Confessions of a self-described Sybarite.
I first heard the word “sybaritic” when a handsome law professor told me I was nuts for disliking my home town of Los Angeles. “The sunshine, the water, the sybaritic lifestyle…” he said dreamily while staring out the window at a steel gray Washington D.C. day. I nodded, pretended I knew what “sybaritic” meant, raced home and opened my dictionary:
syb·a·rit·ic /ˌsibəˈridik/ adjective. Fond of sensuous luxury or pleasure; self-indulgent.
I closed my dictionary. The handsome law professor was completely out to lunch. Didn’t he know Angelenos eat plain cans of tuna because “abs are made in the kitchen” or that they suck down green smoothies that smell like chloroform? They were nowhere close to the people I had met in Florence, who were just as thin and good looking, but ate gnocchi in gorgonzola sauce and took four hour naps.
Putting aside my professor’s delusion, I couldn’t stop thinking about the word, which derives from “sybarite” (syb·a·rite/ˈsibəˌrīt/noun, a person who is self-indulgent in their fondness for sensuous luxury). Turns out back in the day the Greek city of Sybaris really knew how to party and indulge, known among the Greeks for its feasts and other excesses. And while Sybaris later fell to marauding neighbors, its legacy lives on.
The more I read about sybarites, the more the inevitable conclusion became clear. Hi, my name is Adeline and I am a sybarite. While I’ve never gone in for truly expensive clothes or handbags, I’ve been known to spend my last $600 on a hotel room with a huge marble tub, where I soaked in a bubble bath for hours, stack of books and a bottle of Champagne at my side. Soft-scrambled eggs with caviar have ruined regular scrambled eggs forever. My favorite way to spend a birthday is to stare into space while soaking in mineral hot springs under an inky desert sky. I’m not ashamed to admit that milk chocolate is better than dark chocolate. Because pleasure.
I can’t really afford any of the above-mentioned things (other than the milk chocolate) but I skew towards pleasure in inexpensive ways too. I’ve made my small patio area a haven for hummingbirds and spend hours lying in the sun listening for the hum of their wings. By the second or third date, I’ll invite the new guy over for a roast chicken dripping in butter. I’m almost fifty and spend almost all summer at the local beach boogie boarding, eating hot dogs and collecting shells. Because pleasure.
A Sybarite joins Medium.
When I first joined Medium, it was simply to follow one of my favorite writers. Then I saw that anyone could write for it — there were no real gatekeepers! — and I dove right in. But soon I fell victim to a familiar trap; I became overly interested in my stats, how to get curated, and how to increase my exposure. Why this happened, I’ll never know. I don’t make a living based on writing. None of any of that matters. And yet there I was, suddenly trying to emulate popular writers. I got over that quickly, and had a self-reckoning, as I explain here. But through this whole process, I couldn’t help but notice that this place is flooded with self-help/life-hack advice — or the worst, how to “make it” on Medium — and you know what? It’s a little boring. I’m bored.
Don’t get me wrong, there should be a place for people to read about how to improve. But do we need thousands of stories about how to tell if your boyfriend is a narcissist, or three ways to get over a breakup? Do we need constant screeds about accepting our imperfect bodies?
I, for one, do not. I submit the best way to accept your imperfect body is to take it, along with a hot guy, to the small Portuguese town of Obidos and drink port and eat sausage all day. Now that’s a story I want to read. Sure, your boyfriend is a narcissist (the internet has turned us all into narcissists, my sweet) but tell me about the time you two went snorkeling in Hawaii and saw sea turtles drift by. I bet the only thing you felt then was weightless awe, at the depths of the ocean and a gentle creature staring back at you.
Tell me about that time you saw a purple starfish, tell me about your grandmother’s rice and beans with bacon (pleasure does not always mean luxury) and then give me the recipe, tell me about the time you got lost in the woods but weren’t afraid because you heard fairies in the trees, tell me about the time the time you went to Iceland and let your eyes rest because all you could see was ground and sky. Tell me about the time that you got sunburned at the beach, and then cooled down with aloe vera gel, tasting salt for a week. Tell me about your favorite pen.
Tell me about the Goyard bag you bought yourself, the Tom Ford red lipstick that makes you feel beautiful, your French lingerie. Tell me about the restaurant in Rome that served tangerine juice at the end of every meal, and gave you the entire pot the pasta was cooked in. (Actually, I’ll be the one telling you all about that restaurant soon. Watch this space).
Tell me about the tiles you saw in Ravenna, the Otomi fabrics you saw in Mexico. Tell me about the the mystery noodles you had on the street in Thailand. Tell me about the nap you took in surprisingly soft Target sheets. Tell me that your rescued dog is the big spoon. Tell me about that Greek wine that tastes like a Christmas tree.
Do not tell me how to do anything, fix anything, overcome anything. Do not tell me whom to vote for or tell me that I am immoral for wanting a Goyard bag. Do not check my privilege or call me Karen. This space is for pleasure* and pleasure only, for the moments in between the Sturm and Drang of modern life. You know, pleasure: the ultimate point of all these trips around the sun.
How will this all work?
I have no idea how this will work, mostly because I have no idea what I’m doing. But I didn’t want to wait to feel like I know what I’m doing before I created this, because then I never would. Like any good sybarite, I’m digging in now, even if the cookie dough is still raw.
I’m also taking a few weeks before I set up a method for submissions, because I want to see what kind of writers might be interested; hopefully writers who want to hone their craft, who pay attention to the present, to the elemental, to the earth. (For me, the writing of Kay Bolden and Felicia C. Sullivan come to mind. Hi Ladies! I stan).
In the meantime, if you’d like to connect to offer advice, a story, criticism, or to tell me I should not in fact buy a Goyard bag, find me at firstname.lastname@example.org
*Not really interested in reading about sex in pieces about pleasure, unless you can give Anaïs Nin a run for her money.