Suit Yourself

A few weeks ago I had to explain myself at the dinner table.  Someone had exclaimed how I’ve managed to throw away potential and a promising career, to settle for housewife in the boondocks.  Imagine where I could be, had I held on at the country’s most prestigious law firm.  But having no propensity for hard work and billable hours, I’d thrown away the distinctive title of Partner and with it, the right connections.  “But I don’t want to be successful being someone else.” And, “that’s someone else’s calling” I told him. Because after the elation of being accepted to The Firm, it was so glaring I didn’t want to get up everyday to be that Partner or eat on that table hobnobbing with the right connections.  It just didn’t feel right.

But the appraisal made me miserable for a day and took me to the past. So now I’m looking at old photographs and journals, wondering whether I was someone else back then. Why I  had decided on and yet abandoned in my critic’s words, “so much potential?”

I was a carefree 20-year old law student living in a posh neighborhood without having to pay rent.  Quite a pampered existence, courtesy of parents who imagined they could bank on a lawyer 4 years hence.   But the signs were there: notes and diaries so unlike the legal doctrines I had to memorize in the shower. There were short stories about the ocean, poems on love and betrayal, and musings on God’s unquestionable existence. Cropped hair with an excuse to wear short skirts. And no need for suits except to hide a tan so the professors wouldn’t think I was a bum.  I fancied a Bohemian lifestyle and yet was studying to be a bourgeois lawyer.  Wanted beatnik and yet was devoting hours learning to be conformist.  How could I have been as mixed up as that?

Maybe I wanted a guise of conventional.  I had a father who was drunk by lunchtime and a mother who was the epitome of Beatnik in her generation. And everyone expected the love child to fail.  And so maybe, growing up in a Boho world, you want to prove conventional wrong using conventional standards.  And of course, there’s the idealism of wanting to save the world, in a fancy suit. And so a law degree it was. I had chosen to play by the rules.

The world gave me a yardstick for success and I tried measure up to it.   And one could get pretty good being someone else.  Still, it never felt right. And my own signposts were there. The only things worthwhile at work were free lunch and Friday clubs. Or that we were so close to Greenbelt. Weekdays were spent clocking for the weekend. And there’s also the feeling of indigestion every morning. All these, no matter how fancy you look in a suit, 15th month pays and the chance of winning a refrigerator at the Christmas raffle. And especially, despite assuring yourself: that the Partner looks dashing hobnobbing with the right connections. Who ignores telltale signs like so? You see yourself living a half-life waiting for weekends and breaks, and you hang around? Isn’t that selling yourself short?

So maybe that’s what I should assure him, that critic who certainly meant well and thought I desperately needed help.  “Please, stop fretting about me. I’m not a miserable housewife in the country.”  The prestigious suit doesn’t suit me. Denim shorts do.  And I fancy my everyday.  It’s got whoops of joy and a little purpose. And I’m not feeling indigestion every morning.

“But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?” Albert Camus

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