I’ve been reading a memoir that uses Epicurus’ philosophy as a means to explore a fulfilled life in retirement. Most people conflate his philosophy with our contemporary idea of epicureanism — a fondness for luxury or indulgence in sensual pleasures. While Epicurus was concerned with pleasure, he wasn’t focused on indulgence. His focus was simple pleasure — a slow meal with friends, the unfolding of conversation, presence to others, et cetera.
I’ve also been struggling with a long-standing thorn in my side: a job that offers both the pleasure of deep engagement with learners and the pain of perennial institutional dysfunction. This week, the dysfunction won, and I made the decision to step away from the (increasingly overshadowed and meager) pleasure of the work. On the other side of that emotionally fraught turn, I’m wondering why I stayed so long. Indeed, several people have reminded me that I’ve been threatening to leave for nearly a decade. I’ve known for a long time that this work was a compromise and, perhaps even more, an obstacle to my happiness.
It’s been twenty-five years since I first read David Halprin’s Saint = Foucault, through which I was introduced to Foucault’s idea that the radical work of our era is the development of new forms of pleasure — and indeed that the pursuit of radical forms of pleasure was a tool for change. To a young queer, that was a yeasty idea and helped me unshackle myself from some of the Puritan dogma of my upbringing.
Some but not all.
I have a hard time allowing myself to engage with pleasure. I have a hard time acknowledging what I accomplish, and I conflate accomplishment with worth. Some of this is a byproduct of our age, the way that Calvinism infused American culture and the way Capitalism perfected the process of internalizing a sense of worthlessness. I’m also aware that as an adopted kid, I internalized the idea that my worth and security was tied to the service I performed to my family.
I need to unravel this. I need to insure that I don’t replace this self-defeating job with another means of reinforcing this nonsense. There’s ‘work’ to do.
Yes, I see the irony.
6 thoughts on “pleasure & change”
Enjoy the retirement, making art, walking about the world, and working when the need arises. All the best.
Thanks, Kurt! Hope you are well!
What I hope it seems like an easy choice in retrospect, and well said on Foucault I share your sense of the matter , and a yankee style upbringing of restraint and accomplishment.
Thanks, David. Indeed, New England is difficult to shake!
You helped put the words to the many emotions I have been experiencing since retiring two weeks ago. Thanks for naming things for me and providing much needed clarity. I am not so sure what the new normal will be but for sure I need it to be very different.
Thanks, Denise! Congratulations on retiring! It takes time to transition from one thing to the next! Be kind to yourself and take the time you need to find a ‘new normal’ that feels wonderful!! xo