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Rules for Living

January 29, 2003

The safest way to live is first, inherit money, second, be born without a taste for liquor, third, have a legitimate job that keeps you busy, fourth, marry a wife who will cooperate in your sexual peculiarities, fifth, join some big church, sixth, don’t live too long.
— from a John O’Hara novel, as quoted by Barbara Vine in Fatal Inversion

Those are one man’s rule for living, one work of fiction quoting another. Do these rules apply to real life, my life? Let’s hope not, since I’ve already blown the first one. I suppose if I were more like Anna Nicole I could formulate an action plan to remedy that shortcoming, but doing so would violate one of my own rules for living: keep your promises, such as marriage vows. There was nothing in my wedding ceremony about “forsaking all others until I can find a really wealthy, really old guy to marry me and leave me all his riches”. Fortunately, so far Mr. Karen and I have been able to make enough money on our own to let us lead a very comfortable life, so we haven’t had to resort to urging our parents to play the lottery and then take up risky hobbies.

I’m doing better with the second rule, though again it’s not something I had any control over. I do enjoy a nice frosty margarita or glass of sweet white wine from time to time, but I don’t have to have it and often go weeks without even thinking about drinking liquor. Ranch flavor GeniSoy Soy Crisps, on the other hand, are a problem. The part where it says there are 3.5 servings in a bag? A lie. There’s one serving in the bag, maybe less. So far I’ve managed to avoid trying the BBQ flavor, the only other kind stocked at the grocery store I shop at, but if the Creamy Cheddar ever shows up, I will be powerless to resist. But that’s okay; if I’m going to consume something to excess, Soy Crisps are a much better choice than alcohol or tobacco or other drugs.

As far as point number three goes, I do have a legitimate job that keeps me busy, but I don’t think it’s a necessary ingredient to the good life. I could keep quite busy and be quite happy without a job. If only I’d had the foresight to inherit a lot of money, I could spend my days quilting and reading and traveling even more than I do now. If one is inclined to get in trouble, to spend one’s free time being self-destructive, then having a job would mean a safer life, but I’m not that kind of person.

I can, however, get solidly behind guideline number four (of course, substituting “spouse” for “wife” and interpreting “marry” as “establish a committed relationship with”). Not that I do anything particularly peculiar, judging by what I read in Glamour and Allure and Self, but it’s definitely safer to do the things I do with someone I’ve been with for so long and trust so much rather than to have to seek out strangers to scratch those itches. This one is true for me, but I don’t think everyone needs to have a long-term sexual partner to live a complete life.

I can also support “join some big church” if it’s understood to mean “be a part of a community”. Community doesn’t have to mean church. It could be a kayak club or a quit guild or a neighborhood watch group. In this age of the Internet, it doesn’t even have to mean in person contact. I get a lot of satisfaction and support from my online friendships, too.

I have some issues with “don’t live too long”. I intend to live a very long time; 107 is my target age. It’s comforting to think of having so many years left. Now, when I’m 80 or 90 and I’ve run out of money and all my friends have died and I feel old and weak and sick, I may feel differently, I may come to a point where I’ve had enough. But to set out to die young? Nope, not for me. I like life and want to hang on to it as long as I can enjoy it.

Maybe John O’Hara had a different list for how to live a good life, an enjoyable life. This is his safe life list. I used to think that’s all I wanted, all I needed—growing up with chaos and insecurity fed that desire quite nicely—but now I know there’s such a thing as too safe. Not taking any risks leads to stagnation and boredom and that’s no way to live.


This entry brought to you by Random Acts of Journaling.

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