Today’s featured song is “Present Tense,” by Radiohead on their album, A Moon Shaped Pool.
Do you ever feel like your life is like a dream? I don’t mean like Cinderella or some fairy tale crap, but just the mundane of everyday life cut up into oddly pieced snippets then spliced back together like an artsy foreign film? You can’t quite figure out if you are awake or if every day is just a blur of actions and reactions, then something happens.
Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference—It is a numbness that takes over sometimes when we do the same routine over and over. Sometimes it can be when we see great things happen to other people and not us. Or worse yet, when bad things happen to us or people we care about.
It doesn’t have to be so bad, but lately I have been indulging in ennui. Maybe because I have been so busy with the everyday, I forget to dream about something interesting? Or maybe it’s because I’ve been sick with a cold this week, I don’t feel like doing anything.
Sometimes we need to slow down. Maybe we can bathe in the present tense? Soak our fingers until we are pruning with the day-to-day reality, which is our lives?
Let us not be too real. Let’s pretend for a bit.
If I look at my life, I see that I am underpaid immensely for my qualifications and education. Right now, I am a substitute teacher in the day and teach college courses at night. I don’t make a lot of money, but I am happier than I was with my “dream job,” which turned into a nightmare. The students I encounter when subbing were kids I knew from last year when I taught at their school. They tell me often that they wish I would be their teacher and can’t figure out why I wasn’t hired to teach at their school. After hearing it so many times, I started taking it more seriously, though I can’t fight the political machine and win every time. I can’t dwell on what isn’t.
A lot of us have been there.
My love life was on life support recently, and then I pulled the plug. I was seeing someone off and on, who is considerably younger than me. There are no harsh feelings—I would rather just be honest with myself and realize there is no hope of it going anywhere.
This may sound like I am depressed, but I am okay with everything. People may think happiness is a constant, an object, that you have no control over, like winning the lottery. You may be lucky or you are not and there is nothing you can do about it.
I beg to differ.
I have been reading lately, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” which is the novel that inspired the film, Blade Runner. I don’t want to give too much away, but in the novel, the main character, Rick Deckard is obsessed with obtaining a living animal (because animals have died due to the aftermath of a World War). Living animals are a status symbol to possess, because they are obviously so rare and cost exorbitant amounts of money. He thought if he bought a living animal, life would be so much better. It reminds me of the old adage, “money can’t buy happiness.”
The problem with this is not necessarily that money can’t buy you happiness, but happiness is not a tangible object or concept. We place demands on ourselves everyday: “If only I had that house or great job,” “If only I lived somewhere else,” or “If only I were married.” When we place these contingencies on ourselves, we make ourselves miserable—there will always be another contingency to replace the one that is resolved. If you place contingencies on yourself, practice reframing them into reasonable goals. If it sounds ridiculous, then it is not worth thinking about. These are reasons why I have to live in the present as to prevent myself from feeling sad or disappointment. If I start placing contingencies on myself, I will dwell in failure of a future that may never be.
There are ways to live in the present, but you have to be willing to try:
1. Leave the house and do something different.
You don’t have to go skydiving, another country, or a concert all of the time to be happy. The problem with indulging with social media is that we compare ourselves to others. We see their smiling faces with a bunch of their equally interesting friends doing amazing things, while we are sitting in our hypothetical (or real) Snuggies. We don’t have to be out living life the fullest every night or every weekend to be fulfilled, but maybe try something new. Travel to a nearby place you haven’t been. Do something nice for others and throw a little get together. Ask people to bring food and/or drinks if you can’t afford it. Break up your routine instead of feeling sorry for yourself after another night of Netflix and Ben and Jerry’s bingeing. Even if you are with your significant other, life gets boring when you are always locked into a bubble.
2. Find something to distract yourself.
Need to clean that closet in your house? Repair your leaking faucet? Get a paper done? Just do it already and get it over with. You will feel so much better knowing it is done and when something exciting comes your way, you will be able to join in the adventure, whether you have saved your money, time, or both. If you don’t feel like being productive or doing something you don’t want to do, write a song, read a book, paint something, or go on an adventure and take photos. If you can’t do those things at the moment or it’s more of a thought process that’s holding you back, change your mind.
In Cognitive Behavior Therapy, there are techniques which help you control your racing thoughts. If I continue to have anxiety producing thoughts, I will “thought replace,” which I will shift my attention to something else silly or something productive in order not to think negatively. Thankfully, I have an active imagination, so I will try to think of something funny or random (kind of like an inner improv). Additionally, I have been practicing meditation lately, which there is a method you can try, which is called “Noting.” Noting is not necessarily changing your thoughts, but “noting” that you have these negative thoughts and that’s okay. You can start noting when you have negative thoughts, what situations they occur, and so forth just as you would with “thought replacing.”
3. Make Small Goals for Yourself
Along the lines of distracting yourself, make small goals instead of larger ones. Break your goals into chunks. What do you want out of life? Is it manageable? Can you try to make it happen? I have wanted to be a novelist since I was eight years old, but sometimes if I think about writing a novel, the process sounds daunting and impossible. If I break it down into small parts, like thinking about what kind of characters I want to develop, or what generally I would like it to be about, it makes things easier to process. Certain goals take time, possibly years or a lifetime. It takes us a while to get a degree or start a family. We don’t just obtain what we want overnight, typically. If you want to break it down further, maybe something like you adulted this week by working a bunch of overtime, so you buy something nice for yourself. Whatever your goals, you can achieve them in small parts, which add up to a bigger picture.
4. Don’t make concrete plans for the future.
When I say this, I am not referring to putting money in a retirement fund or making any attainable plans for the future (e.g. getting married, having kids). What I am referring to is to not be so rigid in your plans. Life changes and so do our plans. Be prepared to make changes or to roll with them the best you can. Again, these can be typically the contingencies we create for ourselves: “If I do this, then I will be happy.” It doesn’t always work out that way. Most of the time, it doesn’t, but what you can do is dream. As Blondie says “dreaming is free.”
5. Lastly, Dream, Dream, Dream.
The fun thing about dreaming is that it doesn’t have to be taken seriously. When I was younger, I lived in a world much like Doug Funnie, which I would imagine exaggerated situations and write about them, good and bad. 99 percent of the time these fantasies never happened, but the reality of it though is that I never worried as a kid that “my dreams won’t be realized” or that they had to be. The point was just to let my mind float and sometimes use it to cope with stress. As adults, I think we sometimes forget it’s okay to not worry about actualizing everything we dream about. When I find the dream is not fulfilling or in some cases, becoming harmful, I dream of something else and deal with that negativity in my life, typically by expelling it. For example, I would catch myself daydreaming thinking things would work out in some way with the person mentioned above. In reality, it didn’t “have to” work out, but some part of me wanted it to. When I realized it never would, it wasn’t fun anymore to dream about it. And if something keeps coming back to you, like my dream of being a novelist, maybe it’s time to make that dream into a reality or change your dream.
I hope my advice has served you well in a pressing time of ennui. In the meantime, I am going to enjoy what life brings me on another unseasonably warm October, today.
If you would like to listen to our playlist, you can find it here and on Spotify: <a href=”https://open.spotify.com/user/thirtythirdwheel/playlist/1AY3MCl1GDEPm7N5uWbBCU”>thirtythirdwheel</a>