Saturday, January 21, 2012

Will I Know It When I See It?

Even though I've already started cultivating a life worth living, I think it's a good idea to take a step back and try to define what it is I want. I actually started writing this piece weeks ago and, I'll admit, it's been challenging. In fact, I think I needed to have a lived experience of "getting a life" before I could figure out what it might look like.

So what makes life worth living? It's a very personal question, but I think there are some universals. I don't think a life worth living should be confused with ideal or perfect. Everyone of us has an image of what the "perfect" life would be like. For instance, after I find buried treasure or win Super Lotto, I will spend my time going from one luxury hotel to another, traveling the world, visiting museums, attending theatre, taking classes just for fun, reading, having fine meals and exquisite wine. Occasionally I'll invite people I like to join me. And, of course, I'd give some of the money to charity because that's the right thing to say. And because it would be so much easier than fundraising, which I do now. That would be the perfect life for me, but until I find that treasure, I'm stuck with not quite so perfect, but hopefully still worthwhile. The fantasy is helpful though because the things I'd do if I had all that cash are a pretty good indicator of what I value in life and what makes life worth living for me.

A life worth living will hit upon the really important things. We need not reach the lofty heights of our wildest dreams to find fulfillment. Though I have had some pretty wild dreams featuring David Tennant which I'm certain would bring me fulfillment...ah, but I digress. We don't need to get everything we want, but I think we all have certain things, certain "must haves" that make life more than just getting by--that make the difference between truly living and merely existing.

So what do I need to live rather than exist? The first "must have" is travel. Travel is absolutely necessary for me to be happy. Through travel I have experienced true joy. There is nothing quite like the feeling of walking through a new city--all of your senses awakened by the novelty, while the familiar, the history, springs to life before your eyes. There is something powerful about standing in the room where Shakespeare was born or drinking where Hemingway drank. I have always placed a high priority on travel, even when I couldn't really afford it. No matter how broke I was, or how long it took to pay off the credit card bill, I never regretted a trip. This is one thing I've done with friends, with boyfriends and by myself. While it is certainly fun to have travel companions, I will never not take a trip because I have no one to go with me. There are simply far too many places I long to experience to waste time waiting for someone else.

Wine is another important part of my life. I know no matter how long I live, I will never have time to learn as much as I'd like about wine or taste all of the wines I want to taste. The wines of Italy alone could take up an entire lifetime, and I'd still be just scratching the surface. Obviously, I need to devote time to studying and tasting as often as possible...which, quite frankly, is a burden I'm willing to live with.

Like good wine, good food is an important part of a well-lived life. Dining out is great treat, but I also love to cook and bake. Although I often prepare a fine meal just for myself, a major part of the joy of cooking is being able to share it with others. The combination of a delicious meal, a nice bottle of wine and good company is hard to beat. I truly enjoy cooking for others and entertaining in my home. This is definitely a component of having a life.

Of course, cooking for "others" implies "others" are also necessary for having a life. I know this seems contradictory since anyone who knows me knows I hate people. I obviously don't actually hate all people. People in general bother me, but people also make my life worthwhile. I had the great good fortune of having two amazing parents. Losing them has been nearly unbearable and has, at times, made life feel like it's really not worth living at all. Losing our parents is a fact of life though--something we all face eventually. I know I was lucky to have the parents I had for as long as I did. I'm also lucky to have a fairly functional family overall. I actually like my family (which is rare, I know), but we live in different states and all have busy lives so we don't see each other as much as we'd like.

This brings us to friends. The urban family--a modern concept that has become even more important as we become an increasingly transient society. Over the years I've had some truly amazing friends (and a few who turned out to be quite psycho, actually) and I'm lucky to have so many people in my life right now I consider friends--a word I don't use lightly. These people are there for the ups and downs of life. They make the bad times a little better and the good times that much sweeter. Life would be bleak indeed without them.

While I think friendships are necessary, I am currently of a mind that romantic relationships are not. Of course I'm not in a romantic relationship at the moment, so I would say that, wouldn't I? Don't get me wrong, having a romantic partner can be great. I can appreciate most of the relationships I've had even though they didn't work out--except for the time I dated the anti-Christ, of course. Time and distance have yet to make me appreciate that one. The others may not have been Mr. Right, but they were right enough at the time and we, as they say, had some good times--great times even. This brings up the tricky bit about relationships of all kinds. It's not just about having people in your life, it's also about knowing when to let go. Good relationships can make our lives worth living, but bad relationships can make our lives a living hell. There is wisdom in knowing the difference.

I've spent quite a bit of time in the past few years cultivating relationships, meeting new people and trying to push myself socially. My shyness and the whole hating people thing make it a bit of challenge for me, but I think I'm doing pretty well, actually. Spending time with people I care about who care about me--drinking together, eating together, laughing together, crying together, just being together--is something that makes a life worth living to me.

The final key to a life worth living for me is a rather broad category I'm going to call education, for lack of a better word. I include in this category not just formal classroom learning, but also the experience of visiting a museum or listening to music. Education has always been important to me. As a kid, I liked school and I've always been a reader. I have a lot of curiosity and a love of history and the arts. I get bored when I'm not challenged so I tend to seek out opportunities to learn. Of course at my age, my main motivations for continued intellectual stimulation are staving off Alzheimer's and keeping pace with loss of brain cells resulting from already mentioned wine obsession. I read at least a bit each day (Brit chic lit more than I should admit, but also proper literature, wine books, psychology books, history books, cooking magazines and travel magazines) and seem to be continually taking classes of one sort or another. I also believe attending lectures, concerts, plays and visiting museums are important educational activities. They improve us in ways classroom learning cannot. They increase our understanding of and appreciation for our own humanity. They are both inspirational and humbling. They move us both intellectually and emotionally. I have stood in the Musee de l'Orangerie and wept at the beauty of the Water Lilies. And I believe my life is richer for having had that experience. Having a life for me means staying engaged in my own growth and education.

So, I think I've a pretty good idea of what having a life looks like for me. I will travel as often as I possibly can, eat and drink as well as I possibly can, entertain at home regularly, read, attend a variety of cultural events and share as much of this life with people I care about as I can. Right. So, about that buried treasure...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I've Been Busy

As shocking as this may sound, I haven't been posting much lately because I've been busy having a life! I know, WTF, right? Believe me, I am still reeling from the shock myself.

In the past few months I have launched a wine club which has already met three times, traveled to Oregon and Santa Barbara to go wine tasting, cooked an entire Thanksgiving dinner for a few close friends, attended a performance of A Comedy of Errors, a chamber music performance and a charity luncheon with Smallville star, Allison Mack. In between, I've had lunches, dinners and happy hours with friends and realized that $3 beers can make life worth living even on really bad days.

The other day it occurred to me that I'm doing things I always imagined I'd do someday when "real life" started. I guess that means it has! I know I still have a lot of work to do, but I've made progress.

As a way of figuring out what I want more of in my life to make it a life worth living, I've been compiling a list of things that make me happy. Here's what I've come up with so far:

$3 Beers
Really good friends (to drink $3 beers with you, of course)
Travel--I've been to England, France, Santa Barbara and Portland (twice) this year!
Small Batch Bourbon
David Tennant
The tv shows Castle, Psych, Bitchin' Kitchen & Justified
Did I mention $3 Beers?
Wine Club
The happy hour wings at SmithHouse Tap & Grill

I mentioned the $3 beers, right?
Penelope (Getting a life!)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What Price Hapiness?

Well, it's been a while since you've heard from me. It isn't that I've forgotten about my quest to get a life, it's that I've been a bit stuck on the problem of trying to define exactly what that is. I'm working on a post, but to be honest, I'm struggling with how to quantify "getting a life." I need to be able to define it so I'll know if it happens, right? Meanwhile, I've come up against something else lately and I feel compelled to post.
I was recently engaged in a conversation about the idea of disappearing, of packing up and moving, of picking up and starting over. Although everyone agreed that even in a new zip code you are still you and any problems or baggage you may have will be there to, I can't help being oddly drawn to the idea of running. And it isn't as much running from (my job, my life--or lack thereof), but a desire to run to. It has occurred to me several times recently that I would be really happy working in a winery tasting room. I know this is a very low wage job. I know that it would mean not being able to pay my student loans and living in the tiniest of apartments. Realistically, I know I would be broker than broke and that's never been something I could be okay with. On the other hand, to spend my work life doing something I'm really passionate about? It seems like heaven. I know this isn't realistic. I know I don't have the guts to do something this drastic, and yet...I can't quite get it out of my head. Is working a job I loathe, that is killing me day by day so I can afford to pay my student loans and take a vacation once a year worth it? Could I be happy being broke, but spending my days doing something I love? I have always argued that money really can buy happiness because it allows us to buy, not objects, but experiences. Now I'm wondering if sacrificing money and security for something you truly love can bring happiness as well. Given that I'm not happy with the way things are going for me, what do I really have to lose if I decide to cut and run? Stability. Security. But maybe my fear of losing my security is keeping me from doing things that would give me true joy. I don't have the answers, but I would love to hear what other people think. Would you sacrifice security for a shot at happiness?


Saturday, August 20, 2011

All By Myself

Tonight I followed through on my plan to take myself out to dinner. Just me. Alone. At a proper restaurant. I chose AOC because it is near my house and because they have a great wine by the glass program. I picked well. I have to admit I cheated a little bit because they asked if I'd rather have a table or sit and the bar and I chose the bar, which is decidedly easier for dining solo. I started off with a triple cream goat cheese and and a crisp Italian white wine. I followed with a blue cheese and heirloom tomato salad. My next course was one of the best things I have ever had. A cassoulet with duck confit, caramelized red onions and pork belly. It was amazing. I had a Nebbiolo which paired very nicely. For dessert, I chose the butterscotch pot de creme and a tawny port. It was a lovely meal and I enjoyed every bit of it. One thing about dining on your own is that you pay more attention to the food and wine, which is actually quite a good thing. Although I admit I was a little uncomfortable in the beginning, I eventually relaxed and enjoyed a splendid meal. It actually felt very decadent to be treating myself and I consider the evening an unqualified success!

Given the choice, of course I'd prefer to be dining out with friends. Realistically, that's not always possible and I don't want to live a life where I'm dependent upon other people for pleasure and happiness. I learned long ago that it was okay to cook elaborate meals at home just for myself. Now I know it is also okay to dine out by myself. The important lesson here is that we can't limit ourselves. Circumstances may not be ideal, but that doesn't mean we can't still do the things that make us happy in some small way. Now that I've tried it, I will definitely be going to dinner on my own again. What about you? Is there anything you've been putting off doing because you didn't have anyone to do it with? Why not give it a try on your own? You may be pleasantly surprised by how much fun you have.


Friday, August 19, 2011

All Dressed Up with Someplace to Go

I'm still working on defining exactly what it will take to make this life worth living, but I wanted to share some progress I've made this week. The first big thing is that my friend, DM, and I went out for a wonderful dinner at Valentino restaurant last night. It was a fantastic evening! The food and service were both extraordinary and we had a long leisurely meal together with plenty of wine and good conversation. Ordinarily, I'm happy I live in Los Angeles where most of the best restaurants allow fairly casual dress, but last night we both chose to dress for dinner and it made the evening even more special. I can't afford to eat in restaurants of this caliber as often as I would like, but doing so from time to time makes for a well-deserved treat. One of the very best things about this dinner is that dining at Valentino has been on my list of things to do before I die for several years! I love getting to check something off. In fact, maybe I should explore doing more things from my list as another entry.

The other thing I've chosen to do is take myself out for dinner on Saturday night--ALONE. I find myself in a situation where most of my friends are busy Saturday nights and I am often on my own. Rather than sit home, I've decided I should get out and live a bit. I'm comfortable traveling on my own and frequently go out for breakfast or lunch by myself, but dinner is a bit harder. I am hoping I can learn to enjoy dining on my own so that I have more options and am not dependent upon other people if I want to enjoy an evening out. There is, of course, a chance this will backfire and I'll end up feeling like a loser so wish me luck! I'll let you know how it goes!


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rock Bottom

"And that was it. Right there. Right there. That was the moment. I suddenly realized that unless something changed soon, I was going to live a life where my major relationship was with a bottle of wine...and I'd finally die fat and alone and be found three weeks later, half-eaten by wild dogs." -Bridget Jones

I've heard that in order to change, one must first hit rock bottom. I believe I've finally done just that. If not bottom (and God, I hope it was) I certainly reached a new low last week when I found myself begging an anti-social (or possibly just schizoid) guy I really, honestly, barely know to spend more time with me. Sure, I'd had a few drinks, but that really doesn't detract from the humiliation in any way. Low point. Nothing against him, of course. In spite of his obvious personality disorder (and the fact that he now eyes me with suspicion, clearly fearing I will, at any moment, burst into hysterical tears and accuse him of being a crap friend), he's actually quite lovely. The real question is how was I reduced to this absurd behavior? Where did my life go? Where did I go wrong? How had I become needy? Because the bottom line is that's what I was. How did I end up here? And, more importantly, could it be fixed? Could I make a life worth living? Because quite simply put, this one isn't. I started this blog in hope of improving my life. As you can see from the lack of posting for over a year, follow through is not my strong point. Which could explain a lot really. I will say that I have made some tremendous strides in several areas since I last posted. I have lost approximately 50 lbs. I moved house and, in so doing, got rid of tremendous amounts of clutter. I have a roommate now (the aforementioned anti-social personality) which forces me to stay on top of cleaning. I have cultivated a much larger social circle and socialize frequently. I finished grad school and have made some progress (though slow-going) on the career path as well.

And yet, here I am. The problems may not be the same, but the situation is. This life isn't quite enough for me. The Bridget Jones quote above strikes a chord for me because it is entirely true of my life. My major relationship is with a bottle of wine and I am very likely to die fat and alone...unless something changes. And what if it doesn't? I've lost weight. I work out every day so it is likely I will lose more, but that doesn't mean I won't still be alone. I know plenty of thin people who are single. As much as I believe social engagement is important, and feel lucky to have some very good friends, at the end of the day I have to take responsibility for my own happiness. Which begs the question--can happiness be cultivated or does it just happen? My experience tells me happiness often just happens, but it can also be cultivated. So, I've decided I need to start cultivating. I need to work on staying in the moment more. Make sure I make each day count. Make sure I do at least one thing each day just for pleasure. My hope is that I can cultivate a life worth living. So, I'm starting this blog again as a way to track my progress and explore the nature of change, what works and what doesn't. And I'm giving myself a specific time frame--one year. Three hundred and sixty-five days to get a life. Wish me luck. I'm quite certain I'm going to need it. And if you've made changes in your life, I'd love to hear your story.


Friday, February 27, 2009

The Upside of Down

As promised, I'm checking in on Friday to report on my progress or lack thereof for the past week. Here goes.

I was crazy busy this week and didn't spend much time organizing or cleaning--so no good news on that front. The Accidental Diet, on the other hand, does seem to be back on track. I've lost three pounds! There is a chance that this is actually a Depression Diet (hence the upside of down) since the current economic crisis is really starting to get to me as the possibility of layoffs seems more and more real. The fact that I've lost most interest in food is a fairly decent side-effect. Not only can not eating help me lose weight, but it saves money too! A win-win! Also, paralyzing fear over my future employment means I'm watching my spending across the board. It is amazing how frugal you can be when you are terrified.

Until next time!