How to Live a Life of Quiet Desperation

Thoreau said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

(He forgot to mention what the women do. I guess we just watch.)

Here, after several days on the road, performing, teaching a workshop, and watching America out the windows of my rented mini-van, is my full and comprehensive step-by-step guide for how to live your very own life of quiet desperation.

1. Let jobs, marriages, friendships, life, and events happen to you. Never make choices.

2. Complain about how jobs, marriages, friendships, life, and events have all happened to you and that you’ve never had a choice.

3. Believe that pharmaceutical companies know what you need.

4. Gossip about your co-workers, your brother’s wife, or your best friend.

5. Watch Fox News.

6. Believe Fox News.

7. When someone asks you a question, like, “So, why did you major in that?” or “What do you want to do?” shrug and stare at the floor. If possible, try to add the universal three-note “I don’t know” grunt as an accompaniment.

8. Post Murphy’s Law signs in your workplace.

9. Stay cynical because it’s so cool.

10. Live for weekends.

11. Say, “I have to stay here. I get full benefits.”

12. Believe your fears.

13. Don’t go out to see plays or live music.

14. Don’t listen to the voice in your head that says, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m dying inside.”

15. Trash your spouse or partner to your friends.

16. Eat at Sonic Drive-In.

17. Think Sonic Drive-In has good food.

18. Trade in your rake for a leaf-blower.

19. Marry someone “because she’s hot,” or “because he has a great ass.”

20. Never get uncomfortable.

21. Watch TV while you eat dinner with your wife or family.

22. Hold onto anger as long as possible.

23. Don’t get a dog.

24. Give a crap what Paris Hilton is doing this week.

25. Feel deeply betrayed and pissed off when The Weather Channel’s forecast isn’t accurate.

26. Feel deeply betrayed and pissed off when your connecting flight gets cancelled.

27. Seek security above all else.

28. Believe that security exists.

29. Take Dr. Phil’s advice about finding security.

30. Let rejection, a bad review, or a rude comment stop you from following your heart.

31. Never let the shrubs in your yard stray a single branch beyond that perfect sno-cone shape.

32. Criticize songs, movies, art or writing when you’ve never written a song, made a movie, painted a picture or written a thing.

33. Download songs for free instead of paying a measly 99 cents for them.

34. Don’t just read People Magazine. Absorb People Magazine.

35. Don’t swing on playground swings once you become an adult.

36. Expect very little.

37. Try to fix other people.

38. Do it for the money.

39. Do it for the approval.

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  1. says

    Hey Christine,
    You forgot to add, “the more drama you can get yourself stuck into, the more popular and successful you’ll be.”

    Thanks, these cracked me up! Happy travels.

  2. says

    Is the weather channel ever accurate? 😉
    I enjoyed reading your list.

    I thought of you the other night as I tried writing a song. I find the I can write “better” when I am emotional, and I was very emotional. (My grandma passed away last week). I haven’t gone back to read what I wrote. (I just stopped myself from saying “but I’m sure it wasn’t any good.”) I’ll have to go back and read it. It’s not done anyway.

    So, even when I am not reading your blog and I am lying in bed trying to write songs, I think of you and your words.

  3. Kimberly says


    Have you been reading my journal? Finally, someone is saying what I am thinking.

    Choices…hmmm. Mine have not been so good lately. The guy I wanted to bring to your Ashville concert…not a good choice for me (even though I find him hot and think his butt is great). I will come alone and absorb every note without the distraction. It is my first time to see you live.

    I am crying as I say this, but this girl who used to follow her heart has lost it somewhere between men, friends and family who have tried their best to suck all of the life out of me and destroy the very things that make me, well me. And as much as I believe in love, I WON’T lose me just to have someone in my life. Thanks for the reminder.

    Excuse me while I go swing on the playground and sing as loud as I can.


  4. says

    Hey Barb…thanks! Glad you like it!

    Hiya Kimberly. It sounds like you need a good long cry and lots of compassion. When you realize you’ve made choices that aren’t for your highest and best good, sometimes there’s fall out, for sure. I understand totally. And I’m happy you’ll be at the show October 13. And yay for you for coming without any guy! Please be sure to come up to the CD table at the end of the night and introduce yourself. You need a big hug!

  5. says

    Oh! Oh! (hand waving furiously from the back of the room) can I get in on this too? Behave like folks do on “reality” tv. (I can’t watch those shows – the people are so mean…) Or on soap operas! Or just about any tv show, for that matter. I’d better stop before this gets truly negative! It is time to have the cable turned off.

    Be in a hurry all the time and tailgate everyone who gets in your way. Okay, I’m done. I promise.

    See you in Cary. :)

  6. says

    Marty… well, thanks!

    mk, thanks for the contributions. (remember that the title of this was “how to live a life of quiet desperation”…not “how to really trigger mk” !! that’ll be the next post!)

  7. says

    Christine – I just wanted to let you know what a great evening we had Friday at your concert. Wendy and I loved your show and your music – and I know Mike did, as well. Thanks for the laughs and the hugs!

  8. says

    An excellent list. I laughed at the mention of Fox (or “Faux”) News. According to this PBS quiz, 63% of American families usually eat dinner in front of the television. Very sad. Can it count as a family dinner that way? As for the swings, I still love to do that. Haven’t done it in a while, though. I may need to fit it into my schedule very soon.

  9. says

    Hi Caryn… Yes, it’s very easy to sit in front of the tv and eat. When I lived alone, (or when I’m on the road getting room service), I challenge myself to just eat. No tv. No reading. Just enjoy food. And it can be a big challenge! Swings are my favorite. There’s a perfect tree swing on the campus of Warren Wilson College (which is near my house) that makes me smile like an idiot every time I’m on it.

  10. says

    I want you to know that you wasted four more minutes of my lifetime because I had to see what all the fuss about Sonic was about.
    Really, Christine, I have to hold you responsible for this!

  11. chris says

    Your a genius but even geniuses miss it sometimes. A double cheesburger from Sonic can be heaven in moderation:).


  12. says

    todd – my heart felt apologies. i did that very thing a long time ago – and it was like eating flavored index cards!

    chris – i’ll take your word for it! (personally, heaven in moderation is m&m’s)

  13. alabaster says

    I’m sure what you probably meant for #5 & 6 – or at least I’m hoping, as I usually really enjoy reading your blog – is watch ANY news media channel or believe ANY news media channel (at least, without fact checking!). It was, after all, the other TV news stations that sat on all those incovenient Obama facts that people are starting to pay attention to (and not like very much) now.

  14. Marie says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you – I really needed to find this (again) today after getting chewed by a bully boss for making a decision that is the right one for me. I agonized a bit – by making that choice I was cutting loose something bad, and draining, but I might lose the littlest, teeniest bit of work…… And then I got an email from a friend announcing a new local arts organization with a few workshops I can’t wait to take and I went and signed up for a few.

    Yep, I made 2 right decisons for me today, and I can’t let myself care about the fact that one was NOT approved of. If I had not made that decision, more work stuff that isn’t good for me would have “happened to me.”

  15. Michael Mellin says

    I felt pretty desperate just looking at the number of steps. But then I’m old and I’ve been a self-creating existential hero ever since I read that phrase in my brother’s college philosophy text in 1959. Seems a lot easier. LOL Thanks for your insights. How’s your outlook?

  16. Joe Fox says

    Well, I’d agree with most everything here except the Fox news parts. There is a balance needed from CNN, MSNBC etc. Lean to far left or right and you fall over. Its not about being wishy washy either….again balance.

  17. Dracher says

    Dear Christine,
    Thank you for this wonderfully human contribution. It is nearly always uplifting to realise that others see, hear and feel recognisably similar sights, sounds and emotions.

    I doubt, by the way, that Thoreau forgot to mention what the women do. I can’t imagine anyone being so insular, not to mention downright foolish, as to ignore or even fail to notice women. I think it more likely that Thoreau was including women in “all men”.

    In a world where an invitation, has fallen to “an invite” where a communication or a touching of souls, has become “a connect”, it is little wonder that woman “with man”, and women “with men”, though once considered inclusive, become, exclusive.

    Women have always stood alongside men in the human order; the great history of the world, and the letter of the law, have always considered ‘man’ to include men and women.
    The question is, why then are we not all simply men? It seems that we both know the answer to that one, or you wouldn’t have mentioned it in your heading, and I wouldn’t have replied.
    I would refuse to live in a world that excluded women or overlooked them, that wouldn’t be a life of quiet desperation, it would be no sort of life at all.


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