I've been noticing a lot of unhappy people lately. People living lives of quiet desperation, in the words of Henry David Thoreau. And this makes me sad. For a long time, I didn't understand. I'm still not sure that I do, but, as always, my beloved paranormal fantasy novels are helping to explain reality to me in ways that my brain can grasp. I'm still thinking deeply about Phury in JR Ward's Lover Enshrined. For the majority of the Black Dagger Brotherhood series up to this point, Phury has been unhappy, surviving his extended existence in a state of quiet desperation that is growing increasingly loud as he begins to devolve. For Phury, like the rest of us, the world isn't much fun when your whole life is "have to." I am not naive, nor am I willfully delusional. I understand that life is more about fate and circumstance than it is about choice. I know that sometimes the only options we have are about the attitude we bring to a bad situation. Having said that, however, we do have some choices, and sometimes, we need to just say "no." I find myself saying "no" a lot. When I was young and unable to fit into the mold I thought I wanted to fit, I decided to say no to all the kids who were saying no to me. I figured if I couldn't be popular or part of the A-crowd, then they could kiss my large round petunia, as Mac Lane would say. Saying no to those who rejected me first gave me the freedom to break out of the mold of the privileged uptown girl I was born to be and look for greener pastures outside my geographic and demographic comfort zone. One of the best moves I ever made.
Later, at my first professional job, I said no to the idea that I was too young and too female to take on more responsibility, and successfully sat for a state exam that my older, male colleagues had previously failed. I said no to the idea that I couldn't call off a wedding that was already planned and paid for. I said no to the idea that just because something hadn't been done before didn't mean I couldn't do it. I said no to my friends and family when they—with undoubtedly good intentions—told me it was making a mistake to go abroad for a year and try something totally different—granted, undercover private investigator was a bit of a stretch, but I said no to everyone who thought I was crazy and was rewarded with the experience of a lifetime.
Saying no to doing what you don't want to do and yes to doing what you do want to do is the antidote to quiet desperation. This is the truth that Phury, of Black Dagger Brotherhood fame, eventually learns, to his everlasting happiness. Honoring our inner arbiter of yes and no, good and bad is the path to our personal HEAs. Rejecting the should's and have to's is the road to redemption.
We have to stop listening when others tell us how it has to be. Yes, of course it's important to meet our obligations and commitments. But it's equally important to make sure we are not fulfilling our duty at the expense of our ability to thrive. We need to be resourceful and creative about doing what we need to do so that we have the time and wherewithal to do what we want to do.
So many of us feel like we have no choices, or that we are stuck forever with choices we made before but which no longer serve us. I know so many people who stay in marriages they no longer want, or who care for children in a way that transmutes joy into drudgery. We seem to feel like we have to be there for every football game, even if we hate football. Not me. My son knows I don't enjoy football and have absolutely no idea what is going on in the game (many have tried to teach me, but, honestly, I can't bring myself to care). He also knows that my lack of love for football in no way impacts my abundance of love for him. We share many things. Just not football. So, I don't have to make myself miserable balancing my butt on a cold, uncomfortable bleacher seat while pretending I’d rather not be reading my book instead of watching his game. I've given him the respect of being honest with him, and he rewards me with the intimacy of authenticity in return. Win-win.
I was with my aunt recently, my mother's youngest sister. She observed that my husband really "puts up with a lot" because I travel so much apart from my family—for work and to visit friends around the country. What can I say, I'm a peripatetic soul; it feeds something in me to travel and change my environment with some regularity. And I value my friendships and believe in taking the time to nurture them. My family understands this about me and respects my needs. They don't spend a lot of time worrying about how a wife and mother "should" behave, and neither do I. As a result, we are all quite happy as a family, each of us respecting each other's individual needs. It works.
Sometimes I have to pinch myself to believe that this is my life. I've worked hard to create a life I love. It is not perfect, of course, but in the areas where there is room for improvement, I'm always looking for innovative ways to advance the ball. We only get one bite at the apple, and I want to stuff as much in my mouth as I possibly can. I truly do not care how other people think life should be done. I don't even pay much attention to what I think I can or cannot do. I believe in going for it, even when it seems the chances for success are few and far between. I don't mind failing, and each attempt teaches me something new that I can use to tinker at the margins of my life to make it even better. Sometimes I don't just stick to the margins--I make gigantic leaps and hope for a soft landing. This blog is a great example of that.
Like Phury in the end, I reject quiet desperation. I'm all about loud and boisterous joy and exultation. If it's not working for us, we can change it. If we don't like something, we can try something else. If we are spending too many days in a row in the dumps, we can do something radical to shake it up. We have nothing to lose but our misery. And we can always get that back if we really miss it.