When Did Feeling Good Become Such a Chore?


Hi, I’m Sara and my life is one big, fat, unmitigated episode of relentless luxury.

I can explain.

I came to this realization this morning as I was getting ready for work. Yes, work, where I change the world by surfing the tubes, swapping tweets and drooling over sustainably shiny shoes. The indignities never end. There’s me, at 8 a.m., swirling something shimmering and organic on my eyelids with a very soft, very small brush. Fifteen minutes before that was more trial and tribulation in the kitchen, where I was shivering thanks to my bare feet on the equally bare bamboo floor and was forced to reach for my handmade-by-adorable-developing-world-children-of-legal-working-age, soft wool slippers.

Thankfully, my fair trade French press coffee with local cream warmed me up enough to make my way back to my master bedroom where I reviewed the contents of my closet and pulled on all sorts of also soft, stylish things. Layering can be stressful, so it’s a good thing I’ve got my chosen companion animal milling around my ankles, helpfully mewing moral support. Poor thing, she’s soon to be carted off to the groomer’s for an earth-friendly bath and blow out. Like me, she suffers.

It gets worse, this crashing series of mainly soft things that is my life. Each night, if I don’t have dinner plans, I have to cook dinner. That’s the merciless reward at the end of a long day of work, which required getting up before noon, showering in a big glass shower with all sorts of scrubby, fruity, flowery gels and potions, making myself pretty and fresh, and did I mention making myself pretty?

But wait, there’s more!

These things are not stresses or difficulties at all, and of course that’s my point. This morning, looking into my considerately-lit vanity mirror, I became aware of what I was doing. I mean really aware. Makeup. Hair. Products. Jewelry. Clothes. Music and meows in the background, I saw myself in the mirror. The ridiculous luck of it! I’ll say it again, and believe you me there’s neither guilt nor irony, just sheer, stupid, what. the. fuck: the ridiculous luck of it!

Mornings, my cat, Roo, knows to wake me up if I miss my alarm, sweetly chewing my face until I pop out of bed, scoop her up and “dance” with her for a few minutes as I make the coffee. It’s our routine and she expects it. If we don’t dance, I don’t hear the end of it: the digging-to-China-in-the-litter-box-till-4-a.m. gag is a sure thing. What an odd luxury that is, too, the litter box treatment. Odder still that I have a small housebound animal, a pet, with acres of fur so soft it startles me, who loves nothing more than to hang around me all the time. It’s all she knows. It’s her gig.

So here’s yours truly, far from perfect, being honest: I could really stand to be more grateful more often. We all could. Even when we’re tired and sick; even when the mortgage is late. I’m not even close to the millionth person to say this, but the actual, physical moments of life are so spectacular it boggles. That you have that soft brush to caress your face. That there’s coffee and before that, blankets like clouds. Music and food and movement and sex, and perhaps most of all, bills. (More on that in a moment.)

So here’s what I’m wondering: when did feeling good become such a chore? I did not sign up for that.

If you’ve ever groaned about having to apply your “face”; if you’ve ever sighed at just having to pick up the dry cleaning; if you’ve ever grumbled because you couldn’t afford yet another night out and needed to use those farmers’ market vegetables in a home cooked meal, you and me, my friend, we need an attitude adjustment.

Think about all the things that feel like chores for a lot of us: working out, cooking, showering, getting dressed, putting on makeup, running errands, paying bills, and yes, sex. How many moms have said goodbye to makeup except on days when there’s an appointment in the city? How many couples have let their sex lives dry up? How many singles opt for expensive dinners or cheap, unhealthy takeout over cooking up a bite to eat?

Ugh, I’ve got to work out. Yes, moving the body, such an onerous and unpleasant task. Which means I’ll have to wash my hair. Oh, the delicious smell! The invigorating scratching of fingernails against scalp! Steam-streaked smiley faces on the shower door!

Absolutely exhausting.

It is exhausting. Looking in the mirror here, we’ve all got way too much to do, and not nearly enough time to do it. Something’s wrong with this reflection.

There’s a character in the film Friends With Money, played by Frances McDormand, who struggles with chronic depression. Her compassionate husband is a shampoo tycoon and she can’t be bothered to wash her hair. In one scene, against the sunny backdrop of a Los Angeles farmers’ market, her friend (played by Catherine Keener) asks, kindly but firmly, how many weeks it’s been since she washed her filthy strands. McDormand’s lady grows visibly upset and mutters a helpless defense about it just getting dirty again.

In one of the final scenes in the film, she’s in the bathroom with her husband. They’re talking about life and marriage via shampoo and hair, and she reveals how sad she was to learn from him, early in their marriage, that all shampoos are pretty much the same beneath the scents and special packaging.

For her, and so many of us in one way or another, feeling good – feeling essentially human, in my book – has become a chore. What’s the point? It’s as if a collective depression has settled over our culture, like a pedal that won’t quite let up from the pump of the heart. All the wonderful things that define and enrich our humanity, our aliveness, seem with alarming consistency to be relegated to the Chore category. Whether it’s rouge or riesling, we’ve simply taken what used to be Sins and anointed them as Chores. Work, too, which in its own way feels good and enhances the spirit, is a chore for most of us, a means to an end that’s increasingly meaner.

No wonder going green is a tough sell. For Christ’s sake, we even frame that as a chore. Use less, consume less, sacrifice more. Sounds like a real scream. Nothing like inducing images of misery to get folks behind a cause. (The major marketing thrust of the green movement, that is, the idiocy of it, is a post for another time.)

Existence As Chore is pervasive, all right. Exhibit A: We all have a so-called chore at which we particularly excel in avoiding. For me, it’s not cooking. Cooking is a luxury, never a chore – it quells the wired in me. For me, honey, it’s money.

I thought about that this morning, too, as I twirled the mascara wand. (I’m taking another WTF: embellishing eyelashes.) I’m forever thinking of bills as to-do’s – annoying but necessary tasks to be crossed off until the next month. I suddenly saw that my relationship with money is, um, putting it mildly, dysfunctional. Really, those “bills” are tickets to living. The car insurance isn’t a pain in the butt that leads to something great, it is, in itself, great. I’m serious! By the time I got to the eyeliner I was shaking my head at myself in the mirror. Self, I thought, paying bills should bring you joy.

Yes, joy, and so much joy I can’t stand it. I can get so focused on the payment, whether in the form of the last few seconds of Warrior pose or clicking “Confirm Amount”, I forget that the means themselves are wonderful ends, rich and rewarding in their own right.

I don’t know about the power of positive thinking on this one. Sociological shifts aren’t usually a happy thought or two away. And, hey, maybe my radar is bent and we’re all a bunch of chipper chipmunks after all.

If we’re fine and we’ve got it all figured out, I’m happily the fool. But has anyone stopped to ask when, and for the love of god why, we started considering the basic elements of living, of feeling good, of being human, as chores? If we learned anything from crazy pants Nietzsche, it’s that a culture that accounts for good as bad is a sick one. All these chores are not chores at all. They’re part of life, and they’re the better part. They are luxuries.

Image: Mattia Campo