My friend, in a recent Facebook Messenger conversation, wrote the following:
“Run if you feel you need to. Do what you want to do. Never regret anything.”
In 2009, I ran. I left Montréal — which I’d called home for the most part since 1997 — because I felt I’d hit some kind of ceiling. It was a hard decision to make and I wasn’t good at hard decisions so I turned it into a game. In October 2009, I visited a friend in New York City and made up my mind to have my mind made up before I returned home. Somewhere in the air between JFK and Trudeau, I chose to leave Montréal.
I gave myself permission to leave.
So yeah, my friend wrote “Do what you want to,” and all I could think about was Dennis Miller. A million years ago, back before he was a conservative libertarian or whatever the fuck he’s been calling himself since 9/11, Dennis Miller said this:
You like the Red Skelton painting? Buy the Red Skelton painting. You like Home Improvement? Tape it and go over it like the Zapruder film. It’s your life; live it on your terms.
I’ve always loved that, but I haven’t always lived it.
I haven’t lived a life of self-denial, but I often don’t do the things I want to. Growing up I learned that wanting certain things was breaking the rules, colouring outside the lines; that there were right and wrong ways of being. When you’re young, it’s hard to reconcile your idea of yourself with others’ ideas of what you should and can be, and ideally you’re supposed to grow out of that. I’ve struggled with it into my 30s. I don’t know what that says about me. Some programming is hard-wired and hard to escape, I guess.
When people started talking about microaggressions this year, I started thinking about the notion of microregressions. Like many people, I constantly undo progress I make for no good reason. If I go a few days without eating anything unhealthy and I feel good about it, I’ll reward myself with an extra large pepperoni pizza (or two, if I’m honest). If I go a week without a beer and feel great about it, I’ll go and tie one on with a pal.
Living life on my terms (whatever that means) is My Own Private Sisyphean Struggle. I’ll do it, get really happy about the prospect of simply being myself, and I’ll live that way for a while. Then something will knock me backwards — even if it’s just latent guilt for breaking those rules, colouring outside those lines — and I’ll find myself a ditch, at the bottom of the hill, with that fucking boulder on top of me. Again.
We’ve all heard some self-help huckster preach the virtues of Putting Yourself First or Giving Yourself Permission, and I don’t want to give that industry more credit than it deserves, but there really is tremendous power in making simple decisions for yourself and following through on them if only for the sake of feeling like you’re in charge of your own life.
For some, it’s easy. They do what they want, when they want, how they want. Oh how I always wanted to be a person like that. It’s never been a strength of mine, though. And so I’ve lived a life of significant compromise for no reason other than the fact that it’s always been a struggle to follow my own compass. It’s been as if I’ve had a bunch of shareholders or board members I had to run my decisions by.
This September, I quit my job and flew to Europe with little more than a freshly-shaved face and two duffel bags. I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing here, but I know I’m living day-to-day on my own terms, and every time I get homesick, or despondent that I’m not bringing in enough money, or whatever else, I remember that this is a situation of my own creation and I can unmake it as easily as I made it. Or, like, change it.
This thought went off the rails some time ago, but I feel like finishing it in some proper way so I’ll leave you with this: I know a lot of people who are struggling with life, with how life is hitting them, twisting them, and making them less hopeful with every passing day. To those people I’ll say this:
Run if you feel you need to.
Do what you want to do.
Never regret anything.
Repeat those words to yourself every second of the day if you need to, because they’re freeing as all giddy-up.