I was talking the other day with D and E (no this is not some sort of cute little alphabetical allegory) about this goddamn soul-crushing American fear of wasted time—the relentless drive to be productive at every moment of the day. Not to oversleep. Not to take a vacation that is longer than ten days, lest your life fall apart completely in your absence. I have heard my nearest and dearest griping/gloating about how France is finally having to face Reality and question its two-month Summer holidays, now that it is economically plugged into the European Union. I have heard same respond to news of joyful, non-job-related happenings with a sour “It must be great not to have responsibilities.”
Over the past few years I have made my money as a teacher, first of middle school, now of community college. In the faculty lounges of these institutions (as I guess is typical of any lounge in any government facility) I have listened to the complaints and the tirades of those whose spirits have been crushed by too many unpleasant responsibilities and a general lack of joy, to the point where any manifestation of joy seems suspect to them, to the point where even the desire to experience joy seems childish and unrealistic. Their words, their faces, I can say without the slightest fear of disingenuousness, have been knives in my heart. Always are. They drive me to madness and despair. Madness because I want to grab them by the collars and scream: THEN GET OUT OF HERE! Change your job! Change your life! Divorce your husband! Dismantle whatever it is you’ve imprisoned yourself inside of and MOVE ON? What have you got to lose? The alternative is seeping out your miserable, small, complaining, disgruntled existence for another, say, forty years until you die.
Or, um, is it NOT THAT SIMPLE? Anyway, that’s the madness.
Despair because their words are acid, poison. If you don’t exorcise the stuff by spitting back in their faces (which I tend not to do, being basically a nice, polite boy), it threatens to worm its way into you. To make you think that this disease of smallness and discontent and enslavement to unwanted “responsibilities” at the expense of joy is somehow inexorable, universal.
By far, the most attractive response to all of this, theoretically speaking, is “fuck it.” Maybe practically speaking, too. At any rate, my oversensitivity to this tendency a lot of people seem to have to be poisonous, suppurating sacs of bitterness has led me to keep most people at a distance. This is probably, no, certainly overcompensation, in that, paradoxically, good, healthy contact with others is one of the things in life that can be most joy-bringing and life-sustaining. Trapping yourself with nobody but yourself, unless you have a particularly positive and autonomously content Self (which I don’t), can lead to long periods of decided un-joy.
What I’m questioning here is what seems to me to be an unspoken agreement between a lot of people that Responsibility = Unhappiness and Happiness = Irresponsibility. Some kind of artificial distinction between those activities and modes of thought which are appropriate to grownups (i.e. Seriousness, Responsibility, Sobriety (spiritual and literal)) and those which are not (i.e. Playfulness, Joy). This duality, which seems to me to be all-but-all-pervasive in the adult (and possibly, particularly American) world has (as I guess is abundantly clear at this point) been a source of great distress to me for as long as I can remember. I struggle with it both outside and inside of myself. But whatever the outcome of my struggle at any given moment, or in the long run, I swear this: that I am the Enemy of Joylessness, of Unromantic living. Of the celebration and fetishization of Responsibility at the expense of happiness and personal freedom.