Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Open door policy

The older I get — and sixty is just around the corner in May — I see that I’ve actually developed a philosophy of life at this late date. I remember being asked in high school by an English teacher what my philosophy of life was, and though I can’t recall what I said, it was probably along the lines of, “Just do your best, be cool.” I wasn’t a very deep kid yet, focused mainly on staying out of the school bathrooms and wondering why it was so hard to get a girlfriend.

But along the way I became one of those perpetual searchers, always grasping for something new that would scratch a general itch. Searchers, I’ve come to realize, harbor an interior desperation that feeds unhappiness. Because nothing they ever find in their constant searching sticks. I think of those westerners who land briefly on Buddhism, for instance, after trying a lot of other practices, but I can’t imagine very many of them remain Buddhists for the rest of their days. If they’re searchers, they’re going to ramble on looking for the next big thing. Zoroastrianism? Kabbalah? Zumba?

A life of perpetual searching is also a life of incompleteness. Ironic, since you’re compiling a lot of experience and awareness in many things, yet none of them seems to fill that empty zone in the heart of your being. So you keep searching. And each thing that you wind up rejecting is now scratched off the list of possible solutions to your yearning. Yearning in general I advise against. It’s overrated as an emotion and makes you seem like a whiner to other people who are perfectly content.

So what’s a good alternative to searching? There must be something, otherwise life is just a pointless way station in a bigger and more pointless journey.

Here you go: it’s receptiveness.

Instead of obsessively searching for the answers to your inner ache, let yourself be open to the unexpected. What’s more satisfying, for example, than stumbling upon something that you know you’ll cherish for the rest of your life? A killer recipe. A singer you happen to hear in an interview. A writer (ahem) whose book shows up on a list of under-appreciated delights. Heck, someone you admire might even turn you on to Buddhism, but not having been desperately looking for it you might just be more casual about what it offers and be open to taking what you can from it.

Maybe this is the thing Christians call revelation, that sweet born-again feeling that just hits you one day, though as I always tell my Christian friends, you can’t fake a revelation.

Still, if you’re in an open frame of mind, revelations of one kind or another might hit you all the time. I’m open to almost any kind of indie music because a lot of serendipitous finds over the years have been amazingly satisfying and I can still listen happily to things that came to me years ago. And I’m open to reading things I never heard of before, such as last year’s Pulitzer Prize winner, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan. And I read Carrie Brownstein’s memoir on a whim and loved it. And many novels by authors who happened to drift into my radar.

And on another whim recently I baked some bread for the first time in my life, and now I’m hooked. I used to brew my own beer, but bread is a hell of a lot easier, and I’m not searching any longer for that perfect homebrew recipe because you can buy terrific beer in stores now. Mess up a loaf of bread and all you’ve lost is a few cups of flour and a yeast packet.

I’m so open now I don’t even know all the things I’m open to being open to.

I used to be a big travel nut, but more and more it seems like travel, especially international travel, is a gigantic metaphor for searching. It was Malcolm Muggeridge who said, “Travel, of course, narrows the mind.” Think of it: There are too many places to see in a single lifetime, so that even if you manage the pyramids there’s still Angkor Wat. What, you couldn’t make your way to Machu Picchu? What about the Great Barrier Reef? What about the northern lights in Iceland? You haven’t lived till you’ve seen the northern lights in Iceland. I’m so sad for you.

Don’t forget the cautionary tale of one of the great searchers of all time, Spalding Gray, who, in Swimming to Cambodia, spoke of always looking for that perfect moment. The upshot, of course, is that there is no such thing as the perfect moment, especially if you’re always looking for it. And Gray, in his incessant searching, wound up dead in the East River, possibly having jumped off the Staten Island Ferry.

Another kind of futile searching is the desire to get rich, which is really just a kind of infantile wish for complete security. The kind your parents were unable to give you. But getting rich only causes a whole new dimension of searching, a dysfunctional need to get more and more rich, grab more and more power, and destroy all competition so you can feel safe in the dead of the night, though you’re still going to die and you know it.

And by the way, if you’re wealthy, stop your searching before you get to cryopreservation, okay? That’s just plain sick, frozen heads n’ torsos.

At the risk of sounding smug, when you’re open to the full bounty of what life has to offer you might just find that selecting “none of the above” is also a suitable choice. Turn on, tune in, drop out. It’s worked for some. Or, as your mother might have put it when you were a kid, Why don’t you just go out and play?

I’ll let you know if my philosophy changes. I’m open to ideas.

24 comments on “Open door policy

  1. islandeditions
    March 13, 2017

    Sounds to me like you’ve just described what it takes to be a writer. And I too find great satisfaction in baking bread. In fact, I’ve always compared bread-making to the process involved in writing. First you add the ingredients and mix together, leave the dough to rise, punch it down and rework it, rise again then bake. Cool before eating. (I’m always tempted to cut off a heel, slather butter on and eat while the bread is still hot. But just like a story, bread is better left until it’s absolutely ready to be consumed.)

    • islandeditions
      March 13, 2017

      And to carry that analogy further, if you do cut off the heel while the bread is still hot and slather it with butter, that’s the piece to give to your friends (or interested readers, if you will) to receive accolades in advance of that loaf being truly ready for consumption.

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 13, 2017

      Good comparison! Sometimes the yeast is no good and you have to settle for flatbread. 😉

  2. kingmidget
    March 13, 2017

    From one searcher to another … thank you.

    “I became one of those perpetual searchers, always grasping for something new that would scratch a general itch. Searchers, I’ve come to realize, harbor an interior desperation that feeds unhappiness.”

    It’s interesting, yesterday I spent much of the day annoyed and I don’t know why. It was a nothing day, and once again, I didn’t write even though there was an opportunity to do so. But as afternoon wound down to evening, I realized it had been a good day. Went for a run, worked in the yard with the kid and the wife. Had a nap. Made a good, healthy dinner. Had a few beers. It was a good day. It wasn’t perfect. It was good. And that should be good enough.

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 13, 2017

      Good is pretty good. And when you think about it, if every day were great, then “great” would have no meaning.

      I guess some people might say that searching is an end in itself, like “the road to heaven is heaven,” but I bet most searchers are hoping to land on the perfect answer …

      • kingmidget
        March 13, 2017

        No, no, no. I want every day to be great!!!

  3. Vincent Price
    March 13, 2017

    Read Xavier de Maistre:
    A journey around my room

    Plus, Alain de Botton is likely to confirm many of your suspicions. I love How Proust can change your life and the Art of Travel. I’m currently reading Religion for Atheists and I’m 67 years of age

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 13, 2017

      Thanks for the recommendations. I’ll pile them onto my TBR stack!

  4. 1WriteWay
    March 13, 2017

    Hey, 60 is just around the corner for me, too! (Late June so it’s a long corner.) I don’t have revelations but I believe I occasionally have epiphanies (not to be confused with the holiday) and those are likely to be in the order of, “if all else fails, there’s still this” and the “this” might be a bluebird flying across my path, remaining me that Nature is a greater constant and better friend or it might be the realization that looking forward to retirement is in and of itself a kind of freedom. Stuff like that. I’ve never been much of a searcher. Even though I worry about the future, I’m probably more stuck in the here and now than I are to admit, but that’s not always a bad thing. I guess I’m rambling now because I haven’t been socializing much lately. I’d like to say it’s because I’m been busy writing but that’s a half-truth since the only real writing I’ve done lately is emails to my representations. Yuk.

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 13, 2017

      Epiphanies — good way to put it. When you’re open to them, they probably come along fairly often. If you’re always searching, though, you’re probably a little myopic.

      Ramble on, girl! And thanks for all the page views today. Great for my stats … 😉

      • 1WriteWay
        March 13, 2017

        lol … I sent you an email too 🙂

  5. S.K. Nicholls
    March 13, 2017

    Revelations and epiphanies elude me also…but in this past year I’ve started hanging out with a lot of people much younger than me. It’s rather interesting to see the world through their eyes. We have some pretty deep and some fairly shallow conversations…all in all, they’re not so much different than we were at that age. I’m always searching for the new and different…same with food, I like to try things I’ve never tried before. Sometimes that means going backwards for a new perspective.

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 13, 2017

      I can get pretty stuck in my ways, but it’s always fun when something new pops in unexpectedly. Such as pickleball! My wife and I are crazy about it, and getting better every day.

      • S.K. Nicholls
        March 13, 2017

        I’ve never played that. I’m addicted to Pokemon Go tho. Do what keeps you young 🙂

      • Kevin Brennan
        March 13, 2017

        Words to live by!

  6. Woebegone but Hopeful
    March 13, 2017

    Hey freshmen! 60’s ok 65 is even more interesting because by then you’ve become used to being in that First or Last box on forms and are getting in training to hit 70, running..
    I’ve stopped searching, but I have a To-Do-List that’s pretty impressive

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 13, 2017

      It’s true … the to-do list just keeps a growin’!

      • Woebegone but Hopeful
        March 14, 2017

        May it never end. That means you’re living!! 😃

      • Kevin Brennan
        March 15, 2017

        That’s why I always balked at older people who say, “Never get old.” 😉

  7. Audrey Driscoll
    March 13, 2017

    Good post! I had a couple of thoughts while reading it: 1. Not only do some people travel in search of the perfect moment, they have to record the trip in photos and then post them to social media, so they aren’t even there and probably miss some pretty good moments. 2. If you make a point of getting outside, and are really aware of your surroundings, you see and hear all sorts of amazing things.

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 15, 2017

      Yes, the photo thing is mind-boggling. Seems like people would rather view the scene through their phone than in “reality.”

  8. Pingback: What if … | KingMidget's Ramblings

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