On Tuesday I posted about the 10 Books That Have Stuck with Me. From those books, there is one quote that’s stuck with me the most. It’s from Saul Bellow’s The Dangling Man. The truth is, I don’t even remember the book all that well, but this quote spoke to me when I was sixteen and living in the suburbs of New Jersey, my daily life a boring routine:
It may be that I am tired of having to identify a day as “the day I asked for a second cup of coffee,” or “the day the waitress refused to take back the burned toast,” and so want to blaze it more sharply, regardless of the consequences. Perhaps, eager for consequences.
I wasn’t the type of person back then who would even send back a piece of burned toast. …I’m still not. I was terribly fearful of consequences. Too fearful to even act most of the time. I tried to be invisible, to blend into the background, to not be seen by my teachers or my peers. I was too afraid. Too afraid of attention. Too afraid at failing. Too afraid at even succeeding (no one likes a know-it-all overachiever).
I had actually gotten turned on to Saul Bellow from The Counting Crows. (Hey, I’m not the only one!) In The Counting Crows song “Rain King,” inspired by Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King, Duritz sings:
I belong anywhere but in between
I loved the passion of Bellow’s and Duritz’s characters, but they were not me. I related more to another line from Duritz’s most famous song, “Mr. Jones“:
Grey is my favorite color
I wasn’t a black-or-white person. I didn’t like extremes. I liked the grey, the in between–the safe.
But I was bored. So bored. I could relate to Bellow’s character who wanted a life that consisted of more than just a mild aberration of the routine.
I don’t blame New Jersey or suburban life. Though it was really hard to have a life when you go to school for eight hours a day and then come home to several more hours of homework each night, I can’t even just blame that because I can’t say that I did anything extraordinary in the free time that I did have. I went to the mall. I went to the library. I went to Blockbusters and rented videos with my friends.
It really wasn’t until I left and moved out to California and began taking chances that my life changed. I began to feel more fulfilled as I reached for the things that truly made me happy. I began doing more, choosing more.
All these years later, living in “the city that never sleeps,” I worry I don’t embrace New York City enough. I worry that because I work late hours in the office or find myself at the grocery store instead of at the latest hotspot that I’m not living life to the fullest. That my life is defined by the day there was zucchini bread in the office kitchen or the day the lights eerily went out in the subway for a thirty seconds. And yet sometimes I’m at my happiest when I decide to read a book instead of going out.
I’m not so afraid of living life anymore, but sometimes I still like the grey, the in between, the routine of toast and coffee.
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