Cost/Benefit Analysis 101

About a month back, I stopped taking my attention pills out of concern that they were staking what optimism I had to an anthill and breaking out the sorghum. I was in what you might call a bad way. So I talked to a doctor friend, put the pills down, and set an appointment to talk to my psychiatrist about it. I went nine days without taking my thinkum.

Now lacking its lubricant, my brain settled right back into the fog of the previous 35 years. Meetings turned into high school jazz band concerts. Things I love started to bore me again. And hey, what's on TV?

But here's the problem: I immediately got happier. The fog was a struggle, but man did my general dissatisfaction evaporate.

The psychiatrist cautioned that likely the pills didn't create that unhappiness, but dug it up. And he was right; starting a new medication brought much of it back. Blowing back the fog uncovered some stuff I hadn't wanted to see.

So this has me thinking about costs, which is to say that I'm thinking about scarcity. Finding drive and ambition at mid-life presented itself as a choose-your-own-adventure version of Flowers for Algernon: If you want to slip back into the fog of contentment, turn to page 39 and let's look at some pretty mice. If you want to be prodded by a nebulous cocktail of passion and terror that disrupts every corner of your world but so far exists beyond your capacity to understand or channel it, turn to page 67 and let's punch us some goddamn Martians.

Yes, there's Martian punching in Flowers for Algernon. Having fun ain't hard if you have a library card.

Even so, the fog still beckons. The epicurean ideal of retreating to the garden to reflect and create has its allure. I imagine sitting at a desk writing for my dinner or plunked down at a workbench making something with my hands, and yeah, I'm not a little bit in love with the romantic ideal there, if not the reality I know that would come with it. But: quiet, contemplation, refuge. Manna.

Thing is, I also know that I'm not necessarily here to be happy. The point of being is to get to work, to make things better, or else who gives a damn. Change is made by people who grab a used snorkel and wade into the sewer. It comes from those who cut themselves and bleed into boring, thankless, necessary work. They don't allow themselves the luxury of retreat, if it's even available to them. They know that if you're not helping, you're in the way.

So I guess I'm asking; Do we have to choose between being happy and using our lives to the extent that we should? Do we even have a say in the matter? How much satisfaction can a man claim for himself and still sleep the sleep of the just?

Maybe it wasn't a revelation. Maybe this is just the by-product of what happens when you give my brain a stimulant. Maybe I'm in the throes of a mid-life crisis. Maybe I'm just bored.

I have not a clue, but no way I'm going back. I begged to be made to burn and it happened and it turns out that that hurts a lot. There's zero that's romantic about it, I don't give a tinker's damn what the poets told you. Like love, burning is hard, especially when you're a middle-aged man with no idea where or how he's supposed to combust. It demands payment.

This business of dissatisfaction is a slog, and I'll be honest, sometimes it borders on despair. But I'm finally beginning to feel like I'm in the world. And I don't have a clue what I can do with that, but it's going to be something.

Also, I got a new job.