Living It Up in 2019 by Christina Knowles

fullsizeoutput_17a3Where do I start? It’s been a busy year, probably the most eventful year I’ve had in over ten years. Let’s see, I studied Spanish and math, math very extensively and not my best subject. I took the five-hour WEST-B test and got my Washington and Oregon state teaching licenses, even though I really didn’t want to teach anywhere.

Call it a mid-life crisis about ten years late. I was unhappy with teaching but felt trapped, trapped in my job, trapped in my house, trapped in a life that I knew wasn’t my best life. It was a good life, but as old age begins creeping upon us, we start analyzing our lives to see if the way we are living is good enough—good enough that “when it came time to die, I would not discover that I had not truly lived” as Thoreau put it in Walden (Thoreau, Ch. 2, Walden). Yes, I decided, it was time to “live deliberately” (Walden) because we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow, and I wanted something more.

I needed a change, a big change. It turns out my husband needed a change too, but for different reasons. He, too, was trapped in a job, but not because he didn’t enjoy the work. It was because he couldn’t be who he truly felt he was there, but he felt stuck, thinking he made too much money to quit and start over somewhere else in his fifties. Moving 1,500 miles away with me would be the catalyst he needed to make the change, so we agreed.

We sold our house and lots of our stuff, and we packed up our things, too many of our things, and put the dog and cat in the car and headed to the great Pacific Northwest. I took a teaching job in Oregon, not that I wanted to teach, but we weren’t so brave that we’d move that far without a job waiting. Call it Kismet or the Universe listening to my plea, or just plain luck, but when we got to Oregon, the job completely sucked! I mean, it was the worst job I ever had, and because it was so completely intolerable, it was my catalyst to finally leave teaching and pursue a different life, a life where I worked to live instead of living to work.

fullsizeoutput_17a6Through some connections with some wonderful people, I’ve been able to begin living the life I imagined. I now work at home. I have several different gigs—one for a company that’s very steady and has benefits, another that is regular and part-time but wonderfully creative, and the others are creative and sporadic. I’m a freelance writer and editor, I work at home with my dog and cat next to me, and I decide when and where I work. I never wake up to an alarm anymore. I wake up naturally with the sun. Sometimes I work in my pjs, sometimes I clock out for lunch and take a walk among the beautiful trees in Oregon, and go home refreshed to finish working. I take the same days off my husband does, so we can go to the beach, the mountains, or the falls, or just sit around together, watching movies.

Don’t get me wrong. It was hard, really hard. We left a beautiful house we had spent a lot of time making just how we wanted it. We left our close friends and family. We left security and better wages. We bought a house that needed everything, and we have to work on it way too much. We have to be careful with our money. We have to make friends (We have already met some great people we’ve been hanging out with). I’ve given up a lot, but I know it was the right thing to do.

I know because if it comes time for me to die ten years from now, five years, a year, I’ll know that I’ve been living, really living, the way I want to live. Even if my time comes next week, I know I spent my time doing what I want, being who I am, and my husband is able to live an authentic life, being himself. Nothing feels better than that. It really is a wonderful life, but sometimes you do need to leave to find the life you couldn’t allow yourself to live in that other place. Sometimes you have to just be bold to become bold.fullsizeoutput_17a5

Maybe someday I’ll move back, probably not, but if I do, I’ll be a different person. I’ll be a person who refuses to settle. I’ll be brave. I’ll be free. I won’t ever be trapped again, but the amazing thing is, I think I’ve learned how to be brave and free anywhere. For now, I’m loving the beautiful Pacific Northwest and the dramatic beauty of Oregon, where I learned to truly live “and as to you death, and you bitter hug of mortality, it is idle to try to alarm me” (Whitman, Section 49, Song of Myself) whilst I walk among the ancients as my true self. I can’t wait to see what this year brings. Happy New Year!—Christina Knowles

References:

Excerpt from Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Found in Writing America: Language and Composition in Context, edited by David A. Joliffe and Hephizibah Roskelly. Boston: Pearson, 2014. 132-133. Print.

Excerpt from Song of Myself by Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass. Philadelphia: David McKay, c. 1900. Bartleby.com, 1999.

Necessary for Survival by Christina Knowles

The-Walking-Dead-Season-4

In anticipation of the return of The Walking Dead series on AMC this October, I decided to make my “Necessary for Survival” list, not really for a zombie apocalypse, but just to survive the banality of everyday existence. Keeping in mind Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I decided to put basic needs first, and then move on to higher-self needs.

  1. Food and water
  2. Shelter, including an atmosphere free from danger in which to sleep
  3. Clothing
  4. Method of cleanliness/hygiene
  5. A means of protecting oneself from predators
  6. A method with which to obtain goods and services
  7. Peace
  8. Love/Social interaction
  9. Honesty
  10. Goodness
  11. Intellectual stimulation
  12. Meaningful and creative work
  13. Occasional distracting escapes
  14. Purpose (I mean on a deeper level than #12)
  15. Art (Poetry, Books, Music, Visual Arts, Film)
  16. Universal Truth

Numbers 6 and 16 are the only ones that give me any trouble. Number 6 is an unfortunate by-product of needing 1-5, 13, and 15. I am lucky enough to be gainfully employed, and it is meaningful and creative work, but it does not allow much time for numbers 8, 13, or enough of 15. Number 16 is always elusive.

Again I am reminded of The Walking Dead. I believe this show’s popularity owes its success to more than a great concept and good solid writing and characterization. The show represents our unconscious desire to abandon all but the basic necessities of life—that which is “Necessary for Survival.” Paring things down to the bare bones of living, returning to simplicity is the appeal of the show, I believe, for many people. WalkingDead

How many of us long to quit the daily, mind-numbing servitude to someone else’s dreams? To forget the house payments and credit card bills, forget that remodeling project, dump the textbooks in the trash, never ride another subway again? And I’m not even going to mention the freedom to embrace our own vision of justice as if we lived in the Old West, to handle matters as we see fit without the pesky interference of law enforcement or government agencies. We long to rid ourselves of the stress of modern convenience to which we have become enslaved.

But we are just too practical and too scared to do it. So we fantasize about a world that requires us to do it, where we have nothing to lose, no decision over which to agonize. It’s been forced upon us, but we imagine we are up to the challenge, not grown fat and lazy through civilization. We imagine that we can hold on to our humanity without the stress and complexities of civilization, so we root for those characters on The Walking Dead who refuse to completely lose their compassion, their civility, even while being free to be barbaric. It is today’s Walden. After all, we are not some hippie Transcendentalists. We want to be in control of our own lives, free to live how we want, not answer to anyone, get back to the simple things, but we are too ADHD to retire to a cabin in the woods, unless of course, there are zombies beating on the door. Maybe I should have added conflict to my “Necessary for Survival” list.—Christina Knowles

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Quiet Desperation–Okay, Maybe Not So Quiet by Christina Knowles

I’ve watched a lot of movies and read a lot of stories about people who have had a great awakening or an epiphany and completely rebooted their lives after finding out they have a terminal illness or after almost dying in an accident. I seriously want a reboot. Do I have to get sick or get in a major accident to do it? I hope not.

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If I found out I had a terminal illness and was told I had six months, or even a year to live, I would change my life immediately. So, why don’t I do it now? Why not live the life I want while I am still healthy and able to enjoy it? It seems I am in the majority with this one. The wisdom of Thoreau comes to mind. What’s the famous quote from Walden? “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

I don’t think I would go that far. In fact, for the most part I love my life. I think, herein, lies the actual problem. I should clarify–I love my home life. I want more time being with the people I love and doing the things that matter. You see, like many people, I am sick of my job. It is slowly, maybe quickly, now that I think about it, sucking the life out of me. It is overwhelmingly stressful. I am not exaggerating when I say that I think it is literally killing me. Isn’t that kind of like having a terminal illness?

That is a bit of an exaggeration. I don’t feel ill, and I am not in any physical pain, unless you count the anxiety attacks that keep me awake at night. I don’t have the emotional trauma of knowing how little time I have left. But even though I don’t have a doctor giving me a time frame, I could die tomorrow or next week. With my luck, it would be on a Friday right after work.

But the truth is that this slow death is not traumatic enough for me to take a risk. Why don’t I have the guts to live the life I want to live? Am I enslaved by my own comfort? Like many Americans, I work to pay for things to make me happy because my work makes me unhappy. It’s a trap. I have thousands of dollars of student loans to get an education, so I can pay back my student loans. Sometimes I wish I never had a college education and a career. Yes, I know. There are homeless and starving people who would love to trade places with me. Maybe that’s what I’m afraid of–I know my life could be so much worse, but is that any way to live? Afraid that things could be worse? Am I afraid to give up the material luxuries to which I’ve become accustomed to the point that I would kill myself working to keep them? How important are they that now my daydreams consist of working in a little flower shop and going home carefree to a tiny two-room house, riding my bike because I can’t afford a car that is likely to break down at any moment. And I will sleep well in my tiny house, nothing to panic about. Like Thoreau, I want to “live deliberately . . .and not, when I [come] to die, discover that I had not lived . . . I [want] to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”

But I am rudely awakened from this fantasy by the thought of health insurance and retirement accounts and veterinary bills. There is no such thing as carefree. Were we even meant for that kind of life? Isn’t it conflict and struggle that make us thrive? Or at the very least give us the contrasts that make us appreciate the good times? I mean, would I even love being at home so much if I hadn’t just left work? I don’t know, but I would like to try. It’s not like I want to quit working and striving. I just want something that doesn’t feel like it’s hurtling me at full-speed toward the grave.

So I again turn to Thoreau for advice: “I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” But I have never been good at taking advice.I find that I am not really a risk-taker when it comes down to it. Although I have intermittent lapses, I am practical and responsible. I also fear the unknown. Even if what I have seems intolerable at times, I suspect that the alternative is more intolerable. Maybe this is just a mid-life crisis, but if it is, it’s a little late. I see the hourglass emptying, and I know if I’m going to change, it has to be now. But I don’t have the courage or faith or maybe enough desperation, so I guess I have no choice but to go to the grave with the song still in me.–Christina Knowles

All quotes from Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden: Or Life in the Woods”

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