February 24, 2010

Homeward Bound

When travelling in Alaska, a park ranger told us that the native tribes used practical place names. For instance, the direct translation of the name of one area was “Place Where it Floods in Spring.” The tribe always knew, then, they shouldn’t camp there in the spring because that is where it flooded when the snow melted. As I find myself looking for a new place to live, I can’t help but appreciate this system. How nice it would have been had that last duplex I looked at been called “White Trashville” rather than “Oak Wood,” I would have saved some gas driving to go look at it.

I don’t have to move. I live in a perfectly nice place. I am hoping, however, that I can find someplace better…maybe someplace a little bigger…maybe someplace without upstairs neighbors…maybe someplace where I can have covered parking…maybe someplace with two windows so I can get a cross-breeze.

It’s amazing the little things that contribute to our sense of happiness. I remember, a few years ago, looking for a new apartment that had its own washer/dryer connection. Oh the wonderment I felt at being able to wash my laundry in my own abode. No more laundromats for me! Such was the basis of my joy at the time. Now, it’s the lure of a second bedroom that causes me to explore the wilds of “Doorway to the Garage is in the Carpeted Master Bedroom” and “View of Auto Parts Store.”

I am the modern American nomad. I can’t afford the house I want, but I might be able to rent someplace a little bit nicer than I have now, so I must look. I must hoard the empty paper boxes at work, I must critically eye my belongings’ lug-worthiness, I must risk one more odd-smelling bathroom. There’s a chance I might fine, “Perfectly Nice Place to Rent While You Save Up For What You Really Want.”

February 3, 2010

You Could Have it so Much Better

I was reading a friend’s blog earlier today. She is in the middle of pursuing what can only be described as a life calling. As she nears the resolution of whether or not this dream of hers will come true she wrote out the question that, no doubt, haunts her throughout this process: what will I do if it doesn’t go the way I want? The simple honesty of this question did not strike me as much as the sentence she wrote immediately after it. She told us, her readers, that the question was only rhetorical and that we shouldn’t respond with answers.

As someone who has received a lot of advice lately, I couldn’t help but empathize most with that second statement. At times, it seems I can’t utter a sentence without someone immediately offering me a suggestion. In complete fairness to my friends, most of the sentences to come out of my mouth lately have been complaints and laments. Such statements are open invitations to the world that I need help, are they not? The fact that my friends are so quick to offer me solutions only shows that I’ve communicated my problems well.

I truly believe this free advice is given to me in love, because I was ready to answer my fellow blogger’s question as soon as I read it with that same sense of love. I know exactly what I would say to her had she not, so helpfully, pointed out that she didn’t actually need a response to her question. In fact, the more I consider the topic of advice giving I am aware that, in happier times, I was the grand champion of advice giving! I couldn’t wait to hand out my oh-so-useful knowledge to anyone who needed it, whether they knew they needed it or not.

Happy people love to give advice. Why shouldn’t they? They want to spread the happy! We all want to lose weight, make money, find a trustworthy contractor, answer the big philosophical questions. We all know this, so, if one of us is successful, we want to share it with the others. Yet, somehow the sharing of our happiness ways transforms into instructions. “I found Jesus!” becomes “He’s right over here!” “Joe does my tile work,” evolves into a “Have you called Joe yet?” “I went back to school,” eventually leads to, “There are plenty of online classes available, you just have to look.” “Weight loss is hard,” sympathy can even turn into the accusatory, “You’ll never use that gym membership, will you?”

In a life naturally filled with ups and downs are we doomed to conversations that are naturally filled with complaints and suggestions? Is your level of happiness defined by what side of the advice you are on? I know I gave people a lot more of my opinions when I had more confidence in my own little space in the world. As I struggle now with doubts and worries and, evil so horrible, boredom, I don’t spread my philosophies so freely. I moan and bitch a lot. I get a lot of advice.

The happy try to spread their joy to the not so happy. What’s wrong with that? As my friend so succinctly stated in her own blog, the advice is not always required. Sometimes the statement of doubt is enough. Sometimes we just need to voice our worries and woes to the world, without comments. Sometimes we just want to be understood, not rescued. I know the obvious, but do you know the frustration?

I had two conversations with two different friends. I told both of them the same thing. My job is unfulfilling. One gave me a list of tasks to fix my problem and ended this list with, “There, I’ve given you your homework assignment.” The other one listened. When I was finished she said, “That sucks.” Both of them love me and said what they said because they care. They both said what they thought I needed to hear. One I walked away from still frustrated and slightly resentful. One I hung up the phone with, feeling better and missing her presence in Texas terribly.

Is one friend better than the other? Of course not, that’s not what I learned. I learned what made me feel better. I’ve been given some wonderful advice in my life and using it has led me to happiness. At this particular moment, though, it didn’t make me feel better. The next time my life is all sunshine and flowers and I’m happy as can be in my little space in the world, I’m going to try and keep some of my oh-so-useful knowledge to myself. I hope I’ve learned to be a better listener.