The Mind of Bluesleepy

Il bel far niente 27 June 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — bluesleepy @ 8:07 pm

Lena was so kind as to tag me for the six-word memoir meme that’s been making the rounds.  Here are the rules:

Write a six-word memoir.
Post it to your blog including a visual illustration if you would like.
Link to the person who tagged you in your post and to this original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogsphere.
Tag 5 more blogs with links.
Don’t forget to leave a comment in the tagged blogs with an invitation to play.

I didn’t think I would be able to come up with just six words to describe my life.  But as I began this entry, on a completely different topic, it came to me.

A mother and wife, she waits.

Because you know, as a military wife, that’s what I do best.  I wait.  When Kurt’s out on deployment, I wait for his return.  Once he comes home, I wait for the next deployment.  Even now that he’s on shore duty and home for three straight years, I am waiting.  Waiting for his return to sea duty and deployments.  It’s never far from my mind, which is why sometimes we get somewhat frantic in our activities.  We try to stuff as much fun and time together into these three years as we possibly can.

And one year’s almost gone already.

I’m supposed to tag five more people, but I’m not sure who hasn’t been tagged yet.  If this sort of thing is up your alley, let me know you’ve done it by leaving a comment on this page so I can check out your creation.  I look forward to seeing what you all come up with.

And back to our regularly scheduled programming.

I am, at the moment, reading Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, sent to me by my favorite inhabitant of Louisiana, Elle, who had packed up a box of random books and shipped it northward.  I don’t normally read non-fiction if it’s not a biography of some kind, but this one looked interesting.

I’ve come to dive into this book with both feet.  It’s really very good, a journey of self-discovery by a woman who travels to Italy, India, and Indonesia.  I’m assuming that’s where the title comes from; that she learns to eat in Italy, to pray in India, and to love in Indonesia.

I’ve gotten through Italy thus far, and there was quite a bit in there that really resonated with me.  Gilbert contrasts the Italians’ ability to relax and enjoy themselves with Americans’ inability to let go at all.  She uses the expression il bel far niente, and explains that it means “the beauty of doing nothing.”  This is what all Italians aspire to after a life of hard work, to be able to sit back and do nothing.  And the better and more beautifully you can do nothing, the better.

Contrast that with her description of Americans:

Generally speaking, though, Americans have an inability to relax into sheer pleasure.  Our is an entertainment-seeking nation, but not necessarily a pleasure-seeking one.  Americans spend billions to keep themselves amused with everything from porn to theme parks to wars, but that’s not exactly the same thing as quiet enjoyment.  Americans work harder and longer and more stressful hours than anyone in the world today.  But as Luca Spaghetti pointed out, we seem to like it.  Alarming statistics back this observation up, showing that many Americans feel more happy and fulfilled in their offices than they do in their own homes.  Of course, we all inevitably work too hard, then we get burned out and have to spend the whole weekend in our pajamas, eating cereal straight out of the box and staring at the TV in a mild coma (which is the opposite of working, yes, but not exactly the same thing as pleasure).  Americans don’t really know how to do nothing.  This is the cause of that great sad American stereotype — the overstressed executive who goes on vacation, but who cannot relax.

When’s the last time you heard of a family going on vacation just to enjoy themselves?  There’s always a reason, a purpose, to wherever it is that they are going.  When the husband tells his friends at the water cooler that he’s taking the family to Hawaii or Chicago or wherever, the very first question after that is, “Oh yeah?  What are you going to do there?”  Imagine the response if the man simply said, “Just have fun.  Relax.  Do nothing.”

We are not encouraged to do nothing.  We are chastised for sitting in front of the TV because that’s time we’re not doing something else.  Our kids are overscheduled, going to school and karate and swim lessons and ballet.  Come summertime, they go to one camp after another to keep them occupied and busy.  Kids don’t go outside and play aimlessly till the street lights come on anymore.  We have to have structure.  We have to do something.  We have to accomplish something.

Gilbert goes on to write:

For me, though, a major obstacle in my pursuit of pleasure was my ingrained sense of Puritan guilt.  Do I really deserve this pleasure?  This is very American, too — the insecurity about whether we have earned our happiness.  Planet Advertising in America orbits completely around the need to convince the uncertain consumer that yes, you have actually warranted a special treat.  This Bud’s for You!  You Deserve a Break Today!  Because You’re Worth It!  You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!  And the insecure consumer thinks, Yeah!  Thanks!  I am gonna go buy a six-pack, damn it!  Maybe even two six-packs! And then comes the reactionary binge.  Followed by the remorse.  Such advertising campaigns would probably not be as effective in the Italian culture, where people already know that they are entitled to enjoyment in this life.  The reply in Italy to “You Deserve a Break Today” would probably be, Yeah, no duh.  That’s why I’m planning on taking a break at noon, to go over to your house and sleep with your wife.

Even I have this problem.  You know, I thoroughly enjoy being a stay-at-home wife and mother.  But I feel such guilt that I love my job, that I enjoy it so much, because we’re not supposed to enjoy it.  We’re supposed to be miserable in our jobs, waiting till we can finish this job and move on to the next miserable stage of our lives.  I’m constantly justifying it, not just to other people, but to myself!  “It’s best for the kids,” “I’m supporting my husband in the best way,” “It’s hard to have a career when you’re moving every three years,” “It’s okay because we can afford it.”  I feel like I can’t just say, “Well, I’m having the time of my life over here, and I’d rather not quit.”

We are a nation of sacrificers, and we want our sacrifices recognized.  “I work sixty hours a week so that we can live in this McMansion.”  “Your mother works so we can send you to the best colleges.”  “I hate my job, but the bills have to be paid somehow.”  But what is it all for???  Where does that get us?  We’re overtired and overworked and overstressed.  We can’t even enjoy our vacations because we’re supposed to be achieving something even during our downtime.  We can’t sleep, so we take meds.  We don’t have time to cook, so we eat artery-clogging fast food.  Families grow up not really knowing each other because the kids have practice and the parents have to stay late.  Parents feel guilty that they don’t spend enough time with the kids, so they max out their credit cards buying their children all the latest and coolest gadgets to make it up to them.

I am thinking we could learn something from the Italians.  Maybe we should strive to learn to do nothing beautifully, to sit in the sun at the park and soak up the sun without worrying whether the laundry’s been done or what we’re going to say at the business meeting tomorrow.  To enjoy a glass of good wine without fretting about the caloric consequences.  To join in the children’s game of hopscotch just because it looks fun.  To spend an entire day curled up with a good book without concern that we’ve just wasted an entire Saturday.

We would all be just a little bit happier, I think.

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10 Responses to “Il bel far niente”

  1. twisterjester Says:

    You’re right, though it wasn’t always that way. A few years back, researchers calculated the amount of spare time Americans enjoyed. Despite our “time saving devices,” we actually had more leisure time a hundred years ago. How sad is that???

  2. art Says:

    when i was in seattle, i used to love to goto the park and just sit and look at elliot bay. do nothing, just daydream. it was nice.

  3. cardiogirl Says:

    First, AWESOME six-word description, blue. Dead on, well put. I have to say I find it daunting, attempting to explain myself in just six words.

    Brevity is not a strong suit. (Hey that was six words and I wasn’t even trying!)

    Secondly, I love the idea of channeling my inner Italian. I actually did that without realizing, two days ago. I took the girls to the beach and we sat in the water, just enjoying the sun and sand. And it was great.

  4. Elle Says:

    Ooooh don’tcha love it! I have to admit, the Italy part of the book was my favorite, although the other two were excellent, there is just something so seductive about being unafraid to indulge in quiet and every day pleasures without an alarm bell ringing or worrying about overstaying your alloted lunch hour.

    Otherwise, I loved yours, so I think I will take the bait and attempt a six word memoir. Talk about a day spent just counting on my fingers LOL.

  5. oleandlena Says:

    What an awesome entry. When we traveled in the Mediterranean countries that was the best part – the relaxed attitude and atmosphere of the people. Everyone could take a lesson from them.

  6. Dana Says:

    I have the hardest time “taking the summer off”. I always look around the house and wonder what I should be doing, etc. etc.

    After reading this post, I’m going to take at least one day to “just be.”

  7. purple chai Says:

    Exodus is by Leon Uris. It was written in 1958 and later made into a movie with Paul Newman, but I think the movie must leave out a lot of the background and just focus on one incident. The book is definitely written to favor the Jews of that time — it’s about them, primarily — but does present a whole picture. In essence, the British controlled the whole area and did their best to screw over everyone involved, because what they wanted, of course, was to control the oil. Most of the Arab countries of today only came into existence as part of the the whole British protectorate/political process, except Egypt and Lebanon, I think. The rest of it was just vague Arab lands, later made into countries by Britain and with Britain’s choices for their leaders. (I thought only the U.S. did that kind of thing.) Anyway, also a good story. It was a huge bestseller in its day. Every library should have it.

  8. sleepyjane Says:

    Great post Blue. 🙂

  9. Aimee Says:

    You know what? When the electricity went out here for something like two or three days we learned of a life totally different than we have now. It included neighbors and talking instead of being entertained. And a lot of BBQ-ing a lot of food with friends. It was great.

  10. capitolady Says:

    OMG I so agree with you! I spent nearly 8 years home with my kids when I got out of the Navy and I throughly enjoyed every minute! I know what you mean about waiting constantly for the next time he will leave. We were both in when we met and it was very hard. When I started having the kids it became a necessity for one of us to get out. Lucky for me He decided on his own that he would leave the Navy, while I finished my enlistment.

    I was always afraid that I would get deployed and not see my kids for a long time. It became an absolute must that I once my enlistment was up that I spend all the time I could with the kids. I don’t regret a minute.

    The pressure for women to be in the work force and provide all the toys is just so strong. It is hard to say no. I give you big profs for doing it. Stay strong. You understand all to well what many don’t about our great nation.


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