Fine, or not quite enough

When I was in high-school I went through a long and frustrating stage when the word I most frequently said to my mother was “fine.” I’d come home from school and she’d ask, How was your day, and I’d exasperatedly huff, Fine, and then storm off to my room.  How was your dinner?  Fine.  How was the movie?  Fine.  And so on for a several-year period during which I was a mumble-mouthed Eeyore towards my mother, a period known to many as simply being a teen-aged boy.

The odd thing is that Fine is supposed to mean something positive: viz, Grandma’s fine china refers to plates and saucers of high quality or worthy of admiration. But for the high-school me it was stripped of any worthwhile sentiments and instead served as a mindlessly employed pass-key that not only spared me my mother’s inquiries, which at the time were the bane of my existence, but more importantly allowed me to avoid having to express how I was really feeling, which was so much more than I was capable of articulating.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve tried to get away from using fine in my speech.  There’s nothing wrong with it: as words go fine is just fine.  But that right there is exactly why I’ve tried to eradicate it—it seems dull, dusty, coated with a musty patina of blase’-ness, and I’m afraid that if I use it often the same will become true of me.  To me fine is the epitome of average—on a  scale of 1-10 it would score a perfect 5.  Fine is frozen pizza.  It’s bottom-shelf liquor. Canned beans.  Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of the above—I had canned beans the other night and I’m yet to meet alcohol I’m too good to drink—but given the option I’d always choose more.

As regular readers may have noted, over the past couple months I’ve been thinking about my life—what am I doing, where is my life going, am I happy, etc.  If I had to sum up my ruminations I’d say that things are fine.  My life is just fine.  There’s nothing chronically wrong: I’m in good health, have a good job, have nice friends, live in a fun city. I’m more materially fortunate than most people in the world.  Everything is fine.  And yet somehow fine still seems a lot less than enough.

So, after some long thought and consideration and excited scheming, I’ve decided to make some changes in the hopes of finding more-than-fine.  Yesterday I gave my notice at work.  In May I’m going to do some traveling.  This summer I hope to camp and backpack around the Northwest.  I’ve got a stack of books I’m excited to read. And maybe, just maybe at some point I’ll actually write a series of words down on a page that make me happy.

There’s a word that has come to mind ever since I began considering making these changes: Sabbatical.  And while it perhaps sounds like a high-falutin’ way of justifying being a bum, I’m drawn to the intentionality and consideration it implies. I can truthfully say, with what I hope is an absolute lack of melodrama, that as a result of these steps my life won’t ever be the same again.  That leaves me feeling what I think can best be called euphoric terror, an experience which, while unsettling, feels a helluva lot better than fine.

[For whatever reasons I feel obliged to note that Yes, I do in fact realize how fortunate I am to be able to quit a job when so many are struggling simply to find one to pay for life’s basics.  I offer no defense of this position or my choices except to say that I have worked long hours and kissed many asses to get to here, and while neither justify my privileged state hopefully simply being aware of my advantages provides a measuring balance of context.]

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