Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Triple Vanilla Chunk

"What we want, and what we need, has been confused." - R.E.M.

Vanilla Chunk #1:

A friend and I were catching up over beers and found ourselves getting into a conversational rhythm. Our talk would inevitably lead one of us to complain about some particular aspect of our lives, and then we would acknowledge that the problems in question were most decidedly “First World Problems.” And then we would shrug and continue to complain, but it was like we were complaining with an asterisk, or inside brackets. Is it better or healthier to complain with such acknowledgments of how well we have it, relatively speaking? Or is it just a depressing reminder that we’re just bitchy bitchin’ and mopey mopin’?

Vanilla Chunk #2:

I shacked up for free with a friend at our college reunion in November. He’d already booked the room and told me I could stay with him for free, because he knows our barely-impressive family budget is stretched pretty thin. He, meanwhile, is single in D.C., owns a boat, a summer condo in Florida, and season tickets to the Capitals. He travels to Italy and Vegas annually and usually goes a few other places for kicks.

When I asked him to let me pay for part of the room, he said, “Billy, take your girls out to lunch and tell them it was on me. Do that, and we’re even.” (“But the room was over $200 a night, and I didn’t pay you anything.”) “Billy, I pay more than that for a nice meal practically every week. Paying for that room doesn’t dent my budget, but I know it dents yours.”

My former college roommate makes more in annual bonus than I make in annual salary. So I thanked him and moved on.

A family friend received a piece of eye-popping jewelry as a Christmas present. She guessed it was worth “at least $4,000, probably more." She's been dating the guy who gave it to her for a couple of months. This was after he gave her a $900 purse a few weeks earlier. Meanwhile, my wife and I promised to limit our Christmas spending on one another to $50… and then we secretly splurged and spent close to $100 each!

Most days this phases me not a mite. I made career and life choices that were not about money, and I can usually live very happily with those choices. But some days, when our savings depletes to replace car tires, and we open up another credit card to pay tuition, it gets to me.

My wife and I earn more than probably 90% of the world. But it sure would be swell if we could go, like, skiing without taking out a second mortgage. It’s a First World Problem, to be sure.

Vanilla Chunk #3:

This was the first New Year’s Eve I recall where so many of my friends and acquaintances were proudly doing very little or nothing. My own family holed up in our home, played some family games, and rang in 2015 cuddled across the master bed with tiny glasses of sparkling apple juice.

In recognition of the New Year, I had begun to write a post about resolutions. I began to list a bunch of my own personal hopes and goals for the year. And then I began to offer all the explanations why most of them wouldn’t be met, but why I would probably be OK with that.

But the entire list and my explanations fell into a theme:
  • Resolution: Specific, action- or event-oriented. Fulfilling some imaginary quota of interests, or meeting some perceived or acknowledged personal or professional weakness.
  • Reaction: The gnawing sense that my specific goals and hopes don’t really matter to me so much as the overall feelings, values and priorities I want to believe I have, or aim to have. We resolve specifics, but we really want big intangibles. Peace. Love. Happiness. Nick Lowe.
In several recent books and articles, the phrase “eulogy virtues” (or something similar) has come up. It rang especially true in a great David Brooks speech given last year, a speech I’ve re-read several times, a shorter version of which is here. He asks whether we are living for our resume or our eulogy.

When I looked at my New Year’s Resolutions, I saw, to one extent or another, resume values. If I got through my whole year without checking off a single item on my list, I would be fine so long as I felt like I was better off on the “eulogy virtues” of whether my existence was bettering my children, my family, my friends, my community.

Triple Vanilla Chunk Conclusion

My life has been carefully and lovingly crafted to be… vanilla. High-quality, cost-efficient, delicious vanilla. It’s a good, tasty life. But it's natural to wonder -- just a little, just occasionally -- if I’ve missed out on adding some of those really cool toppings, like sprinkles or chocolate chips, or M&Ms. ... right? It's also wise to know that many of those toppings can totally screw up what was a really good dessert to begin with.

First World Probs, yo. First World Probs.

1 comment:

troutking said...

Thoughtful and thought-provoking post with several good concepts to chew on. Thanks!