I’m a sucker for quotes. When I find a really good one, it’s like my eyes have been opened for the first time. I have numerous ‘quote’ apps on my phone. One of my favourite quotes used to be, “whether you think you can or you can’t, either way you are right,” by Henry Ford but once I found out he was an anti-Semite, this raised a lot of questions for me regarding the quote, but let’s leave that to another time. (I still secretly live by that quote but, Henry, did you mean that the Jews thought they deserved what they got? Another time, Kat. Another time.)
Another quote I heard a few years ago which raised the hair on the back of my neck is Madame de Stael’s, “one must choose in life between boredom and suffering”. I could lie and say that I stumbled across this quote whilst studying 19th century French literature in Paris, beret and all, but I won’t. I heard it on an episode of The Sopranos.
I liked and related to it so much that I decided to have it tattooed on my body. I keep getting mixed reactions when I tell people what it says as not everyone seems to like the quote as much as I do, but I think it’s that they don’t read it as I read it. So I decided to dedicate a blog post explaining what I think it means.
In my humble opinion, this quote can also be linked to, ‘be careful what you wish for’, ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ and ‘what goes around comes around’.
Let me illustrate.
A housewife. Let’s call her Mary. Mary the housewife is bored with her life. She is busy with housework and menial hobbies, but generally bored. She loves her husband but longs for the more passionate and enthusiastic love she sees in the movies and also secretly wishes her husband would lavish her with jewellery and mink coats like Ernesto does to Carmelita in the Mexican daytime soap opera she never misses.
She thinks back to the days when she was in a relationship with a guy named Hugh. Hugh was her first love and the man she gave her cherry to. She ran away from a strict but loving Christian home life to be with him and forever tainted her relationship with her parents. She loved Hugh ever so much but she knew her parents were right. He was a drug addict and even though he loved her and showed it, she spent two years of her life trying to help him quit his addictions but to no avail. She used to look at the housewives in the neighbourhood and long to have a ‘normal’ life like theirs. Hugh died of an overdose and Mary fell into a deep depression. Her parents collected her straight after the funeral and she spent two years back home with them before she met Jeff.
The first year after Hugh’s death hardly saw her getting out of bed but during the second year she started doing a bit more and even got a job at the local florist. Jeff was the freelance accountant at the florist and fell in love with Mary instantly. After chasing her for six months and showering her with chocolates and flowers (which she was glad to note he didn’t purchase from where she worked), she finally gave in and started dating him. A year later they were married. Life got bland pretty quickly after the wedding and routine well and truly set in.
One day whilst completing her mundane daily duties which included a trip to the grocery store for milk and eggs, she spots a limo that is parked oddly right outside the store. She looks at this limo and for some reason smiles at her reflection in the window without realising it. Just then, the window cracks open and a good-looking man’s face appears. “What are you smiling at, senorita,” says the Latino hunk. “Oh, nothing. I’m sorry,” she says, flustered. The man gets out of the limo, lights a cigarette whilst leaning his back against the side of the limo and strikes up a conversation with our Mary who just stands there, mesmerised and in awe of the handsome man in front of her.
His name is Angelo and he had some ‘business’ in the area. Some harmless flirting ensued with Mary giving the compulsory ‘stop, I’m married’ line a couple of times. Another older Latino man seems to appear from nowhere and gets into the limo which seems to be Angelo’s cue to leave. “Listen,” says Angelo. I’d like to see you again”. “I can’t, I’m married,” says Mary. “We’ll see,” says Angelo and gets into the Limo, which drives away quickly, leaving Mary standing there slightly agog. What just happened? What had she come here to do? Oh, right. Grocery shopping. She turns around and enters the grocery store and goes about as normal, the only difference being the great big smile on her pretty little face.
That afternoon she prepared dinner for her and her husband, did the laundry and even mowed the lawn. When her husband got home she tiptoed to kiss him at the door but he said, “honey, I can’t lean down to kiss you, I’m sorry, my back is still hurting. In fact, I was wondering if after dinner you wouldn’t mind cutting my toenails. I can’t bend at all.” “Sure, honey,” she says and takes his jacket and briefcase and goes to set the table for dinner.
The whole time at dinner no one spoke a word. Jeff was playing with his mobile phone whilst Mary was smiling into her plate and playing with her mash and peas. After dinner she cleared up, cut Jeff’s toenails and then they sat in front of the TV quietly till it was time to go to bed. That night, as Jeff was snoring next to her, she thought about how bored she was in life and how something as silly as a random meeting with a complete stranger could change that for a few moments.
She fell asleep and dreamt of Angelo.
The next day after making breakfast, clearing up, making Jeff’s lunch, sending Jeff off to work, hovering the house, doing the laundry and cleaning the windows, she took out her gardening knee-matt and decided to do a spot of gardening before getting started with dinner. As she was pruning away at her roses, she saw something from the corner of her eye. No, it can’t be. A limo was pulling up right outside her house.
Angelo gets out and walks slowly towards her, unsmiling. He pulls out a handkerchief from his pocket, lays it on the ground next to Mary, rolls up his shirt sleeves and pries the pruning shears from Mary’s hands. He starts clipping away at the flowers while Mary just watches, unsure what to do or think.
“Will you take a ride with me, then?” he says. “I’m married,” she starts. “What are you… what…” Angelo laughs. “Go inside and get cleaned up. Let’s go for a ride.” “But I can’t, I have to prepare dinner…” then she stops. These things only happen in films. She smiles at him and goes upstairs and puts on a flattering pair of jeans and a nice tight t-shirt, grabs her handbag and comes downstairs.
“You look lovely,” says Angelo as they walked to the limo, his hand on the small of her back. He took her to a side of town she had never been before, she saw things she felt she had never seen before and suddenly life was colourful and fruity. On the way back, he said, “this is not over. I will see you again,” and kissed her passionately. A kiss that she had not ever had before. A kiss that made her weak at the knees and lusting for more. He dropped her off at the end of her road and she got out and walked back home.
Jeff was waiting for her when she got back. “Where were you,” he asked, genuinely worried. “I’m really sorry,” she said, “something came up.” Jeff didn’t even ask what that was, he just inquired how long dinner will take to be ready and she said not long. So she made a quick spaghetti Napolitano and they ate in silence. He wasn’t even jealous, she thought. It didn’t even cross his mind that she could be having an affair!
That night, she tried to make love to Jeff (knowing that she would be thinking of Angelo) but he said he had had a really tiring day and if he could take a rain check before kissing her on the forehead and turning his back to her.
A few days later, Angelo came and collected Mary again. Before long, a torrid affair was taking place and eventually Angelo asked her to leave her husband. She did. Without a second thought.
For a while she had what she wanted with Angelo, passion, gifts, trips, love and lust, but with those things came other things… lies, lipstick on Angelo’s collar and eventually, violence. She tried to leave him several times which led to more violence and then pleas of love and promises of change. After a few years of no change, she finally saw through her well thought out plan, took a bag of necessities, enough money to live comfortably in a cottage somewhere and fled the country, moving to an island in the Mediterranean where she would eventually settle down with numerous cats and a couple of stray dogs where her life consisted of gardening, cooking, taking walks, reading and painting.
She wishes things had been different. That maybe she could have had a ‘normal’ life with a family and children… but what is ‘normal’?
Life at home with parents = BOREDOM
Relationship with Hugh = SUFFERING
Life with Jeff = BOREDOM
Relationship with Angelo = SUFFERING
Life alone in the Med = BOREDOM
(By the way, Mary’s story is not a true story (but it could be). I just made it up on the spot for this post.)
Madame de Stael’s quote doesn’t have to be as complex as Mary’s life. It could be a general day-to-day thing, i.e. you take on a new project that you have to balance with work and life but have to sacrifice a few outings with the girls and yoga classes in order to meet the deadline. Suffering. Let’s say you are swamped at work so take a few days off to chill at home and do nothing. After the second day and the house being spick and span? Boredom. Your relationship is up and down with passionate rows and heated discussions? Suffering. You get married, know where your partner is at all times and typically have sex once a week but definitely not on a work night? Boredom.
Whilst the definitions of Suffering and Boredom generally mean either extreme, it doesn’t necessarily have to mean the extreme. Boredom can mean that I have to go pay the bills now and suffering can mean that I won’t be able to get that new bag that I’ve been lusting over this month because my insurance is due.
Boredom can mean that I don’t have a hobby but when I finally get one, suffering can mean that I don’t have enough time to do it. Boredom can mean being fed up with being a nobody with no friends and suffering can mean not being able to go to the store without being hounded by the paparazzi when I finally ‘make it’. Boredom can mean having to look after my grandmother who suffers with Alzheimer’s and suffering can mean not having my grandmother around anymore.
I think if everyone takes a good look at their life, they can separate moments into these two categories. This is why I got the tattoo. After all this analysing, I’ve finally decided that I would rather be… [bored]/[suffering] (at the time of the publishing of this blog post, the writer couldn’t decide).