NOT ANOTHER TV DAD
★ ★ ★ ★
By CL Bledsoe
I don’t enjoy my life, much. I actually think this is true of a lot of people. If you ask straight out, “Do you enjoy your life?” Most people will say yes; of course they do! It would be embarrassing to say otherwise, because we’ve all been told life would go a certain way and involve certain things, and if it doesn’t, it must be our fault and therefore we shouldn’t ever tell anyone about it, ever. And we’ve all been conditioned not to think about these things. As an abstraction, yes, life is more preferable than the alternative. Duh.
“Did you enjoy the movie?”
“It was better than being dead.”
But if I break it down and quantify exactly what my “life” entails, I start to encounter problems with the whole “enjoying it” thing. What is a life? It’s how you spend your time, right? So how do I spend my time? A lot of my time is spent at work. Again, ask me if I enjoy my work, and I’ll say, “Sure. It’s fine.” But let’s get specific. What about my boss? My coworkers? That one guy who always causes problems? If I zero in on specifics, the answer becomes no. I don’t enjoy my job. I work too much for too little gain. I have too much responsibility that I’m not compensated for. I will work my whole life to maybe be able to retire, when I’ll try to enjoy things until I die, which will be a challenge because I’ve been conditioned to always be productive.
There are moments I enjoy, of course, and I’m not saying I hate my job. Well, a little. I enjoy interacting with my coworkers. I enjoy completing a task (especially a difficult one). I enjoy being part of something — accomplishing something, even if the purpose of that thing isn’t always readily apparent. I enjoy the general feeling of respect — when I get that — from my co-workers or boss or whomever. Of course, I greatly dislike the opposite.
I think the same is true for many people. I’m grateful to have a job because it’s better than the alternative, but that’s starting to seem like a pretty weak argument.
What else constitutes a life? Society? Ok, how about politics? Do I enjoy politics? I think any of us would have a hard time finding someone who thinks our political system is effective and accomplishes what it’s supposed to accomplish. Most people I know participate in it much the same way I’ve been writing about life and work; it’s better than the alternative. Electing ____ is better than electing the other person. This is pretty much the same argument that I enjoy my life because at least I’m not dead.
At this point, I’m thinking it might be my attitude. And I think that’s right, in a sense. My attitude has been to be grateful that I have a job, a home, a life. This kind of reasoning is meant to shut down any sort of questioning by labeling it as complaining. But how can I change things if I shut myself down by forcing gratitude? Let’s set it aside.
The reality is that the things I enjoy most in life are things that take me away from life, i.e. distractions. Art is a distraction. TV, movies, music, these are all substitutes for reality, in a sense. Sure, they can enhance reality, but why does reality need enhancing? I’m asking that seriously. Why is it that the ways I want to spend my time mostly have to do with escape? That seems like a bad thing, right?
I enjoy time I spend with my family, but that time is constantly impinged upon by the demands of the world, which, as I’ve established, I don’t much enjoy. When I’m with my daughter, it’s like the only time I feel at ease. I can rest for a little while.
It’s been like this as long as I can remember. I didn’t much enjoy school. The best part of it was spending time with my friends. I did, occasionally, learn something that was interesting or even exciting, but to be honest, my passion for learning was snuffed out at a pretty young age. Not only did my family and peers mock any true enthusiasm I had for discovery and learning, but so did my teachers. This is common, I think; I’m no exception.
The answer to all of this is tomorrow. “I just have to get through today,” I’ve told myself countless times. But does that tomorrow ever come? Sometimes, but then it ends, and it’s back to work the next day. But it’s better than being dead.
As I write this, I feel like this is all my fault. Because I’m supposed to be grateful for what I get. But I’m not being ungrateful; I’m simply pointing out that these things are unfulfilling.
I have to have a job to pay my rent and buy food and support my daughter. I have to participate in politics to try to mitigate the damage caused by others (i.e. politicians). I — at least feel like — I need art and distractions to make it through these other things. I need my daughter, but of course, I’m also supposed to be teaching her how to navigate these other things.
So what is it that I’m to escape? I’ve been told from the time I was able to listen that happiness comes from things, that my problems can be fixed by things. So I work and struggle to pay for things that distract me from how unhappy the way I spend my time makes me. I try to grab some time with my family in between shifts. Maybe I take a vacation and try to pack a year’s worth of living into two weeks. Maybe. Of course, I’m coming from the perspective of poverty. All of this working is making someone rich, but it’s not me. Would I enjoy life more if it were me? I think there would be less pressure on me, but I also think that it would just mean more things, and things aren’t the answer.
The best answer I’ve found is that we have to try to enjoy the unpleasantness as much as possible. That makes sense because we don’t have a lot of choice. But it’s baffling to me that this is the world we’ve made — one that most of us don’t seem to enjoy very much, except for those moments that carry us through the rest of it. All we can do is to try to improve our lives, little by little, taking the first step towards changing things.
CL Bledsoe is the author of sixteen books, most recently the poetry collection Trashcans in Love and the flash fiction collection Ray’s Sea World. His poems, stories, and nonfiction have been published in hundreds of journals and anthologies including New York Quarterly, The Cimarron Review, Contrary, Story South, and The Arkansas Review. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize fifteen times, Best of the Net three times, and has had two stories selected as Notable Stories of the Year by Story South‘s Million Writers Award. Originally from a rice and catfish farm in the Mississippi River Delta area of Arkansas, Bledsoe lives with his daughter in northern Virginia. He blogs at NotAnotherTVDad.blogspot.com