Hi, we're Steve and Franca . That's us up there, behind the counter of the bread bakery we opened a few years ago in a small town in Eastern North Carolina. It was a big deal at the time, for us anyway—I guess for others, too—and maybe it still is something to brag about. After all, we were both in our early 50s, switching careers, to pursue food of all things, in an area known more for industrial fast food than that made from scratch of real, mostly local, ingredients.
Plus, we had never owned a business before. And we were doing it as a couple—meaning no one was working outside of the business to earn a living in case it crashed and burned. Which it did not. On paper anyway. To family, acquaintances, potential lenders, and many others however, our bakery must’ve looked like one of those endeavors normal people our age would have considered and moved past with a shrug and sigh: Too late, missed my chance.
We're not normal people. So we uprooted ourselves and our family to this little rural community with huge intentions. I won't go into them now, at this very moment, for the sole reason we eventually closed the bakery, and none of those things really matter anymore. If you're interested though you can read more about it here. But this newsletter is not about what happened then or what could've been. It's about now, and what comes next.
It’s about living longer, better, with less, wherever you are because life, as we’ve all just seen, can deteriorate rather quickly into madness, chaos and misery if we hold too tight to the way things are or could have been. Whether it’s meaningful work, enough money, great sex, or the adventure of a lifetime. We risk losing ourselves in the pursuit of a thing, which may or may not be obtainable any longer, instead of finding ourselves alive and well in the purpose. Engaged with life. Content with intention. Filled with bliss.
Red in Tooth and Claw
Nature, in fact, loves contentment. It thrives when the world is balanced, when the need matches the demand, when everything operates in equilibrium and is maintained by a self-regulating flow. It doesn’t care about purpose, and even less about the pursuit of it. No, nature wants easy. It wants homeostasis. Not conflict or argument or reason. Unless it comes, as Tennyson once penned, from Nature’s ruthless self::
'So careful of the type?' but no.
From scarped cliff and quarried stone
She cries, 'A thousand types are gone:
I care for nothing, all shall go.
'Thou makest thine appeal to me:
I bring to life, I bring to death:
The spirit does but mean the breath:
I know no more.' And he, shall he,
Man, her last work, who seem'd so fair,
Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who roll'd the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,
Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law-
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek'd against his creed-
The challenge, of course, is that since the day humans first emerged from the savannah people have not, in general, really cared for self-regulating processes. People want it all. The cliff. The stone. The skies. The family, the means and the splendidly perfect partner.
We want bliss, yes, but...
Homeostasis? We don't really seem that interested. I mean, just take a look at the news. I read recently that someone is trying to manipulate weather by shooting some cocktail of chemicals into the clouds that would encourage precipitation. Encourage precipitation? Please. Who do we think we are?
At the sake of sounding like someone’s preachy, peyote-smoking Aunt from Albuquerque, I’d like to suggest that life—a happy, contented and blissful one, anyway—requires self-regulation. It requires effort, intention, solving conflict in such a way that moves us in the direction we most long to be headed. Which is what people of any age in any place should be considering. Doing the right work in the right space with the right intention to discover what matters most in life. And then, with care, thought and a bit of audacity, pursue it and discover our own blissful homeostasis. It might not encourage rain, but it will help us all to become more content with the dryness.
One Revelation, Two Revelation, Three...
For most of our lives, Franca and I have tried to stay in control of our life’s direction and not let it choose the path for us. Strangely enough, the hurdles to that modest endeavor are substantial. Finding the right job. Getting married to the right person. Having the right number children. Each of these has the ability to check the boxes of deep-rooted desires.
But then, we learn, there are many more boxes we need to be checking. The house. The body. The vacation. More to want, to need, or to have done. And over time, these unchecked boxes fill with discontent; they stare back at us in the mirror every day, growing bigger or shrinking smaller, or in some other way making us feel too limited, too empty of the surprise and enlightenment that comes from granting yourself the permission to grow and try new things, even if it proves to be, as it did with our bakery, a failure.
With failure comes revelation, and while starting over can be hard—or call it pivoting, changing course, or hell, just coming up for a breath of fresh air, whatever word or phrase you want to use, we just call it getting back up on our feet—it's not impossible. Even if doing so feels impossible. Even if it feels unreasonable, like some kind of unjustified sedition from the life to which you've grown accustomed.
For us, parents of three delightful children, business owners, a couple happily married with a circle of loving family and friends nearby, moving to Sicily certainly felt unreasonable and unjust and a lot like a revolution. But so was opening a bakery. So was quitting a career to become a writer, or working as a teacher, or serving in the military, and so has learning how to better prioritize and budget our time, money, health, values and relationships. None were necessary to living, but they have been essential to living better.
The Story of a House
I’m not saying everyone should quit their job or join the Army or become a teacher. Revolution is not a thing, it's a thought. Success is a stick of mythical dimensions—it's universally foreign and unique to all people—and as such not easily conveyed to others (I would though be happy to suggest how to better budget for all of those things).
In fact, we, ourselves, know very little about how we got where we are. It takes grit, for sure. And audacity and courage and trust, none of which can be boiled down into a language anyone else can and should understand. Unreasonable to one might feel extraordinary to another. Or as the words of the poet, Edwin Arlington Robinson, suggest:
We tell you, tapping on our brows,
The story as it should be,
As if the story of a house
Were told, or ever could be;
What is, we think, very relatable is the sentiment that at the core of a contented life is the understanding that while we’re busy checking those boxes I mentioned above, we must also pay attention to longing, and purpose and place, and the person we think we should be. The reward for which is to never stop learning and always keep trying and when you fail, and you will, because life can routinely take a crap on our plans, you go on and get the fuck back up again. Because hard work and walking your path, with intention and authenticity, observing and learning as you go, listening, making tiny discoveries about yourself and the world, you will always remain open to the idea that one of those tiny, seemingly insignificant encounters might, it just might, move you into some audacious, brilliant, new space. Like opening a bakery. Or moving to an island halfway around the world.
Why Without Envy?
We began the blog, Without Envy, years ago to share our journey of raising a child with Type One Diabetes to live life to the fullest. At the time, writing helped us to navigate this new normal and it served to guide us along in what had become a very foreign and frightening world. Eventually, like the pilgrims we were, we found others on the road and in sharing our stories we discovered that though life could be, at times, a real motherfucker, we could all be doing more to live life better, longer, with less. Wherever we are.
Our daughter is older now and so are we. With the scrutiny of every day of the past decade behind us, our hope with this newsletter is to encourage everyone everywhere to age with more intention and to find in themselves the means to live authentically and realize their own audacious self.
We know it takes work. It takes cutting through the bullshit we’re taught about life and living and while we don’t have all the answers—living well is not one-size-fits all—we do feel we are proof it can be done. You can live a less miserable, more meaningful live.
You just have to learn to live without envy.
p.s. If you are here and you'd like to read more of our experience raising a child with type one diabetes to live life without envy please click here.