Cultivating the Art of Pleasure
“Each thing I do, I rush through so I can do something else. In such a way do the days pass—a blend of stock car racing and the never ending building of a gothic cathedral. Through the windows of my speeding car I see all that I love falling away: books unread, jokes untold, landscapes unvisited…”
— Stephen Dobyns
I recently had an epiphany—don’t you love those?
I was in my 6:30 a.m. yoga class because, yeah, that’s how I roll. As the instructor coaxed her one-notch-above-somnambulant class through tree poses and down dogs, she spoke in her lilting Irish accent about her recent trip to the South of France, encouraging us to find the pleasure and beauty in our day-to-day lives which the French do so well. What a coinkidink.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m an over-thinker; strategizing, working out contingency plans complete with backup plans for the contingency plans, figuring out what I want to do far into the future, and planning that Next Big Thing. And hey, that’s kind of fun and mostly creative and there’s nothing wrong with that, right?
But the thing I realized is this: that sometimes, in our quest for the Next Big Thing, we can fail to appreciate the moments of Right Now, or avoid them altogether. It’s a bit like not seeing the forest because of all those damn trees.
The French have truly mastered making pleasure into an art form—preparing a simple meal, sipping a glass of wine at a café while watching passers-by, spending an afternoon in the park, taking an evening stroll along the river. They take a certain amount of pleasure in complaining about the government or taxes, but will tell you at the same time “at least we have the food.” There’s even pleasure in having an argument—it’s all so dramatic and outrageous as they roll their eyes and make that “pffff” sound with their lips, as only the French can do.
We Americans, on the other hand, often skip past the pleasure part. We eat fast food. We wear gym clothes and pajama pants in public. We take our disgruntlements way too seriously. And we charge ahead to the Next Big Thing.
Maybe that’s why successful people often look back and miss the struggle – because they didn’t take the time to appreciate it all while it was happening.
I’m not American bashing. Heck, I’m about as American as they come. I’m an amalgamation of Irish and English and God-knows-what, and the only bloodline in my family comes from road kill.
I’m just saying there’s something to be learned here, in what the French value and take the time to appreciate. Take, for instance, the architecture, beautifully preserved for hundreds, even thousands of years. Sure, we’re the New World, I get that, but still, when something gets to be fifty or a hundred years old here, we usually tear it down and build condos or strip malls.
You see it in the “mature” people of France, too. The seniors are beautiful—natural-looking, in good condition relative to their age, and smartly, age-appropriately dressed. They practice self-care, preparing for old age their whole lives. It’s all part of the pleasure. None of this “letting yourself go” business.
The French sit down to eat real food at meals, slowly savoring every bite in modest proportion. They dress in real clothes to go out in public. They take time to enjoy the parks and museums (we have those too, you know).
Sure, we all have to do unpleasant things, and every day isn’t just a big ol’ Zen-fest. But hey, if something’s got to be done, why not do it kind of magic-like?
So here’s my quest—to put art into everything I do; to milk Right Now for all it’s worth and squeeze every last stinking drop of pleasure out of its transitory little bones.
To relish in taking the extra minutes morning and night to do the scrubs and lotions and potions it takes to keep me looking good for the long haul. To put on loud music and dance while I clean the toilet until it shines like a throne in Versailles and strike out in passionate pursuit of the elusive cobwebs in the corners that only show up when company comes. To sip a glass of wine and enjoy its every nuance of black cherry and blueberry with notes of brioche and pork belly. To listen to the sounds of the birds and feel the breeze as I dutifully water the yard, yank out the weeds and clean up the dog poo. To roll my eyes and wave my arms in wild frustration over current events, while commenting “at least the weather is nice” (I’m still working on my “pffff”).
Wishing you immense pleasure and beauty.
Bonjour! Je suis Kelley
Hi, I’m Kelley – thrower of parties, drinker of wine, and lover of all things French. I hope you enjoy my Lessons in Becoming French!