I had time for one short road trip before my summer job(s) got going, so Kevin and I decided to drive to Yellowstone National Park. Neither of us had been before, and despite researching and staring at maps, we didn’t know what to expect. I saw a lot of animals– grizzly bears, black bears, bison, deer, mule deer, elk, pika, ravens, osprey, voles, chipmunks, and many other birds as well. On the second night, we heard a pack of coyotes howling outside of our campground. Meeko had to stay home for this trip, so she had her own stay-cation with a friend of mine.
Another thing I didn’t realize about Yellowstone is that the park is pretty built up. If someone wanted, they could eat all their meals at restaurants, stay in hotels, and have hot showers every day. Or, if camping and cold water are more your style, there’s that option too. Winter lasts for about 8 months there, so the summer months get very busy with visitors. Even though during the day I was hiking in light long pants and a light sweatshirt (unless I was in the direct sun), our campsite dropped to 30 degrees F in the nighttime. Brrrr. Three of the four nights a thunderstorm happened right over our campground. Yellowstone weather is quite unpredictable, so pack everything.
A year and a half or so ago, I moved to Boise for graduate school and my best friend Julie moved to Eureka, California. A twelve hour drive apart was the closest we’d lived to each other since back in our high school days when we shared a yellow school bus route and biked to each other’s houses (in between homework, a plate full of extra curriculars, and mowing our parents’ extensive lawns). This Thanksgiving Break I finally made the drive south to Julie’s and Meeko got to meet her puppy-cousin Remi.
Where did we get this idea from, that we should be happy at our jobs?
“As long as you’re happy in your job….”
“When you’re happy with your job, it won’t feel like work….”
How often have you heard someone say things like this to you? This idea of a job bringing happiness, continuous joy to the extent that the pure emotion overrides any lack of income, free time, or control is silly, and I think we all need to stop saying it.
“But I am happy in my job!” That one person will say. No, I say. The dictionary may say that joy, contentedness, satisfaction are all synonyms for happiness, but I disagree. Some of us are lucky and privileged enough to find work in fields we are passionate about, but even then, there is no guarantee for joy. What is this weird pressure to find happiness from working for someone/something else? And if we are not happy in our jobs, then it is our fault– we are lazy, we are over-qualified, we are under-qualified, we are overpaid and compensate with over-indulging, or we are under-paid and must take on another job to balance the other.
What if we stopped creating this unreasonable pressure to “be happy” at our jobs? In fact, what if we stopped asking about happiness altogether?
I think the word has taken on larger definitions than the dictionary can hold. I think the word, and the pursuit of the emotion it promises leads so many of us to wonder….. “Why aren’t I happier?” I do not believe humans are meant to “feel happy” one hundred percent of the time. Even if nothing is catastrophically wrong with our lives, this does not equate to happiness all day.
Instead of inquiring about happiness, I choose to focus on joy. I think a good job would be one where we experience moments of joy on every shift. More than that, such a job would ideally make us feel that we are the best human being for that job, that something about our person, our character, and our experience would make us specially qualified and needed at that particular job.
When someone asks, “Are you happy?” I want to clarify. In this moment? This hour? Eating this ice cream cone? Sure. But luckily, thankfully, I have this super-complex brain that allows me to feel more than one emotion at a time. I can have a good day, get momentarily mad when a driver cuts me off on the highway, feel an appropriate emotional response to it, and then feel “neutral” for the rest of my drive home. Not being happy, or not feeling happy does not automatically mean a person is experiencing a negative emotion. Can you actually imagine feeling true happiness ALL DAY? It would be exhausting!
“A lifetime of happiness? No man can bear it: it would be hell on earth.” -George Bernard
Feeling content, sure. Feeling grateful, sure. Feeling thoughtful, sure. Feeling open to moments of joy throughout the day, absolutely.
Moments of joy, not happiness. This is the reality, and I do not see anything wrong or lesser in that description. As writer Eric Wilson wrote, “To desire only happiness in a world undoubtedly tragic is to become inauthentic”.
When I was little, my parents were very involved with making sure I had a love of reading. I even completed the Hooked on Phonics program (and yes, it worked for me.)
One morning Kevin and I went down a rabbit hole of our genealogy after he revealed he was related to Davy Crockett’s brother, and I revealed I was related to Pocahontas/Matoaka– not the Disney one, the real person. (Sidenote, this really shouldn’t be hard to believe. 17+ generations back, and with families having ten+ children, there are probably quite a number of people who are just as related to Pocahontas as I am.) As I dug through my file box for the stapled packet tracing my family back to Jamestown, Virginia, I found a file of my old reading incentives.
Reading incentives? Yes. With my sister and I reading ravenously, sometimes it was hard to remember who had read which book. We started keeping track with long lists of which books we had read. The incentive was pennies for each book, as noted by the “$3! Good job!” notes from my Mom at the bottom of the pages. These few dollars meant the world to my sister and I, and we’d often save up together to pool our money for trinkets, or carnival games at the Ocean City boardwalk.
I don’t know how after all of my moves and organizing and donating that these few pages from the late nineties made it to my file box, but I am glad they did. I like my use of milky pens, showing off my cursive, and of course, struggling to assign a genre to the Beanie Baby catalogue. (My mom wrote in non-fiction).
I did find my genealogy pages shortly afterwards. Kevin and I discovered that our families were in Virginia at the same time but in different counties, and that Davy Crockett spoke against Andrew Jackson and the Indian Removal Act, which Kevin was very relieved about. But, in Crockett’s memoir he claims some violent acts against Natives. History is never straightforward, it seems. Even in our memoirs.
As I gear up for teaching English 102 this fall, I’ve been coming up new classroom activities and multimedia to share with my student. Here is an excerpt from a post I wrote today with ideas on how to bring Pop Culture into the college classroom, complete with a step-by-step instructions for an activity. Read more here.
Pop culture. It’s on the tip of many teacher’s tongues, but not all of us feel comfortable or qualified to bring it into the classroom. We are all often unwilling participates of the “expert” culture. You want to give a friend advice on her broken arm because you broke your arm once, but you’re not a doctor. You’d love to train your dog, but you’re not a certified trainer. You’d like to be a writer, and though you blog, keep a journal, sell handmade cards on Etsy, etc. you aren’t really a professional writer.
Don’t be crazy! Pop culture is something we can all bring into our classroom…
When aspects of our life are not fulfilling, we seek out other ways to fill the void. This is not always a negative thing, and certainly I am the first to admit that despite grad school, dog ownership, relationships, sickness or health, I enjoy watching things move on a screen. TV shows and movies are highly enjoyable to me, but it took my nearly 25 years to realize the vicious cycle of free time vs work, and how so many of us are addicted to certain habits in order to “relax and have fun.”
When I think about the forty+ hour work week, I wonder what the long term benefits are of only having two of every seven days to call our own. When I hear people talking about their fantasy retirement, I wonder “what about the 30, 40, 50 years until then??”
Meeko gives up on her day whenever she finds a good spot to nap in
I don’t want to think of my free time in terms of years, weeks, or even days. Free time is every half hour of my day that I’m not working for someone else. Five o’clock is no longer the hour when I give up on my day.
Over a year ago, I was writing only a few hours a week. Sure, I did research on publishing and literary journals, but deep down I knew I could be trying harder. Every day that guilt sat at the bottom of my stomach, pulling me into self-doubt and making me question whether I could call myself a writer at all.
My long-term motivation comes from completing projects and completing to-do lists. Short-term motivation comes from imagining how I will feel after accomplishing a small task. It is certain that I will not achieve any of my goals if I do not begin with simply finishing the short story or essay at hand. My planner holds my time commitments for the week so that my brain doesn’t spend energy remembering appointments.
It is a privilege that the hardships in my life are faceable, and fixable for the most part. I am grateful that I can choose to work on my writing goals this evening, after a shift at my temp job.
There is no age limit where we should give up on our dreams. It is a privilege that we can use our free time to achieve our goals, so let’s get to work.
Rocky Bar, Idaho. Home to exactly four people, none of whom came out of their houses to say hello. I’m not actually sure if any of the four residents were around that day. The occupied houses in the town had multiple “no trespassing” and “private property” signs. The town welcome sign warned of old people and guns, sarcastically I hope.
At it’s height, this town had a population of 2,500. At one point, it was considered for the capital city of the Idaho Territory. A fire hit, the gold rush trickled down, and slowly everyone left. It seems that much of the present-day population of small mountain towns like this are part-time residents. People who escape to their cabin in the woods for the summer, or on weekends, and head back down for the rest of the year.
There wasn’t much to explore because there wasn’t much left, but the rusting furniture and mysterious saloon/repair shop was enough to get my creepy-town fix for a while. Meeko was especially interesting in all the animal poop on the floor of these homes and the stuffing falling from the attics. I’d read on another ghost town website that old safes were pretty common to find at these towns, but it was rare to find a safe that hasn’t been cracked open already. I found my first out in the middle of nowhere safe, but its lid was cracked completely open, the inside filled with sand.
Rocky Bar, Idaho is a good one-time trip. I wouldn’t say an entire trip would be worth it just to see that town, but it worked into our route from Atlanta, Idaho back to Boise.
I’ll be the first to admit I have a problem. I feel a strange connection to ghost towns. Abandoned mines, crumbling cabins, and the wild slowly eating a town back into the forest. I’d been to some other ghost towns, mainly in Nevada (gold rushes and similar phenomena tend to leave a trail of abandoned towns in its wake). It turns out Idaho had its own gold rush, silver rush, and gem rush.
Kevin and I headed three hours North of Boise, Idaho to check out two such towns. One Atlanta, Idaho, once home to 17,000 people as a tent city… now home to about 40 residents.
Forest fires have slowed down tourism to Atlanta, ID forcing a lot of local businesses to close. With projects like The Atlanta School and a hot springs nearby, the residents are hoping to draw more people out along the forest service roads.
But of course, “not too many people.”
I was very intrigued by Atlanta, Idaho. I loved the dirt, washboard roads maintained by the Forest Service. From the burned forests, bright wildflowers grew thick on the ground. The rivers following the roads were clear, cold, and without any trace of trash. Everyone in Atlanta was welcoming, encouraging us to explore the town on foot and leave my little car parked. With no cell phone service or internet, it was a place to truly unplug. I’m sure I will be back soon.
In response to the great support I received from my earlier post on the micro living movement and my increasing interest in living small, I thought I would dive into a popular aspect of this movement: repurposing things.
Resourceful is a characteristic I’ve prided myself in, and whether you call it scrappy, creative, or just cheap, it has certainly helped me out in all of my moving adventures. I think there are two sides to being resourceful in terms of physical, material things. The first is seeing potential in an item. The second is seeing how an action from you can change the item.
Seeing what else an item could be, what properties it has, or what changes you can bring to it increases it’s usefulness. Maybe you have a friend who re-paints old furniture pieces, or glues sequins onto T-shirts. I see this as a form of resourcefullness, and repurposing. You have an option to go buy a brand new shirt that reflects a trend, or you have an option to add (or take away) from a shirt you already have. Of course, to do this takes time, which is a privilege, so we all pick and choose what we do ourselves and what we buy from people or companies who can do it faster and cheaper.
With the boom of websites like Etsy and Saturday markets, people are certainly getting their craft on. I remember when my mom bought me a hot glue gun a few years ago, and I laughed, remembering her projects of gluing Ric-Rac onto curtains or googly eyes onto cards. Well the joke was on me because I have used that glue gun for more home projects than I could have ever imagined. In the past few months, two pairs of shoes started “talking” (separating from the sole) and I glued them right back together. I also fixed my glasses case, saving me from a purchase I would have been very unexcited about.
This may all seem quite small scale, or perhaps you are thinking that owning a glue gun is a bit too feminine for your taste. I strongly advise you get over that because a glue gun is as useful as duct tape and a staple gun (my personal favorites for fixing stuff back together. Just ask Kevin, I staple-gunned the fabric falling off the ceiling of his car. Home improvement, car improvement, done.)
In San Francisco I got really into estate sales. The ultimate repurposing from people who generally had high quality things. I found three hard suitcases at one of them, realizing their potential immediately. The guy running the estate sale jokingly asked if I was “late for a train,” when I walked up to pay for them. As in, people haven’t used hard suitcases since the days of waiting at the train station with your parasol and a handkerchief. Well sir, would you be laughing now when one suitcase has become a table, another a foot rest while I write, and the third… Well actually the third is just a hat box, because how could I not have a hat box for $5??
Buried beneath all of these suggestions, I know there is a fear of becoming a hoarder of things that you “might use one day.” The truth is, the ability you have to hang onto potentially useful things is directly tied to how much actual space you have within your home. For me, a smaller space forces me to complete projects quickly, and prevents me from having a build up of projects, which will only cause me more stress. It can be a fine line to walk, but that is something every household has to figure out for themselves. I wouldn’t wish for anyone to turn into the infamous “dumpster divers” from the show Portlandia. Watch what I’m talking about here: Portlandia Dumpster Divers
In integrating my things and Kevin’s things, I reluctantly realized that my large wooden table (a great find on craigslist from a schoolteacher who was moving) could not fit under the loft bed with all of it’s leaves in. I stood in front of that table, hands on my hips and asked, “what am I going to do with you?” Unscrew the rounded extensions of the table and turn them into wall shelves, that’s what.
In my English 102 class that I teach, I encouraged my students to question everything about the world around them. Why does something have to be the way it is, just because that’s the way it’s been? Of course, it’s difficult to question something when you don’t even know there’s an alternative. This was exactly the case for me before I stumbled upon the micro living movement. As a homework assignment, I asked my students to pretend that they had the power to add one required class to the entire University’s curriculum. Something everyone would have to take. I encouraged them to be as selfish in their own interests as they wanted, and not be afraid to have fun. We were all surprised at the amount of of students, men and women, who argued for a survival class, a basic construction class, or something similarly hands-on.
There is so much information out there about using tools, repurposing materials, and even just painting something a different color. Question the things you are used to, especially within your home. The questioning itself will be freeing, but the exhilaration that comes from fixing or changing something is truly special. We should all be less afraid to pick up a tool and do something. Not just for the sake of fighting gender roles, not with the intent of never buying something ‘nice’ again, and not in the hope of feeling like a superior human being to others. Try it because it’s fun, because it’s rewarding, and it challenges the idea that every new issue within your home requires the purchase of a brand new thing.
I’d love to hear what things you have repurposed in your apartment or home– feel free to share in the comments! Thanks for reading.