On not seizing the day

Here’s a conversation I have fairly often with my writing students:

Me: So the point of your essay is, what, “carpe diem”? What does that mean to you, exactly?

Student: It means “seize the day.”

Me: I know that. But what do you mean by “seize the day”?

Student: You know. Like, living life to its fullest.

Me: No, actually, I don’t know—what does that mean, specifically?

Student: (Sigh.) It means, I don’t know—living each day like it’s your last?

Me: You mean like putting your affairs in order—figuring out whether you want to be cremated or buried, saying goodbye to your loved ones, revising your will, that sort of thing?

Student: No, geez—you know what it means. Just living life, doing stuff.

Me: Like what?

Student: Whatever. Why don’t you tell me what you want me to write.

Of course, my primary goal in pursuing this rather annoying line of questioning is to get students to think for themselves, to see beyond these obvious feel-good clichés. But I’ve realized lately that this isn’t my sole motivation. In part, I’m motivated by my own confusion; honestly, I don’t really know what it means to live life to its fullest. I keep hoping someone will give me a meaningful explanation.

But mostly I’m just turned off by the very idea of seizing the day and by seize-the-day people and seize-the-day propaganda in general. And if “carpe diem” means what I really think it means, I’m having none of it.

Here’s why:

  • Your typical seize-the-day activities, like bungee jumping or rock climbing or roller-coastering or riding around on a Sea Doo, sound kind of awful. Too scary. Too taxing. Too hot. Too wet.
  • Strangely, while seizing the day seems like an argument in favor of being active, of engaging with “life,” it also seems like a justification for avoiding it—neglecting work or rent or credit card bills. Actually, never mind. I’m in favor of neglecting all of those things, though I’d like to stay in denial about it.
  • Speaking of credit card bills, isn’t “live fully” a credit card company slogan? Of course, the big, bad Capitalist machine has successfully conflated living with spending, and although I completely buy into that notion myself, I still feel guilty about it. Well, sometimes.
  • In the past, seize-the-day propaganda has made me feel guilty for reading books in bed all day or (more likely) watching seven or eight episodes of The Sopranos in one sitting. No longer. (By the way, I’ve watched seasons two through five in the past two weeks or so. That Tony Soprano seizes the day, doesn’t he? I guess I’m a lot more A.J. than Tony. Is that good or bad? Whatever.)
  • Doesn’t it also sound kind of aggressive, this whole seizing-the-day business? I don’t want to seize anything. I want to leave the day alone—or, perhaps, set it free. And as far as I can tell, seizing the day cannot be accomplished while sleeping, which is perhaps the bigger issue here.

Anyway, it’s summer. The weather’s been nice. The days are getting longer, which means there’s more day to seize. But I think I’m just gonna let the days come to me.

Right after I seize a long nap.

14 responses to “On not seizing the day”

  1. Marleyfan says:


    Been gone for a while in L.A., and came back to work with piles…

    The honorable Robert Nesta Marley would have the following to sing about seizing the day: “Lively up yourself, don’t be no drab; lively up yourself, when things look awful bad”.

  2. stephanie wells says:

    Marleyfan, sorry to hear you have piles; you know that means “hemorrhoids” in Britain, right?

    Jeremy, I can’t believe you maligned that poor student so openly in your blog. How humiliating for her–everyone in the entire world can tell who she is and is laughing at her! You are going to cause her such emotional distress that it will completely justify her sending you a death threat and then lying to the judge about it under oath. You should watch out.

  3. Ruben Mancillas says:

    Jeremy, your slacker credentials are impeccable but no one who hits triple digits in Pop-A-Shot has any problem seizing anything.

    My Latin is oh so rusty but how about the more pastoral “gather” or “pluck” in place of the disagreeably martial “seize?”

    But trust me, my friend, choosing to sleep all day and being able to pull it off is carpe diem. Think Office Space here.

  4. Scotty says:

    I’m not so much into the kind of comment I’m about to make:

    I have nothing to add; I just want to tell you that this post makes me so happy to be your friend. You are the sweetest sloth I know — you are also more A.J. than anyone I know.

  5. LP says:

    Wait, I’m confused. Scotty, I thought you were seizing the day in a yurt somewhere today. They have Internet in yurts?

  6. Dave says:

    This seize-the-day thing is advice best applied sparingly. I heard someone the other day saying something like, “The only things I regret are the things I didn’t do.” This seemed wise, until I realized there are loads of things I wish I hadn’t done. Thanks for keeping the faith, brother.

  7. Lisa Tremain says:

    Triple digits on Pop-A-Shot?? I have witnessed it, actually,

    And I’m with Ruben: reading a book all day in bed is seizing the day, as far as I’m concerned. Same with watching episodes of your favorite TV serial (The Wire, anyone?)

    Marleyfan, not to hurt your feelings or anything, but Jeremy hates reggae. Still, I love him (and his posts) all the more for what he does not seize.

  8. Jeremy says:

    I only pretend to hate reggae, the same way i pretend to hate “freedom rock.” but i don’t know what it means to “lively up yourself” either.

    and, yes, i think that whatever we do, we’re seizing and living and all that good stuff. very few things are as enjoyable and regenerative and fulfilling as nap-taking. I consider that living to the fullest.

  9. cynthia says:

    I THINK IT MEANS TO LISTEN TO YOURSELF MORE AND LISTEN TO THAT. Sometimes just gotta have fun, whether that is watching the Sopranos or cliff diving. Be true to yourself

  10. PB says:

    I think it means something about no regrets but I know nothing of this personally.
    I am in the nap camp.
    This post made me laugh outloud . . . unitl I read the comments, especially # 1 and 2.
    Now I am gasping on the floor. To write thoughtful funny is great–to inspire thoughtful funny is genius.

  11. ssw says:

    I think of seizing the day as a metaphor about going for something you want out of your life, because you can. It has a bit of connotation of overcoming something(facing anxiety? fear? past failure?) and may be more akin to trying something you’ve never done before or picking up what you may have left behind, or risking.
    I think many people want to hope that greater things are in store for them, or that they’re capable of more than what they’ve been able to achieve to-date, or that better things are possible in their life. In a lot of cases, all it may take is the effort, the acting. Seize the day definitely has a here-and-now quality to it. So many of us live with our loss, suffering, faults, debilitating pasts, you name it…there’s something transcendent about dreaming of, going for, and achieving things that we didn’t necessarily trust would possible but that we want, and might even get, if we tried.

  12. Beth W says:

    I read this kind of new-agey book for a yoga class called the Power of Now. It’s about being present. My favorite part was when it said that it’s ok to sit on the couch and do nothing as long as you make it an active choice and don’t beat yourself up about it.

    On Monday I saw Jeremy’s almost twin. (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Jeremy but if it was you I apologize for giving you multiple confused, squinty looks and not saying hi.) Jeremy’s almost twin had a rather large ear piercing. Was he seizing the day when he got that done to his head?

  13. farrell says:

    “Too scary. Too taxing. Too hot. Too wet.”

    This, from the semi-pro skater who can do 360 kick flips while olleying (sp?) off of 5 ft parking lots? And the snow boarder who will spend 2-3 days in a row tricking down a mountain and once ended up in an ER getting full body CTs for crazy baddass snowboarding daredevil shit. You, my friend, know carpe diem. Old school version. You can’t fool us with your pomo cat naps and netflix. This should be titled “How to seize the day when you have a 401k and you’re in your late 30s?” Or something like that. Anyway, I love this post all the same. I’m with you completely. that whole “suck the marrow out of life” stuff. That sounds like eating good food and napping afterwords. ah yes, the napping. another glass of chard please.

  14. someone apparently failed to seize thursday.