Last night my next door neighbor and I decided it was about time we went out and grabbed a glass of wine; I moved to California back in June and it took us until October to say more than just a passing, “hi” to each other. While we limited ourselves to one glass of wine each, we hung out and chatted for just about two hours and it felt really good starting a new friendship. It also felt good on another level; enjoying a brief 120 minutes with my neighbor made me realize just how much I needed a moment to enjoy the beauty of the town we moved to as we spent our time at an outdoor wine bar.
Since moving out to California in June, I’ve been working a lot of hours; I’ve had a heavier travel schedule than I thought I would and I’ve taken on some moonlighting editing projects to help cover the added expenses we have had to take on by living where we do. In addition, I have not had the time to develop a consistent exercise program and, as a result, I feel as if I am in a constant state of lethargy; if only there were a way to get some cardio in during the 4 hours I commute each day!
I returned home at the late hour of 8pm and took Murphy for a walk. After cleaning the kitchen and tucking the kids in, I retired downstairs to watch a little TV. I turned it off around 10 and decided just to lie down on the couch for a little bit; much to my surprise I woke up at 4am.
During my time on the couch I had a dream that I was visiting the house my Aunt and Uncle (also known as Zizi and Unc) owned in Little Falls, NY; a small town in up state NY Northwest of Albany near Utica. It is farm country which of course makes sense because my uncle Bob was, after all, a farmer. I call them my aunt and uncle but they really are my mother’s aunt and uncle; Zizi was my maternal grandmother’s younger sister and Uncle Bob was her husband of over 50 years (till death did they part). Fun fact, my mother – a NY city girl raised in Brooklyn – spent each summer in Little Falls with Zizi and Unc. It was there that she learned how to drive by operating a tractor.
After retiring from farm life, Unc – who was educated at Cornell and quite possibly the smartest man I’ve ever met – worked as a teller in their local community bank. I’d like to compare myself to Unc and say that he is where I got my brains from but there is no blood relation between us.
Zizi and Unc led a very simple life; they had no credit cards, only owned one automobile, and grew most of their own food in a community garden. Their house was very modest with a washer but no dryer (the fresh air took care of that job) and they had a lock on their door which had rarely been engaged. We would go up and visit every summer and I’ll admit to hating each and every one of those trips because, to steal a phrase from my own children, “There was nothing to do.” It was too simple a life for me and I pretty much prepared for each trip with a number of fresh mix tapes and back issues of Circus Magazine.
I think about where my life is right now and I would give anything to live the kind of life that Zizi and Unc had. I don’t know how it happened but somehow I got caught up in the desire to constantly advance in my career and make more money. I wield frequent traveler points as currency and feel an odd sense of pride whenever I move from silver to gold to platinum status levels on different airlines. I look in the mirror sometimes and don’t like what I see; I look tired all the time no doubt because I spend so much time trying to get ahead in life that I never make the time to enjoy it.
In my dream last night I saw Zizi and Unc’s house not as it was when I was a child but after a new owner had purchased it and made some upgrades. A new kitchen; a fourth bedroom, and a bigger yard with a pool were all part of the updates and I was furious about it. I wanted the old three bedroom farmhouse with a clothesline in the back (and fresh cookies in the kitchen) but that was all gone. In short I wanted the simplicity that I don’t have yet am craving in my own life.
I know that I am not alone in craving a simplified life. My friend Terry is a Wall Street guy who fantasizes about leaving Wall Street behind, moving to a small town, and getting a job at a Loews or Home Depot. He is actually quite serious about this as he wants a job where he can be home in time to coach his children in sports and attend the numerous events that he misses due to his job. Now I am not leaving the corporate world anytime soon, and I have no business helping anyone in the area of home improvement, but there is a beauty to that wish and I find myself thinking about the small steps I can take to simplify my own life. “Phone free” Sundays are a change I made recently and that is a good start but I feel the need to get bigger and bolder with lifestyle changes.
For me what it gets down to is managing the pressure that I am under on two important fronts; pressure at work and pressure at home. On the work front, there is no way I can accomplish everything that is expected of me without working through a team. I never considered myself to be a control freak but then again I spent the past several years working as a one man show responsible for every aspect of a project. Now that I have a team I find it hard giving up some of that control yet am quickly learning that I need to in order to be successful in my current role.
On the home front I need to realize that I am not responsible for everyone’s happiness. This is equally hard for me as whenever anyone in my house is upset or unhappy about something I place the blame on my shoulders. I constantly ask myself, “What am I doing wrong?” when, in fact, I have to realize that, within reason, I can’t always be responsible for how another person feels. To provide an example, my kids are often upset when I tell them they cannot have a new ____ (fill in the blank) because it is not a priority. They often get upset about this and sulk and my reaction is to feel bad about it and then I take it a step further and think to myself, “If only I made more money we’d all be happier.” And that of course leads to more pressure on me so I need to find a way of breaking that cycle.
So, in short, I have a desire to simplify my life and by doing so I need to take a step back and work through others while coming to terms with the fact that I am not solely responsible for the happiness of those around me. Deep reflections on a Wednesday lunch break.