Happiness Is Complicated

by whinepairings

Please read this link first. It’s a cartoon illustrated by a fan of Bill Watterson’s named Gavin Aung (his website can be found here). The words are from a commencement address Watterson gave about 20 years ago: http://zenpencils.com/comic/128-bill-watterson-a-cartoonists-advice/

I think that it’s difficult for me to separate my ambition and dreams from my upbringing, sometimes. My parents gave me such a comfortable life that when I ventured out into the world I was scared to be uncomfortable – but I mistakenly interpreted “uncomfortable” as “without the means to pay bills.” As a freshman at Indiana University, I declared as a business major.

What the fuck was I thinking?

Fortunately, when I found out that being a business major meant I’d have to take calculus, I switched my major to English before classes commenced.

Uncomfortable actually means “unable to know your place.” I found my place so easily in high school (with a Jewish youth group called BBYO) and in college, but those are the only years I remember having a strong identity outside of my general hubris as the funniest guy most people know.

Anyway, the above brilliant homage to Bill Watterson is such a great message. It also explains why, in the coming weeks, I might turn down a job that pays 100,000 dollars a year.

I might not. I honestly don’t know. It’s apparently a firm that is famous for a collegiate, friendly atmosphere.

But my friend Nick wants to start a sketch comedy group. And Dave Lavon’s brother in law wants me to write comedic sketches for him. And I am so much better at writing creatively than doing anything else. So much happier, too. Even though these things don’t necessarily pay a goddamn cent. Am I supposed to sit in front of a computer all day, working my ass off for incredible money that I’d be lucky to have, to help banks save money? To help car companies sue other car companies? To help businessmen fight charges of tax evasion and fraud?

“Bondage is subjection to external influences and internal negative thoughts and attitudes.” W. Clement Stone said that. His dad died when he was a toddler, and he grew up to be the quintessential “rags to riches” story of all time. I have let external influences control me for so long that I don’t even know whether I’ve simply internalized things I don’t believe, or I’ve been socialized to believe I’m not being externally influenced. I just don’t know. When Stone says, “Negative thoughts and attitudes,” does he mean simply not believing in yourself? Or maybe it’s a little more nuanced – negative thoughts and attitudes are simply the ones that tell you to take the safer, but less fulfilling, route?

If I work hard as an attorney, I could afford to have a family. Is that what is most gratifying in life? Will I feel like a fool if I try to write for 5 more years and then, unsuccessful, tail tucked between my legs, return to corporate America, start a family, and realized I put it off way too long?

I am very happy right now, which I’m sure is unclear given this posting. I am happy. I’m just a little scared. I don’t know which direction to turn. My favorite part of the Watterson-inspired cartoon I attached above is:

“Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.”

Whenever I quit anything in my youth, my dad was very disappointed in me. I still remember how queasy I felt when telling him I was quitting my job as a waiter (because the owner assaulted a waitress), and my job as a resident assistant (because I was an outcast on my floor). He questioned my reasons for quitting, and asked me if they were the right reasons. I told him they were. I wish I remembered whether he believed me or not, or even whether I felt like he believed me or not, but in the end, they were my decisions to make, and I made them.

Maybe I didn’t know if my dad believed I had quit for the right reasons because he didn’t know, either. Maybe that’s the whole point. That we can’t know until we come out on the other side, either smelling like shit and joyous freedom like Andy Dufresne, or smelling like new car leather with a dead look on our face as we pull into a job we never dreamed of as children.