Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Browsing through the SY archives, I came across an item headed "Essential Items for a Satisfactory Living Experience": in which Algy listed clear night skies (bright visible stars), clean air, a quiet environment and organic tomoatoes as essential for his own happiness, and Tess added bittersweet chocolate.

It was a good way to get to know the authors of this effort, so I thought I’d throw in my own list of essentials by way of introduction. What was interesting, as I thought about my own essentials, was that so many of them are not purely pleasurable, like stars in the night or delicious chocolate. Most of my essentials are more along the lines of bargains that must be maintained. They are:

1) Exercise. I’ve never been a great exerciser. Not big on sports. Never been a fan of the gym. But the fact is that everything good in this life: eating, sex, work, play, gets better if I’m exercising regularly. And on the other hand, when I’m not exercising I start to feel like crap. What’s odd, though, is that the crappier I feel, the less I want to do the thing that will help – exercise! Thought about this today as I dragged my lazy ass off to the Y after several weeks of stewing in editing rooms.

2) Writing fiction. I’ve only a few times made money off of my stories. And between working and maintaining a home, I really have to schedule carefully to get any writing done. Also, like exercise, writing is something I am often "not in the mood" for. You have to concentrate, to write well, and that just seems like work a lot of the time. But damned if I’m not a lot happier after I’ve written a few pages. And when I finish a new story, the whole world seems like a better place.

3) Live music. Any genre. Nothing lifts my spirits like music played well, in a small venue where I can actually get the feeling of sharing a space with a performer.

4) Adventure. I don’t mean going to the rain forest here, I mean occasionally being in over my head. My friend Steve says "it isn’t an adventure unless, at some point, you wish you were home," which is maybe a bit too cynical a view, but basically I’m with him. I find I am happiest when, from time to time, I’m doing something so big and complicated it scares the crap out of me.

5) Access to the culture. And I don’t necessarily mean highfalutin stuff like opera. I just mean art and music and plays and movies and books and poetry – ideally live and in person. Which for the most part means I’m a city boy. I guess this is what Algy was referring to when he meant paring the list down to essentials. If you forced me to pick between stars visible in the night sky and access to culture (which basically is a choice you do have to make, given the nature of cities), then I will choose culture. Not with out a sigh and a last, longing look at twinkling brilliance before I walked into the Basquiat exhibit, but choose I would.

6) Lazy Sunday mornings. Taking my time with the newspaper. Cooking a fresh, hearty breakfast. Spending some quality time with the wife. I love my Sunday mornings. We’re gearing up to adopt a small human, however, and I understand that quality time takes a serious hit when you invite little people into your life. On the other hand, adoption would add seriously to the adventure side of the ledger. And also, I bet I could train this new person to like lazy Sundays too – fresh pancakes can be a powerful inducement!


At 11/08/2005 11:45 PM, Blogger tess said...


I am right there with you, more or less, on items 2-6.

1) Exercise is a deal I've never been able to keep up with consistently ... after I had my own small human, I was glad to get back to the weight I was before pregnancy, but other than walking outside regularly, and eating relatively sensibly, I've not done a blamed thing to maintain that.

2) For me it's poetry, and I'll have to pare down the statement "only made money a few times with it" to "never made any money at all"! But thinking/writing poetry ... that's an essential I'm happy to re-recognize every time it happens. Unlike you I've not made regular time and space for it to happen, and I like the idea of doing so ... I've always thought of the regular-writing gig as a fiction-writer's thang. You know, "Every morning I get up and go straight to my Smith Corona", etc. etc.

3) Live music - Must include electric guitars to truly elevate my soul, but going to live shows -- although a sort of new habit for me, since I only started going in my late 30s, ahem (what was that grunge fad again?) -- is one of the things I miss the most about my pre-child life. (I just don't stay up that late anymore, at least not on purpose!)

4) "I find I am happiest when, from time to time, I’m doing something so big and complicated it scares the crap out of me." Well, then, parenthood should suit you just fine!

Honestly, I used to think that having an unfamiliar language to program in and an eager client on the other side of an impossible deadline was the scariest, and headiest, situation I could find myself in. Nuh-uh. Not even close.

5) Yup.

6) Preferably the New York Times, and I'm just as happy over a nice toasty bagel as a full-on pancake breakfast, but as long as coffee's plentiful and there's a newspaper in front of my nose, it's Sunday morning.

And about quality time ... you won't have less of it. You'll just enjoy it in new and different ways. And yes, your little one will pick up on the things you love, more easily than you might imagine. It's grand.


At 11/09/2005 9:28 AM, Blogger Ernest said...

Two quick things--

I should clarify about both the excercise and the writing -- I have never figured out how to do either in a steady, some-every-day kind of way. Instead I'll do one or the other for a stretch, fall out of the habit for a few days, weeks, or sometimes even months, realize there's something missing in my life and finally get back up on the horse.

Regarding music, your little one is, I suspect, still a bit too young, but very shortly will be old enough to take to house concerts, which in my experience are family and child friendly (as long as the child is able to sit in one place and not cry). House concerts are my favorite way to experience live music these days and I highly recommend.


At 11/15/2005 8:36 PM, Blogger tess said...

~ house concerts ~

Been there! He's been to three already, the first when he was only a few months old. :)



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