The Mug Challenge

I recently read this book called The Happiness of Pursuit that's all about quests—it's kind of a cross between a quest manifesto (maniquesto?) and a quest manual. The author himself set out on a quest to visit every country in the world by the time he was 35, and he did. He profiles others who went on quests: a woman who wanted to see every bird in the world, a man that walked across America, etc. This book came to me at the exact right time in a way that seemed, well, if not fate then at least supremely and eerily timely.* I got it out of the library (my beloved Minuteman) and for a week I could hardly put it down.

It turns out, there are rules to quests, and guidelines. I found the whole thing fascinating, but what I wanted to write about today was a specific part of the book that hit me like a thunderbolt. It's actually not even original material, as the author is quoting a whole other book called The Flinch by Julien Smith. Here is the passage:

"Go to the kitchen and grab a mug you don't like. Mug in hand, go to a place in your house with a hard floor. Hold the mug in front of you, in your outstretched hand. Say goodbye to it. Now, drop the cup. Whatever rationalization you're using right now is a weak spot for you. Flag it. You'll see it again and again. Drop the damn cup. Did you do it? If so, you'll notice one thing: breaking your programming requires a single moment of strength."

I was in bed reading this, late,  so I didn't exactly do this challenge (though I know exactly the mug I would choose.) But I envisioned doing it (not the same, I know), and here is what I thought about:

First: If I drop this mug, then I'm going to have to clean it up. It'll probably get little shards all over the kitchen, that will lodge themselves underneath the fridge and wedged under the feet of the butcher block. I'll probably find a whole new set of sharp ceramic pieces every time I sweep the floor (which, as my sister/roommate is probably thinking right now, is rarely.) What a pain. Just thinking about doing it should be good enough.

Second: What a waste. Even though I don't like this mug, it's still a perfectly good mug and if I break it it'll just go in the trash, no way to be recycled so it will just end up a landfill somewhere. What a total waste of resources, how representative of our disposable consumer product culture.

This exercise, which I didn't even do properly, starkly revealed two of my mental weaknesses: logistics and practicality. I can easily stress myself out thinking about all the little tasks and annoyances that come with doing almost anything, sometimes to the point of choosing to do nothing at all. While I've learned to somewhat manage that particular hangup, the practicality part still really gets me, and I find myself often terminating daydreams with a deathly "What's the point?" I'm currently trying to unlearn that response, with moderate success.

Going to France to learn French forces me to confront both of these: it's been stressful figuring out flights, cost, subletters, health insurance, international cell phone usage, etc. I also daily question whether or not this makes any sense, or if I should do this. The reason that I ultimately come down on is that if I never do this, I'll always regret it.

That's all for now. In the next few posts I want to expand on a few more of the reasons I'm traveling now, and what led me to finally make the leap. 

*I responded to a Good Food Jobs newsletter that I found particularly resonant (about the uncertainty that goes along with going down an unforged path) and the lovely author responded and recommended this book to me.