcise the ghosts on my to-do lists daily and account for events that, right now, seem to appear as if “Pop Goes the Weasel” has been playing in the background all along without my noticing. If I regarded my calendar as an aid to memory (the way normal people do) instead of as a regular flogging, I’d have more time to…think about what I’d do if I had more time.
But any task—even stimulating ones, like routine exercise or sketching or having a regular date with self-examination like this—can grow exhausting.
Why is routine so unsatisfying? In the 70’s Seymour Krim wrote an essay, “For My Brothers and Sisters in the Failure Business” where he described himself as “an open fuse-box of blind yearning” and labeled democracy, “a huge supermarket of mass man where we could take a piece here and a piece there to make our personalities for ourselves instead of what was given at the beginning.”
It’s easy to confuse a desire for something new with a desire to be something new. I’ve gone through a seemingly endless string of lift-offs and flame-out avocations, as a blues harmonica player, as a short story writer, as an actor, as a competitive runner, as a poet, as a visual artist, as a blogger. I’m smart enough to know I’ll get nowhere without perseverance and regular practice, but when the work gets hard and is no longer fresh, my ambition grinds to a frictional stop like a streetcar deprived of electricity
America worked on us too hard, when you get right down to it. We imaginatively lived out all the mythic possibilities, all the personal turn-on of practically superhuman accomplishment, stimulated by the fables of the media. We were the perfect big-eyed consumers of this country’s four-color ad to the universe, wanting to be one tempting thing and then another and ending up, most of us, with little but the sadly smiling hope that time would somehow solve our problem.
When I teach Krim’s essay, some students say his complaints cause his failures. They would never say he should “Get off his ass and do something,” but that’s the subtext of their remarks. I don’t blame them for rejecting his hopelessness. They are, and should be, optimistic about bright futures ahead. I’m not ready to indict America for my yearnings either. I know anything worth having is worth working years for. Yet Krim isn’t entirely wrong. The relentless expectancy of modern life makes personal satisfaction a battle. It’s a struggle to keep up with happiness when its pursuit requires continual novelty, progress, recognition, and material success.
WordPress tells me that I’m completing the 261st post on this blog and, sometimes when I notice all I’ve written here, I wonder if I can keep the pace I’ve set. One morning I might wake up to discover I have nothing new to say and that my faith in striving has evaporated. And I can’t help wondering if that will be a good or bad day, the day my soul abandons its restlessness, its ceaseless search for new landscapes and vistas, its endless desire to escape itself.