While sitting at work last week, gazing blankly at one of my many market briefs, some random lines of poetry floated across the forefront of my brain. That tends to happen, actually—I’ll find myself internally quoting Shakespeare or Auden or Eliot at random times. It’s weird. English major problems. But the other day, it was Robert Frost. “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.” I’m actually not a huge Frost fan (I know, so un-American, but what else is new?), but this poem has always resonated with me. It’s simple on its surface, which is perhaps common to most Frost poems (no, I’m not calling Frost simple—I just believe his poems can be read simply, and some people like him for that reason), but it’s considerably deeper than one initially expects, ending on a profound note of longing and resignation:
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
Miles to go, indeed. I’ve unexpectedly reached my breaking point in these last weeks; between keeping up with three jobs, taking 18 hours, and running two student organizations—oh, and making time for riding, which I will never sacrifice—I’ve gotten a bit run down. (And yes, that’s why I haven’t written much recently. At some point, I had to make time for rest, too.) It caught me by surprise, but I’m clearly overcommitted. And now I’m wondering why I allow this to happen—why I continue to keep these promises when it would be so easy to just…stop. Seriously, existential crisis happening over here. Does anything that I do matter? It’s no wonder that final line has been popping into my head so much lately; it appropriately sums up that bone-deep weariness that pervades both body and brain. And I’m not the only one, because I know far too many of my friends share this tendency. It’s a little self-destructive, though, so why do we do it?
Time for a random tangent. Recently, someone persuaded me to watch Office Space at last—you know, that movie from the 90’s with the employee who stops giving a fuck and rebels against the corporation and ends up trying to launder money and then the office burns down. Okay, this is going somewhere, I promise. Anyway, I was weirdly reminded of myself while watching this guy try to figure his life out—minus the money laundering and building burning. His struggles just felt so familiar. Sometimes, it really does feel like each day is worse than the last. And sometimes, I would like nothing better than to ignore all of the people who want things from me—assignments, editing, research, my presence, conversation, the list goes on—and just…do my own thing. And you know, sometimes I’d even like to take the office printer and bash it with a baseball bat. I’m sure plenty of you can sympathize with all of these.
But there’s clearly something keeping me from doing these things, because I’m still leading an excessively busy (read: moderately insane) lifestyle. And now I’ll get back to Frost, since I think he’s put things together pretty well. Because I do have promises to keep, and I’m not the kind of person to disappear into the woods. I might resent the situation, but at the same time, I know I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t like half-assing things. I pride myself on my ability to get shit done—even when that makes me want to collapse into a little puddle of exhaustion at the end of the day. And that is why I will never succumb to Frost’s metaphorical woods (which might be a metaphor for death in the poem, but that’s not what I’m getting at—point of clarification). I will always push myself—even to my breaking point—because it’s incredibly satisfying to look at what I’ve done and claim ownership. I’m too proud to give in.
Friends often tell me that it’s time to give something up, that I need to drop a commitment and make time for things like sleep. But there are miles to go until I can do so; I’ve got too much to accomplish, so I smile and nod and make noncommittal replies. Because I refuse to let myself disappear into the woods. I hope I can encourage others to resist as well. As long as you perceive some long-run benefit, fight the pull of the woods.
But I might go after the printer. Those things drive me crazy.
(n.b. for any future employers who stumble upon this blog: completely joking about the printer.)