“Everything has been figured out, except how to live.”
There are times when the mere specter of Monday can cast a shadow over the whole weekend. And yet, the weekend—whatever days of the week it happens to fall on for you—is what you are allotted. When people say they hate Mondays what they are really saying is that they hate their life for Mondays are a fairly regular occurrence. Likewise, longing for Friday is wishing one’s days away; anxious for life to pass; to be done with it.
But it is not quite right to simply hate Monday as if it were a brute fact of existence; the proper emotion is resentment. Resentment being defined as “a feeling of indignant displeasure or ill will at something regarded as wrong, insult, or injury.” For what is demanded of us—most of us anyway—is wrong; we would be foolish to regard it as anything less than both an insult and an injury. It’s a demand most would not submit to without the very real threat of being denied access to food and shelter.
What we are left with is mere leisure time. Bob Black has written that “Leisure is nonwork for the sake of work. Leisure is time spent recovering from work and in the frenzied but hopeless attempt to forget about work.” Leisure, in this sense, is both necessary and superficial; necessary but not sufficient. It’s time that is adequate for coffee breaks, sitcoms, and alcohol but little else.
What we are compelled to do without is time to figure out and experiment with how we wish to live. It is almost impossible to create a meaningful life in sporadic and limited spare time. Learning how to live is not a goal that can easily be relegated to weekends or fit into small, circumscribed blocks of time. There is little time to cultivate relationships, learn about where you live, listen to birds, write a letter, or even go for a walk when we must always be cognizant of getting back on time, staying on schedule, being presentable.
Slogans are accepted as truths because it’s faster and more convenient. The television provides a narrow range of opinions from which to select from and pundits for which to cheer. Social media provides us opportunities to show our support for one side or the other while also demonstrating we are within the normal range of opinion.
In her recently released book Living With a Wild God, Barbara Ehrenreich provides her own more tangible example:
“[T]he pressure to get assignments and meet deadlines, had trapped me in the world of consensual reality—the accepted symbols and meanings, the highways and malls, meetings and conferences, supermarkets and school functions. I seemed to have lost the ability to dissociate, to look beneath the surface and ask the old question, What is actually going on here?” (Ehrenreich, 202-203)
Given the obstacles, the implicit threats, and the disincentives, it is not surprising that few are concerned with how to live and instead are coerced to settle for mediocrity; we must seemingly never miss an opportunity to cut our losses for it is generally the best we can do. Most people are so badly beaten that an uninterrupted barrage of insults and injuries simply goes unnoticed. In the context of civilization, we are caricatures of ourselves realizing only a fraction of our potential; perhaps developing a few coping skills that wouldn’t otherwise be necessary. The most successful among us are simply coping rather than living.