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Sense of Balance
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The more I think about happiness, the more importance I ascribe to balance. If I do nothing but fun stuff -- watching movies, playing computer games, eating ice cream, re-reading beloved old books -- I'm not happy; I suffer feelings of worthlessness. If I do too much work, I get cranky. If I'm overly social, I get miserable, snappish, misanthropic. But if I completely hermit myself away, I brood and become intolerable even to myself. The key to being happy, for me, is to balance things properly.

Take yesterday. Nearly perfect. I got some writing done on the train. I was social with people I don't see often, at the writing group. I came home, reading a good book on the train. Heather and I had a nice meal, and watched a good movie, and spent some nice time together. See? A little bit of everything, except exercise, which is probably the most-neglected thing that affects my sense of well-being. I ended the day feeling useful, relaxed, creative, and responsible. Pretty good stuff.

Today, likewise, very good. Less social, but I have to see-saw over to the hermit side for a bit after yesterday's socializing, so that's fine. I did a little work this morning, and washed dishes. We went to see Kill Bill, Vol. 2, and I liked the flick a lot. I love the Grand Lake theater, too -- no schmaltzy patriotic video before the movie, no ads for anything except upcoming movies, no irritating radio blather before the show, great atmosphere... it more than makes up for the somewhat uncomfortable seating. I could go to the Uberplex in Emeryville and see the same movie, for twice as much per ticket, and the only advantage is comfier chairs and a bigger screen (but Grand Lake's screens are plenty big). Then we had lunch at the Lakeshore café, and came home. I took the laptop (Heather's old one, which is for my use, now) to the couch by the windows, and spent an hour or so writing 2,000 words of the Koontz essay (I got through his early science fiction, his first non-fiction, his porn, and his gothic romances! Progress is being made). Then we watched some television, and I read a bit, and here I am. A good day. Happiness.

I think about happiness a lot, about what makes people happy (beyond simple genetic predisposition). A few years ago I wrote about 18,000 words of a story about happiness, but had to let it drop when I couldn't come to any useful or meaningful conclusions (though the story had lots of cool stuff in it, like the whip Phaethon used to lash his steeds, and powdered happiness extracted from human brains). I think it's a subject I'm likely to revisit, though. I'm an atheist, so for me, the purpose of life is to be as happy as possible, while impinging as little as possible on the happiness of others. It's a subject that often occupies my thoughts. But I try to take the long view, since I hope to be alive for several more decades. I mean, I could just shoot heroin, and I'd be incredibly happy in the short term, but that doesn't hold up so well over a longer timeline.

No conclusions here, either. Just stuff I've been thinking about.

Increasingly, it seems to me, any hope for real, consistent balance in my life is hopelessly thrown out of whack by the fact that I spend ~40 a week at my job. Granted, it's the most happiness-inducing job I've ever had. Working on a magazine has many benefits, I like doing layout, I like editorial writing, I even like shelving books and data entry, to an extent. (And I just got promoted to Associate Editor, which is cool.) But 40 hours a week is a long time to do anything, in terms of keeping balance in my life.

But my happiness would, of course, be far more adversely affected if I didn't have a job. What with the eviction, hunger, bankruptcy, etc. But I'm still hoping that, someday, I'll be able to make a living full-time by writing fiction. (People have suggested I leap into freelancing and try to make a living that way. Which is a good idea, except that it takes me an excruciatingly long time to write non-fiction, and if I hustled enough to make a living, I wouldn't have much time at all left to write fiction. So that's not a great option for me.) I don't do enough writing now -- my balance and happiness would be improved if I could write more, as I know from past experience, when I had more time to write.

So, that's what I'm working on. Writing books, writing stories, trying to build an audience, trying to sell novels, hoping to make a living at this. It may never happen. I know people who are far better writers than I, people who have fan bases and awards, who can't make a living writing full-time. It's a rough business. If I ever had any illusions about that, they've been gone for years now. Still, it's a goal, right? I like having goals. And in the meantime, I balance things as well as I can. Having an extra day off every two weeks has helped immensely. It's just juggling. I've never been all that good at juggling, but I'm told it gets easier the more you practice.

The awareness that imbalances in the way I spend my time can destroy my mood helps, because when I start feeling black-hearted and foul-tempered, I can think a little about the causes, and do something to rectify it.

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