Still Life

One of the questions I most hate being asked is, “What’s new?” To an almost equal degree, I don’t like being asked, “What have you been up to lately?” I never feel that I have a satisfactory answer for either of those inquiries. What I really hear when someone asks me one of these questions is, “Entertain or impress me with the contents of your life. What exciting, extraordinary, or otherwise enviable thing are you currently doing or experiencing?” More days than not, I have no answer for that.

I lead a rather still life. Its peaks are not so high, and its vales are not so low. While some may lead lives that look like an action movie, travel saga, or family comedy, mine is more like a still life painting. It doesn’t vary greatly. At least once a year I go somewhere beautiful. (Fortunately my family is from the Caribbean.) But I’m not jet setting all over the world meeting new and exciting people or working to solve the world’s significant problems.

My husband and I have no children (by choice), so I have no tales about what “our precious little angel” said or just learned how to do. There is no little life that I can attach my own to and mine for interesting stories.

Yesterday, when I witnessed a potentially violent event that ultimately required the police become involved, I was happy to finally have a story to tell my husband when he got home. Two people are in an unhealthy, codependent, possibly violent relationship, the drama of which (in part) I got to witness, and that’s good news for me because I finally had more to say than “fine” when my husband asked me how my day was.

If I were to recount the content of an average day, I’d bore you to tears. And that’s not to say that I find my own life boring as I’m living it, but it doesn’t often make for a compelling story either. I can dig into my past. I can talk about my most recent vacation or when my mother died or the time our apartment building burned down and we were metropolitan nomads for nearly a year. But what did I do yesterday or last week? Trust me, you don’t want to know—work, errands, and chores, mostly.

As a freelancer, my professional life is sometimes thriving, but almost just as often (and much more often than I’d like) it feels like it’s on life support. My daily life is full of quiet and unassuming routines. I work (hopefully I have an active project or assignment), I clean, cook, and run errands, I play some volleyball and ride my bike. Most recently I’ve been going to physical therapy for a knee injury. Do you want to hear about my plyometric routines? They’re challenging, but not exciting.

My home life is a rather still one too. Some of that is intentional. I am trying to be more present—to give one person or activity my full attention rather than perpetually performing a multitasking juggling act. I have stepped away from activities that simply split my attention and devour my time without giving me anything substantial in return—like a mental challenge or real connection to someone. Instead of playing Candy Crush, I’m rediscovering my love for crossword puzzles.

There are times when I wish there was more movement in my life. I’d like to travel more. I wish my professional life was more consistently stimulating. When I don’t have a project that I’m working on, it’s hard for me to feel like a valuable part of society. Technically I know that what I do shouldn’t define who I am, but that’s much easier to believe when I’m doing something.

I am not complaining. I don’t want a frenetic existence. It may not be thrilling, but my still life is still life, and I’m grateful for it. I don’t equate busy or stressful with exciting or rewarding. However, I do wish that I felt less inadequate when people made innocent inquiries into what I’ve been up to lately.

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