I'm currently reading (and thoroughly enjoying) the late Jim Harrison's "The Raw and the Cooked," an excellent book of essays on food, the outdoors and being a working writer, among other things. This particular sentence not only struck me as the kind of dieting advice I can get behind, but it rang like a bell on a deeper life-level as well.
I'm enthusiastic about good food, which is why I'm terrible at losing weight. But rather than foregoing one for the other, I'd much rather live a more physical life and burn the good stuff away. For example, yesterday I bookended some good-not-great Vietnamese food with a one-hour walk and a two-mile run. Maybe I could find a part-time job in manual labor...
But on to the deeper level. I realize this phrase could be viewed as simply a less-trite version of "Work hard, play hard," which is really nothing more than a marketing ploy that encourages people to pretend they do the former to excuse doing the latter. I don't think that does Mr. Harrison justice. For one thing, he really was just talking about food. "Either trim [the fat] or skip trimming," he says.
I recently returned from yet another 3,000-mile-or-so road trip, this time more or less driving a lasso around the American Rockies. That's more than enough road to get some thinking done, although conclusions often don't take shape until I'm back, the car is washed and vacuumed, and the proverbial dust has settled.
I'd left feeling a near-desperate need to be alone and recharge so that I could hopefully come back and be around other humans without the scowl-and-growl disposition that e'er threatens to become permanent with me. Instead, I came back feeling more like the cowboy or farmer that I've never actually been in the first place. More stoic. More serious. More ready to work.
I'm doing surprisingly well at the fourteen-month mark as a freelance writer and photographer, myself being the surprised one. Mostly because it was an act of desperation rather than a career choice. After failing to get hired on at a different ad agency in Dallas, even being unemployed was better than continuing to drag myself down the alley each day to that swamp of negativity, the soundtrack of which was the ringing in the ears one gets in a silent, crowded waiting room.
So I jumped. And after the sheer joy of being rid of that foul place subsided a bit, I made a little effort here and there to promote myself but mostly just took the work that came to me. A few times that work was trips to foreign countries, which was fantastically lucky, but mostly it was just writing with a lot of free time mixed in rather than a lot of dead time stuck at a desk. And so it continued until the phrase:
"Eat the delicious fat and take a ten-mile walk."
If I want to travel more, and I do – a lot more, I have to work harder to pay for it. And if I have to work harder, which I want to do anyway, why not do the kind of work I actually enjoy? Daydream passion projects that really are exciting, viable ideas have sat too long on the shelf, getting fat with good intentions. But that's on me, and it's high time to get going.
"Living life to the fullest" recruits no shortage of disciples who think it means not much more than getting drunk at a friend's house after telling her parents she's spending the night at a different friend's house. Or whatever the adult version of that is. Getting drunk on boats, probably.
And then "work hard, play hard" is too mistreated to mean anything real anymore, so I'll chant this mantra instead. More adventures. Larger amounts of more challenging work. More asking for the things I want. More persistence in the asking. There are specifics to all of these ideas written in notebooks that you, dear reader, have no current use for, but they're important. Without specifics, this is just a weird bumper sticker.
"Why am I writing this?" I have to ask myself, here at the end. Because I want to, I suppose. Chuck Close said inspiration is for amateurs, so I'll spare you the self-indulgence of thinking I could do that for you. Maybe it's public accountability. Or a warning that I may soon ask you for something. More likely, I'm just in the middle of reading good writing that made me feel like writing something myself.