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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Do We Romanticize the Lives of Others?

Bookstore dream come true
It’s happened more than once, and I’ve written about it before. Someone walks into my bookstore, realizes the art gallery next door is my husband’s, and exclaims, “You’re living my dream!” (Pretty funny coincidence: I hadn't looked over yet my draft of this post before uploading it when a woman from New Jersey, who yesterday bought Nuts to You, by Lynne Rae Perkins, came back today for Criss Cross and told me, "This is my dream!" I told her I'd just been writing about that for my blog.)

Gallery dream come true
I’ve also said – again, more than once – that having a dream is very different from living it, the difference one between pleasant, idle daydreaming and making something happen and working year after year to keep it alive. Which doesn’t mean it isn’t a dream come true, only that it didn’t come about with a lottery ticket or because a fairy godmother waved a magic wand. Of course I have my own unrealized dream lives, the selves I call my “inner cowgirl” and my “inner farmer” -- sigh -- but it’s hard to live more than one life at a time. I guess many of us have "roads not taken" in the progress of our lives.

Hurry! Time to make hay before it rains!
A friend whose parents moved the family to a 120-acre farm when she, the friend, was about 12 years old commented to me recently, “I don’t romanticize farming. It’s hard work! I couldn’t wait to leave the farm! I felt like the farm was my prison.” I told her that in my younger years I held a series of low-level office positions, and those offices definitely felt like prison cells to me. On a farm, there are seasonal demands and the unpredictability of nature – not to make light of them, but they are impersonal constraints. The real nightmare, to my mind, would be clashes with threatening and unreasonable authorities, encounters such as the growers in the documentary film “Farmageddon” suffered. (Surprise!) I don’t have the energy I had even five years ago, but I still enjoy working hard outdoors.

Well, instead I spend hours indoors in my bookstore (and often long to be outdoors at home), but it is my bookstore, and I am the boss! so it is not the prison those deadly old offices were. I drive myself pretty hard sometimes but am not subject to the arbitrary will of another, one of the most difficult features of clerical work. Lots of responsibility coupled with little if any authority is not a recipe for happiness! Nowadays I have both the authority and the responsibility, and the one makes the other much more pleasant.

I don’t think I romanticize farming, any more than I romanticize my own life, but sometimes I do romanticize the life David and I lead -- in a sense -- and I’m the first to admit it. (As I like to say, if I don't romanticize my life, who will? Oh, wait! I just said many people do. Hmm.) That doesn't mean, however, that I'm just daydreaming about a hazy possibility and seeing it in a rosy, soft-focus glow. I live the reality along with the dream. The bookseller’s life? More than just sitting around reading books! The artist’s life? Not all wine and roses, either! Hard work and financial sacrifice, like farming. Also, like farming, unpredictable income. Not everyone would choose to live as we do. Where the romantic part comes in, for me, is not in an avoidance of hard work, not in living the life of Riley or counting on "easy money," but in loving one’s work and being grateful not to be working against one's own nature. So I like to think if I'd taken a different road that I would feel the same way about farming. But who knows, right?

Well, when a friend had a garden business some years back -- design, installation, maintenance -- I worked with her on the installation and maintenance, and we worked hard! But we enjoyed working outdoors, enjoyed working together, and were happy to be strong and healthy enough (in late middle age) to engage in hard physical labor. Also, she was her own boss and treated me, her employee, like a respected colleague (though some of her clients saw me as the "yard girl"). So we were both happy.

And yes, David and I, the artist and the bookseller, are happy now in our hardworking life. Isn’t it romantic? Not every single minute, but often!

They are weeds, but I adore them!


Linda Roth said...

All occupationsal activities, have as many positives as they do negatives. They are only viewed as romantic by others who have never tried anything on their own. I learned this over my lifetime filled with a number of occupations, which were as annoying as they were satisfying, Romance and glamour are fictional. Non fiction is opening the store, purchasing stock, promoting stock, maintaining the establishment, meeting the payroll, troubleshooting discontents etc. The absence of romance in business make it imperative that we love what we do. I always thought I'd like to live on a farm (romantic view of the pastoral countryside). I always knew farming the farm was anything but pastoral. It's hard, dirty labor.

P. J. Grath said...

I hear you, Linda, and it inspired me to look up an old post I wrote on my (ahem!) philosophy of life.
From this you can see that my romanticism is tempered with pragmatism -- and untroubled by hard, even physically dirty work. It's that morally dirty stuff I want to steer clear of, dontcha know.

Cheri Walton said...

I finally see why I haven't been able to leave you a comment.........I won't even explain it because I was so stupid, but at least now I can do it. As usual, your post today made me think of myself and my decision to NOT go back to any of my old "legitimate" jobs in social service when my husband and I parted ways. I had been a stay-at-home mother doing many part time jobs. They were contracted jobs without benefits. I had gone back to school to study art with the full knowledge I would never make a living as an artist. It was a conscious decision to be poor rather than work in a conventional way with salaries and benefits. I have scraped along with "under the table" income and, yes, welfare. I have never regretted it. It' s the life I chose so that I could do what I wanted to do. It's hard, but so is every other way of life in its own way. It's the freedom, 24 hour a day freedom, that I wanted.

P. J. Grath said...

Cheri, I can't say I have 24 hours of freedom, especially in the summer, when my bookshop is open seven days a week! But I know what you're saying. Someone told me an old Yiddish story, where everyone is sitting around a table, bemoaning their troubles, and then they all put their troubles in the middle of the table. Anyone can take from the pile whatever troubles they choose. And everyone takes back their own! Good story, eh?