Friday, May 13, 2011

Extra Lives

One of the things I like to ponder from time to time, as you might have already gathered, is the question of why people wind up unhappy in life. I've presented a lot of possible reasons for this, but I was thinking, today, about the possibility that it may come down to not having enough lives to live.

In other words, we all tend to live various versions of our lives. In my case, the major breakdown is: dad, husband, musician, writer and teacher. These are almost presented in order of importance. "Dad" and "husband" are pretty interchangeable for the coveted number one spot, but necessity dictates that, while the little ones are little, they often need to be put first . . .

But you will notice that "teacher" -- my bread-and-butter job -- comes last on the list. This, in no way, is an implication that I don't give my job everything I have. (In fact, my wife will tell you, I work to my own detriment at times.) I believe in my job, especially in the classroom, like I have believed in little else. But the things that precede it are higher on the list because not only do they more essentially comprise who I am, but because they are the reasons I became a teacher, after all.

And work is tough. But here's the thing: it ain't everything.

I think we give ourselves less credit for multi-dimensionality than we deserve. When we are unhappy at work, we think: I need a job that makes me happy. That may be true. But, for me, when things get tough, I can always say: Well, this stinks, but I'm playing drums this weekend; my blog is there for me if I want to express myself; my CD is almost ready for release; my piano is there if I want to compose; my kids are waiting for me at home for a good Wiffleball game; I have a "date night" coming up with the wife . . .

People could say that there is much luck in this: What if one isn't fortunate enough to have found a wonderful spouse and to have had kids? That's valid. Sometimes, things just don't work out. (And, random tragedy is also something we can't account for in the happiness formula, so we need to light a candle for the unfortunate.)

But the rest? I created all of those. I worked hard at my music and my writing. I built those alternate lives as writer and musician. Consider them vacation homes away from the daily work-scheme. If my work life isn't fulfilling, there is always my music life or my writing life to look forward to.

In short, if your job stinks, your life shouldn't stink. Why do so many people explain who they are by saying what they do?

I don't define myself by my job, or even by my other activities. I am not a teacher. I am not a  musician. I am not a writer. I am not a dad. I am not a husband. I am Chris Matarazzo, and each of these things is only part of infinity that makes up my inside. If one of my lives isn't going well, I always have the extra ones to look forward to. I'm just the same as anyone else and everyone is complex beyond belief. Everyone is more than the actions they perform for eight hours per day.

I think we all need to -- and can -- create extra lives. The hard part is finding what shapes they should take. It requires a little archaeology of the soul, sometimes.


  1. No offense to your other essays, but this may be my favorite entry of yours I've ever read. "It requires a little archaeology of the soul..." and this notion of separate lives within one life is illuminating, to say the least.

    I think about the idea of work more often than I should, and I usually fixate on what I think is the unnaturalness of spending half of one's waking time at a job, and I've held the opinion that all individuals need to find something other than work to supplement their happiness, but I've also thought that time spent at 'work' (read - job) needs to be minimized to become content.

    That's the other thing; I'm not convinced that happiness is a state of being, but rather a temporary state that explains the feeling of a moment. I think one can experience 'happiness' in the moment, but still not find oneself in a state of happiness. I've come to call the state of happiness "contentness," meaning that one must be content to be settled in life.

    ~ Matt

  2. Thanks, Matt. I think you are dead-on with happiness being a fluctuating thing. If you haven't, check out my treatment of that idea in "The Quest" from January. I think often our big mistake is that we look for static things to satisfy our ever-changing soul. It doesn't line up.

  3. It also should be said that our heart is not in the center of our chest by coincidence. God put it there and it (HE) drives us. If you put your heart into everything, the rest seems to follow. For me going through a million tragedies at once, I have this opportunity to focus on my family. That is where my heart is and always will be. I love teaching to reach the hearts of the students.

  4. So, Lorraine, it sounds like my theory still holds water, at least in your case. Clearly, as a teacher and a mother, your great joy is giving of yourself; hence, the paths you have chosen. But I do think the keys are given to all of us and we are allowed to drive where we will. If only more people's hearts were in the place yours is . . .