I’m officially on Thanksgiving Break – minus the twenty research papers I need to grade and the hundred or so house tasks I need to accomplish. I stayed home with the kids on Monday, and now they are at their dad’s for a few days but get to return to me for Thanksgiving itself and the Sunday after.
We have a rhythm now with our weekend visitation schedule. I can handle two little nights alone, but the holiday breaks still feel weird to split it all 50/50. My empty house and me.
I had a student once who was falling behind, unable to focus and complete assignments. She cried big tears to me after class one day (after weeks of struggling) and told me that she was stressed and anxious and that she was raped the year prior and currently involved in the court proceedings about that incident. I remember stopping her just after she said that and holding her hand for a minute and telling her to take a deep breath and give herself some credit. She was getting out of bed everyday. She was coming to class. She was holding a part-time job outside of school. She was bearing so much more than anyone should ever have to. Stop being so hard on yourself and understand that this is a lot.
I cannot begin to know that pain, and I am not comparing my grief and trauma to hers. But I am comparing my resistance to admit that something is hard. Sometimes things are painful, and you just have to say this sucks. This is a lot. I’m doing the best I can.
The holidays are heavy sometimes. Even in their very best moments — wide-eyes walking down the stairs on Christmas morning or aging relatives around the table at Thanksgiving dinner — it is all tinted with that bittersweet, happy-sad feeling of nostalgia and transience. It’s like you already long for these seconds even though they haven’t left you yet. Or that’s how it is for me anyway. An awareness that this year, this moment, is not going to happen again.
Last year’s holidays were hard. I was in the middle of the hurricane, honestly unable to really see my way out at that point. I can remember arriving home from a grocery run all red and swollen in the eyes, unable to stop sobbing. The car time in the short ten minutes from the store was a little slice of solitude I had to feel what I felt without judgment and questions and demands from someone.
This year’s will be easier, I think. In ways at least. But it is painful, if I am being honest as I always am in this space. It’s still a lot. I am taking my own advice given to my student before and telling myself congratulations for getting out of bed on some days. For baking the pies and mixing the hot chocolate and pulling out the advent calendar and doing all the things I have always done even though I’m doing them alone now.
Sometimes I can’t look at a day or an occasion with too much significance. It feels much better to find the miracle moments in the everyday than to put an occasion on a pedestal and expect it to be perfect. I’m already finding myself focusing more on the mundane this season. Weeknight dinners around the table. Popcorn and a bedtime movie with the kids. Pajama cuddles on the couch. The little seconds are bringing healing more than the big milestones, I think.
I saw someone at a little gathering recently, and I hadn’t seen her in over a year. She asked how I was, and I had a hard time answering that question in small talk. What about my life hasn’t changed in the past 12 months? Not much. Everything is different. Inside out and upside down and I’m still standing.
I have shed the comparison trap this year in that I no longer compare myself to other women or other mothers. I no longer compete for worthiness and perfection. I stand in my own truth in a way I never have – like I am with this post when I say this time of year is hard. But what I need to shed next, I think, is my constant bewilderment and comparison over how the other side has moved forward with such speed and excitement and intensity. There are no feelings, no remorse, no compassion. Instead of praying so hard for that situation to change, I am going to focus more on removing myself from it. I’m writing that here so that I can hold myself accountable.
I am a thinking and feeling person in the world. I refuse to apologize for that or be made to feel less than others who don’t appear to feel much at all. I don’t shut it off – not my own pain or my students’ stories or my kids’ perceptions. I let it all in and I let it pierce. I roll it over in my own mind and heart, and I let it change me and then use that change of perspective as fuel for my own actions and decisions. As I see this last piece that I need to shed, this confusion and comparison of how the other side has dealt with 2015, I see so clearly that I’m shamed for feeling pain and talking about that pain. It’s a game I need to remove myself from a bit to remember that I am not embarrassed to be a human. To act like a real living and breathing person with real imperfections and insecurities and hard moments.
There’s a Kate Light poem I know that says, “There comes the strangest moment in your life / when everything you thought before breaks free / what you relied upon as ground rule and rite / looks upside down from how it used to be. […] How many people thought you’d never change? / But here you have. It’s beautiful. It’s strange.”
It is beautiful and strange, right? All of it. Life is not hard all of the time, but it is all mixed up together. The good and the bad and the heavy and the light. This week is all about celebrating gratitude, and I’m thankful for so much in my life. There have been some moments in 2015 that are nothing short of miraculous. Coincidences that are divinely orchestrated and moments that pierced me straight through. And in hindsight, even the other moments that felt like nothing but pain when I was in them have molded my heart and my character to emerge completely different than when I walked into the fire.
But I don’t feel like I am done, and I am grateful for that most of all. Thankful that my story doesn’t end here and that I am continuing to change and grow and move forward to a plan that I can feel unfolding in ways I never expected.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Prayers for peace and joy in these last few weeks of 2015.
I’ve hesitated to write a post on this because it is such a complicated issue and because I feel like my comments here are usually centered on my own perspective (as memoir always is) and not others’ actions, and it is incredibly hard to discuss this topic in specific without reflecting on others.
But it’s such a central issue to everyone’s questions, and I occasionally get an email from a reader who is encountering a new chapter of unattachment and wondering what my thoughts are on dating. It’s a central issue to my own path right now, so I decided to finally type a few words on the screen — though I don’t know where this will end.
I’ll begin by asserting that I think everyone’s path to healing is different. I have met divorced women who dated every single weekend that they were away from their kids. I’ve met divorced women (and men as well) who didn’t leave their house much at all the first year and elected to hardly speak to the opposite sex for quite a while. I hold no judgment for either of those approaches. I will say, based on my personal experience and the advice of every therapist and book on the planet, that I think an actual committed and serious relationship is highly complicated and dangerous territory as you deal with the wreckage of what is left in that first year or so. But whether you choose to casually date or not? That scenario is entirely up to the person herself and what she feels brings the most healing in that moment.
Some people have flat out asked me if I’m dating yet (the best approach). Some have just asked others if I am, and then that gets back to me. Some have encouraged me to date and others have completely assumed that of course I wouldn’t go on a date “this soon” and that the idea itself is preposterous.
The answer to all of these questions is somewhat complicated. I know enough about myself to know that if I went a substantial length of time without going on a date, I could lock myself in a pattern of fear and inhibition. That is not the case with everyone, but it is with me. I’m shy, always have been. I am introverted at first meeting someone. And of course, I emerged from a situation where I’d spent 15 years with the same person, and a sudden betrayal ended it. And, to be honest, for a while it abruptly ended my faith in men in general. (I’m still working on that one.) Combine all of these factors – personality and history – and I could easily become a homebody who reads and writes and knits and has a rich inner life but feels scared to connect and share that with anyone else. I think that type of life has its place and brings a certain kind of comfort and happiness, but as humans, we are wired to have connection with others.
I made a promise to myself last February that if someone asked me out, I’d say yes. Simply because I knew that this year would be stretching and growing, and I knew that dating again after 15 years in a relationship is an incredibly frightening thing. You only grow when you do scary things. I wish it was different, but sadly, that’s the way it is.
Truthfully, the act of sitting across a table from someone I do not know well and answering his million questions about me as we eat is pretty much the definition of the scariest thing I can do. But I am getting braver, and I’m figuring things out little-by-little.
A single friend of mine suggested I join a popular dating app to “boost my confidence” and “see what’s out there.” (You know the one with 12 million users.) That experience alone could be a post itself because it was eye-opening and hilarious, and while I don’t think it has restored my faith in men (not at all) and it was a short-lived experience, it has shown me that I am emerging quite well on my own, and there is a wide world of possibilities beyond the horizon.
So anyway, fast forward a few weeks, and word leaked out that I had a profile there. I was pretty shocked to receive written messages from someone from my former life insisting that I must be “screwing random people” and that I have a “big internet sign saying open for business” and please “don’t put yourself on Craig’s List, ok?”
I’ve been a feminist for all of my adult life, but for anyone who needs a quick refresher, I want to talk about something for a minute.
The glory of slut shaming, if you are not familiar with that term from Gender Studies courses or modern culture, is that you don’t even have to actually be having the sexual relationships to be chastised; you just have to behave in a way that makes someone assume you are.
And those assumptions can come from lots of things: being attractive, being secretive (aka private) about your dating life, actually going on dates with someone when he asks, showing any remote interest in the opposite sex, not abiding my cultural norms on age and marriage, and apparently even having a profile on a dating site with more than 12 million other people.
What’s interesting to note is that these rules don’t apply to men.
When men divorce, they are expected to date immediately, I’ve noticed. Friends set them up; their own mothers encourage them to find a suitable girl as quickly as possible. And most interestingly, if nothing is said or revealed, people assume that they must be dating. And are completely okay with that.
The rules are different for us, I’m finding. Can you imagine a single man encountering judgment that he is wearing a huge internet sign that says “open for business” if he has an online dating profile? Me either. Because it doesn’t happen. That phrase alone is a reference to prostitution which is one of the oldest insults in the book used to shame women for assumed sexual relationships – real or imagined.
My past year has changed me in a million ways. One of these ways is that I’m painfully aware of the many times in my own past that I’ve listened to someone shame a woman for presumed romantic interests when the speaker likely knows nothing of the woman’s situation at all.
So here’s a quick list of questions I ask myself before I open my mouth to comment on someone’s dating life… Is she currently in a committed relationship so that her romantic actions are secretive and could hurt someone else? …. Is she involved with a man who appears to be controlling, demoralizing, or bad for her? … Are her actions hurting herself or someone else? …. If the answer to any of these questions is yes, and you are friends with the woman, by all means, open the conversation with her. If the answers are no, shut your mouth. Her private life is none of your business. Period.
There are a thousand things to worry about as a single mom in the 21st century. We think about our kids and how they weigh in on the already-hefty equation. We are more mindful of safety and personal agency than ever before. And as women, we are finally simply expecting to receive the respect we deserve. So if I’m conversing with someone new, I’m turning so many things around in my own mind to see how it feels with me. Which is the point, you know. How does this person make me feel? How does he appear to treat others? How does it all sit with my own soul and my own sensibilities? The last thing that we should be adding to that list is the expectation that women abide by some arbitrary rules that men are not expected to adhere to. If it insults your soul, dismiss it. If you want to spend time with someone, do. If you don’t enjoy it, decline his invitation. That’s all that really matters in that moment.
I’ve always claimed the label of feminist, but I think it’s only recently that it is being made real in my personal life. I’ve spent my last decade walking exactly in line with the expectation of society. I was married and mothering small children and doing all of the things expected for me during my late twenties and early thirties. It’s when we step out of the cultural norm that our ideas of feminism are tested. And sadly, I’m finding that it’s also when the misguided patriarchal judgment comes out from both men and women. When you don’t follow that path expected of you, people simply don’t know what to do with you. And sometimes they deal with that confusion by revealing completely unfair and ridiculous judgment.
My friend Elizabeth and I email often, and last winter, she wrote to me, (and I’ve quoted this before when I wrote about Imposter Syndrome) “Breaking out of the molds others have made for us or the narrow minds of loved ones we once trusted is extraordinarily painful – and so necessary in order to become your best self.” I’m feeling this now as I move forward to uncharted waters, and I will feel it for many years to come, I think. Once you see things through that lens, you can’t un-see it.
I think those narrow minds and constricting molds often come from a place of fear or inexperience. Mohadesa Najumi is a British-Afghan writer whose words are hanging on my bathroom wall: “The woman who does not require validation from anyone is the most feared individual on the planet.” Seeing rude comments or judgment as springing from a place of fear and ignorance softens my response to it and certainly lessens the blow – which is helpful. Because truth be told, it is hard to shake these ideas from our own minds as women. It is hard to unlearn what you have spent decades absorbing. It is hard to see yourself through your own eyes without acquiring the filter of someone else.
So you see what’s happened here? I’ve started writing without knowing where it will end, and I have ended in the exact same place I always do.
It is my still, small voice that matters. It is my body I am living in. It is my ship I’m steering. And though it is scary at times and it’s hard to drown any voices that shout behind me, it’s a beautiful place to be. This in-between space. This moment where I don’t owe anyone anything and I answer only to my own calling.
This is real talk here today. I’m admitting some ungraceful moments, but I’m just going to pour it here so that it doesn’t fester inside.
I decided to take my kids to The Compassion Experience this year as I’d heard so many positive things about it before. I thought it could be a good antidote to holiday greed and give us a space to think and talk with a new perspective.
I chose a Sunday night just after the kids got home from their father’s which was the WORST possible idea in hindsight. They are always complete lunatics and erupt in predictable tears and tantrums in the three hours that exist between the 5pm drop-off and bedtime. I read everywhere that this is completely normal and expected as kids return to their primary custodial parent, and I know that it illustrates their comfort level with me and their feeling of safety. Any therapist will echo that. But it is hard in the moment, I admit. They save all of their tears for me, it seems. Monday morning we are back to normal, but Sunday nights following a weekend away are rough.
Anyhow, I selected Sunday because I didn’t want to do this amidst the weeknight rush, and I was pleasantly surprised as we walked through the rooms of the exhibit. Both kids were listening closely, asking questions, looking curiously.
There is such a disconnect though – between our reality and the reality in front of us as we walked through. Our warm beds and clean water and award-winning schools, their communities full of poverty that bring concerns we never think about. I can bridge this disconnect with empathy and compassion, and for a brief moment, my kids can, too. But it is all so far away from us in the land of excess.
I’ve been wanting to sponsor a child for a long time, and I know from my experience growing up that reading their letters and hearing their stories can be so fulfilling and enlightening for kids here at home. It feels like a personal commitment and a friend. And almost anyone can manage $38 a month. So at the end of our time there on Sunday, we were glancing at the cards and deciding on a child to sponsor, and I made the terrible mistake of explaining our sponsorship in terms my own kids could understand. (“We can send her pictures and letters, and it’s just the cost of one toy, and it helps her go to school and see a doctor and eat healthy food.”) And my normally mellow, sweet, kind-hearted kindergartner had a full-on tantrum of the worst kind. Put that picture back! I want toys! I don’t want to send her our money! at a volume that assured it to be my most humiliating parenting moment ever. Hands down.
I was so shocked that I stood there stunned for a minute and tried to reason with him, but nothing worked. He was out of it (expected 7 pm meltdown after a weekend away), and I asked my mom (thank God she was with me) to guide him out while Norah and I finished the sponsorship process. When we got home, he was still not himself and not exactly understanding the significance of why I was so bothered by his behavior. But eventually, before bed, he came around a bit. He wrote me an apology note on his own accord – complete with kindergarten spelling. (Really, this kid!) And I found him crying in the bathtub which opened the door for us to talk about a lot of things.
This makes the third time he’s come home on a Sunday night for me to find him crying in a room alone, and it leaves me so broken. Growing pains are hard for all of us right now. I’m grateful he feels comfortable talking to me, but the things he says are enough to break my heart.
Add this to my car accident on Saturday night, and this past few days have felt heavy. I didn’t work that into my last post because I wasn’t really ready to talk about it yet. But a driver took an illegal left turn and plowed into me on Saturday night. I emerged fine, but a few feet’s difference, and the impact would have been on my driver’s side door. And you can’t help but think of the what if scenarios that leave you terrified.
The kindest woman stopped as a witness, and I am forever grateful for her. She hugged and offered water and spoke to the police and told me what to do as I was still a little shell-shocked. My brother came to pick me up, and the hassle of insurance and such will consume most of my week, but I’m okay. Which is obviously what matters.
But sometimes it just feels like so much. It’s moments like this that I realize I’m alone in a way I have never been in all of my adult life. And it’s such an unfathomable thing for me that the first person I would have called to help for the past 15 years of my life is the absolute last person I could call and expect to help in my roadside moment on Saturday. It’s weird not having a person, you know? Or it is for me when I’ve spent all my life having someone. These are lessons so many people spend their twenties learning, but my timing is not the standard path, and I’m just learning them now.
Despite these moments when solitude feels so vast and heavy, the universe is sending me constant messages I am not alone; I know this. There are so many friends who would have been willing to come and get me as I was stranded on Saturday; my family who was there to help me in a moment’s notice; the kind witness who stopped and stayed with me until help arrived. There are miracles that exist everyday in my life if I have eyes to see them… One of which is that I escaped without harm on Saturday night. I see this and I know this, and I prayed these prayers of gratitude all weekend.
But it’s so easy to get caught up in our own little worlds, our own little problems. I got so frustrated with Jude for doing this on Sunday with his insistence that his toy box not suffer for us to send someone else food and schooling. But here I am doing the same thing as I have so much to be grateful for, and I still get overwhelmed with the relentless, gritty mess that life leaves sometimes – the broken car, the piles of laundry, the unexpected bills, the stinging comments of someone who doesn’t have any care or empathy for me now and likely never will.
It really is up to us, isn’t it? To choose how we will perceive the world around us. To choose what we will focus on and what mark we will leave. 2015 has brought so much to me, some incredibly hard times and some almost unbearably good moments, too. In these last few weeks of the year, I’m trying to hold a space of gratitude for all of it. For all it’s shown me.
It was midnight by the time my brother dropped me off on Saturday night at home. The kids were gone and the house was quiet, and I turned down the sheets in my big empty bed. I’m sometimes alone in what feels like a vast, empty world that is spinning faster than I can keep up. But I’m in my own living and breathing body. I’m safe and cared for and alive in both new and old ways, and I recognize that all of it is a miracle.
It’s 9:30 on Sunday morning, and I’m in bed with my dog snoring next to me. What a roller coaster it’s been these past few days. Action in this little space picked up a lot since Friday. (Hello if you are a new reader!) A little essay I wrote in July has taken on a life of its own, and though I never intended it for a wide audience, it’s slowly reaching one. Truthfully, I never would have had the nerve to write that with the wide world on the listening side of it, but it’s out there now in all its naked vulnerability, and I’m just allowing it to guide its own course. I feel grateful and honored that it resonates with so many people, and I think it speaks to our tendency, especially as women, to expect perfection from ourselves and see ourselves through others’ eyes instead of our own.
This has been the main lesson of my year – settling comfortably into the skin I was given and realizing that I am enough as I am. I can see now more than ever that I have accomplished this feat because the internet trolls came out in full force (as is expected with a larger audience) to state their claims of the multitude of ways I am wrong or stupid. And their comments are not piercing me.
When I consider who I was twelve months ago, what last Thanksgiving felt like with my insides on fire and my constantly quivering hands and my perpetual attempts to beg and compete with someone who is absolutely nothing like me, I whisper nothing but prayers of gratitude for every single moment I’ve endured this year. The tears and the sleepless nights and the money worries and all of it. I am in my own body in a way I’ve never been, owning my actions and experiences, relying on nothing but my own still and quiet voice to affirm my worthiness. It’s like a veil was removed for me, little by little. And I’m left with who I really am and the quietest hum of freedom that comes when you finally see you don’t need anyone’s validation to walk your own path and sound your own voice.
Life is such a trip, isn’t it? What you think is the worst moment imaginable, the most horrifying possible experience, actually emerges as the light that steers you to a brighter path. And this is only the beginning for me. We like to pretend that it is a simple path from point A to point B, but there are a thousand detours in between if you’re lucky. Things happen that we hate and we fight and we cry about, but we can always find the meaning there – even if it’s the tiniest shred of something illuminating.
And then there is beautiful Paris, of course. Where we are all looking to see mostly just fear and anger right now.
What aches so much about this – among so much senseless killing – is that it’s a city that steals your heart with its attention to pure pleasure – joy in food, music, kisses, strolling, wine … all the little things that show us the fullness of life in the simplest of ways. I wrote about this after I returned from my last trip there, but Paris is always that reminder for me to enjoy the life I’ve been given with attention to the present and no fear for the future. And these attacks always accomplish just the opposite of that – or with our initial reaction anyway. So much fear and uncertainty and momentary confusion on how to muddle through a world where this can happen.
But light always prevails, always. I truly think that in a deeper way than I ever have. Every single second of every single day someone’s little world is exploding – whether that is at the hands of terrorist bombings or cancer or freak accidents or intimate betrayal. Hearts are breaking everyday. And everyday people get up and try again and eventually the sun shines in ways you haven’t seen in a while. It happens so gradually that you just muddle through the middle moments and wake up to feel normal again and wonder how you got there.
And how we get there is human connection. It’s what I know for sure. For every time you hear “me, too” or “I love you” or “how can I help?” or “you can do this,” you are one step closer to okay. It’s the only thing that heals. That and time which is no fun but it’s the honest answer.
Prayers for Paris today. But also for Beirut and Baghdad and Syria, where the world’s spotlight doesn’t shine as lovingly as it does on Paris. From my little corner of the internet, I’m saying I see you, I hear you. Which is all I can say now. We are all hoping that for some stories, somewhere, among the helpers and the threads of human connection, there will be moments of meaning you can find in the madness.
Last week crawled along at the slowest possible pace. We’ve had weeks and weeks of steady rain in Georgia, and I’d forgotten what the sun looks like. It’s back this week though, and I can hardly believe tomorrow is already Thursday. It’s amazing how many little factors can influence your outlook.
We discovered a little trail in the woods behind our neighborhood yesterday, and Jude wanted to go for a quick walk again today the minute we walked in the door. I ignored any other nagging responsibilities, and we took off. Norah and I followed behind him, and he felt proud to lead the way. We ended up at a little pond before turning around to head back home just before sunset.
Little gifts are stored for me along the way when I have eyes to see them. I listen to Rob Bell’s podcast every week, and the episode I heard this week was titled “Increments and Explosions.” He discussed the secrets of people who, as he put it, grow younger instead of older. Grow lighter instead of heavier, softer instead of harder. The key as he sees it, and I agree, is personal growth. And this growth sometimes happens in increments when we create the little habits that shape our perspectives and lend us room to grow. It’s the result of daily work. Then, of course, we have the explosions – the moments life explodes the experiences set forth to give us growth even if they are painful and we don’t quite feel ready for them.
November is a big month for me, a huge marker in 2015. The first year following any tragedy or hardship is rough, as anyone will tell you. And when you can pass all of those reminders, watch the four seasons come and go again, and know that you survived, it feels like you’re finally able to exhale. I’ve still got a few markers and reminders left in front of me in the weeks ahead, but I am almost there. I’ve almost arrived at the clean slate marking a full year alone.
I look back at this entry from last November and cry a little for that person. I felt so scared of what was ahead. I had no idea how bright the sun was shining on the other side.
I’ve grown in explosions since the night I wrote that entry – the initial one, of course, plus some other big moments. But so much of it has been in little increments, too. I’m so glad, as I near the end of this instrumental year for me, that I have this journal to look back on. I think gratitude (as a true daily practice, not just the concept) has been the driving force behind my incremental expansion. And also pause and insight. And truly feeling the painful discomfort that has unfolded sometimes as I’ve broken in this new skin, no matter how much I wanted to numb it. All of those things have lended me growth.
And most of all, writing has become such a guidepost for me. I’m not certain how I would have survived the year with clarity if I didn’t have this space and this practice of putting words together without an aim or destination.
I feel fearless in a way I never have. I think that’s what happens when you spend time in “no man’s land” as Pema Chodron calls it. What you previously thought was the worst thing that could happen has already happened, and you survived. Not only survived but grew bigger. I’m not scared of much of anything now. Life ahead is a vast empty space, and I have no idea where I will go or what I will do, but as I look back at the past year of my life and increments and explosions that landed me here, I think I’m meant for something that could only happen on this path.
Life is so incredibly busy these days. I already look at summer’s lazy pace and miss it so much. Everyday is full of things I need to do and things I don’t quite get finished. Planning for class and grading piles of papers. Putting out fires with overwhelmed students in conferences everyday. November is a rush in academics. … Then afternoons and evenings are a blur. Tuesday afternoon ballet. Wednesday speech therapy. Friday afternoon soccer practice. Saturday soccer games. It just never stops.
I try to shield any feelings of chaos from my kids. I might be thinking ahead to what I’m making for dinner and how many minutes it will take or how bad my car needs cleaning or how I’m going to pay that bill. But I don’t want them to feel it. It’s getting to that time of the semester for all of us though, made worse by the early darkness of fall time change. They are tired by the end of the day, too. We are all ready for a break.
And we will get one soon enough. The holidays are around the corner. But then that calls for a little fret and worry and effort on my part as well. I’m hoping to be completely done with Christmas shopping by December 1st so that I can slow down and enjoy the season. But right now, that’s another thing weighing on my daily thoughts.
I miss writing. I miss knitting. I miss reading. I miss leisurely evenings. I miss sweaty miles at the gym. I miss (I admit it) television. I watched a movie last weekend when the kids were gone, and I realized that the last time I watched anything at all was July, and I am not at all kidding or exaggerating. It so rarely happens anymore. I miss moments of mindlessness, moments of doing my own thing and recharging. And then I wonder, to be totally honest, how I will ever find the time to fit someone else in this life when I feel ready for it, how I will ever even find the time to meet someone to begin with, when this is my pace.
I stumbled on this essay by Anne Lamott a few days ago as I was compiling a few things for my composition students. She asks, “what manic or compulsive hours will they give up in trade for the equivalent time to write, or meander? Time is not free—that’s why it’s so precious and worth fighting for. […] I’ve heard it said that every day you need half an hour of quiet time for yourself, or your Self, unless you’re incredibly busy and stressed, in which case you need an hour. I promise you, it is there. Fight tooth and nail to find time, to make it. It is our true wealth, this moment, this hour, this day.” I’m trying hard to find that hour, but in a house with two little kids, a dog, and one adult with a full-time job, it is not an easy thing to find. I manage to have the house quiet (most nights) and the dishes clean by 9:15 or so, but I am so incredibly spent at that time that I can’t give the best of me to whatever I am working on.
I don’t know where I am going with this except to say that I am committed to finding some pocket of time, some stolen moment in my day. I need that time and space to create or think or accomplish something that is only for me. Writing it aloud here holds me accountable. I am determined to find that time and use it well. I’m an introvert in the truest sense, and I have lived long enough in this skin to know that about myself. I need time alone to recharge or I sink quickly. I feel like I am always chasing that moment in my day to exhale and recalibrate. It doesn’t always appear the way I’d like it to.
I try to let the little passing moments pierce me with their stillness, even if it’s only for a second. Norah skipping across campus to her classroom. Jude’s intent focus as he draws. A warm bowl of homemade soup eaten among the chaos of a messy kitchen. The flop of my dog’s ear as he rolls from one side to the other in his laziness. But these little glimpses, even strung together, cannot give me the peace or satisfaction of a full hour to myself. I’m determined to find it, wherever it may be hiding.
Moms, (or any other readers who have a full plate everyday) what are your secrets for stealing time? Where does it hide for you? I’m all ears.
Jude has been working on phonetic sounds for quite some time, but we had a big moment last Tuesday night at our house. He read a book to Norah and me for the first time. For this English Professor mom, that is right up there with the very biggest accomplishments. It’s the beginning of so much, kiddo! I’m excited to see where the written word will take him, the ways it will encourage him to expand and grow throughout his life.
Books saved my life this year. Not that I would be dead without them in the literal sense, but I would be stagnant and stale – which to me is the definition of death and despair even if you are still breathing.
This week, I got Cheryl Strayed’s latest work in the mail which is actually a compilation of quotes from her previous publications and interviews. It’s easy to flip through and packaged like a handy little portable life guide – the perfect gift for graduations and birthdays and such. I think I’ll be passing this one on a lot in the future.
In the preface to the book, she explains her lifelong affinity for quotes: they “don’t speak to one particular truth, but rather to universal truths that resonate … they lift us momentarily out of the confused and conflicted human muddle. Most of all, they tell us that we are not alone.”
If you walked in my house, you’d see how much I agree with her. Words everywhere. Scribbled on notes on my fridge. Hanging in frames on my walls. Stamped on cards in a stack on my bathroom counter. And even tattooed discreetly on my body. I find it nearly impossible to read a book without writing notes in the margins, highlighting passages, and dog-earing pages. I have books I revisit like old friends and sentences I read again and again like a meditation.
I guess in hindsight, I was bound to be an English teacher and a writer. I really can’t see myself doing anything else.
But this year, it seems as though books crossed the line from casually inspiring me to essentially serving as my life raft, something to cling to when everything else was swirling and beyond my control. They are reminders that others have done things similar to or far more difficult than what I’m doing now and that there is value in suffering — meaning to be found amidst the madness. And because of books, I feel like I am finding that meaning everyday, even as life is smoothing out for me a bit now and I’m healing.
I’ve already passed on certain pages of Strayed’s latest work to a couple of friends of mine who are encountering their own challenges right now, and I can’t help but share when I read something that I know would resonate with someone else. Nothing makes me smile more deeply than when a friend reads something and passes it along to me to say, “This made me think of you.”
It’s simply human connection. And that’s really what it’s all about anyway, why we read and write, why we study literature. I feel as though my first task as a teacher is to teach my students to communicate effectively, but my very next task – a close second to that one – is to teach them to broaden their perspective, to glean wisdom and advice from the multitudes of people who have come before us. Billy Collins once said that all literature is about the very same thing, “Life is beautiful. Then you die.” He’s right actually. Every novel or poem or memoir touches on that very idea, but there is so much richness in that one sentiment. When we share the human experience, we see that there is unimaginable beauty and wisdom in the gray areas of life. Absolutes don’t exist. Humans are complicated. And life is long and unpredictable and messy.
And that’s really what reading has done for me in my past year. It’s allowed me to feel like I am simply a part of the human experience by feeling what I feel, rather than the message society often screams at us which is that you only suffer when you did something to deserve it or when you feel too much too deeply. Books reaffirm that I shouldn’t run away from feeling and questioning because feeling and questioning are the catalysts that will change your life. That is a universal truth.
Voices around us tell us that we are doing it wrong if we feel sad or lost or broken. Literature tells me that brokenness is just when I know I’m doing it right and that joy can reverberate like a bass note under all that mess.