Category: Big Thoughts
I am drawn to two quite different lives. On the one hand, I greatly admire those obituaries which describe people whose lives have been filled with several quite different and remarkable chapters. These people seem able to make leaps, to change direction, to re-invent themselves. It seems a dangerous way to live, yet also very rich, especially for people born with a variety of gifts and abilities. On the other hand, I also greatly admire those rare individuals who devote themselves entirely to one pursuit, to the exclusion of all else. These people may not have the same variety of experiences, but within that one deeply studied area they find something else: the universal truths contained in the intimately known particular. And they have the particular itself.
As I write this thought out, however, I feel slightly less compelled by either version. I am afraid that a life with too many plunges and abrupt turns would be rootless, restless. I am afraid that a life devoted to one pursuit would be lonely, isolating.
I am in the sort of mood, lately, in which everything I read, every scrap of insight that rises from the page and enters my brain, I take for grace. I take as a message. I take as guidance, as insight, as direction.
Must be because I’m seeking direction.
I want to think that I’m seeking it intelligently, open to everything that comes along, even if it creates internal dissonance; but it occurred to me tonight that I am finding it randomly, excited by any scrap that looks and sounds like the real thing. I should offer an example. I was just now up in bed reading Somewhere Towards the End, by Diana Athill, and came across her description of a friend whose existence had been consumed and in some sense wasted by the two loves of her life: a married lover, and the mother she’d cared for till death. But the woman, though old and now alone, did not behave as if the two loves of her life had emptied it out; and Diana Athill believed that was because her friend was also an artist. She had the ability to create something, and that had rescued her from emptiness.
I sat up a little straighter and thought to myself: I haven’t been properly appreciative of my own ability to create, and what that means (potentially) to my inner life. In fact, just recently I was thinking quite the opposite, annoyed by how everything that it pleases me to do is somehow related to creativity. Couldn’t I just have a nice non-creative (practical) talent already?
It felt like the universe was speaking to me through Diana Athill, through the random purchasing of this book and opening it tonight, and finding these words at this moment. What I’m saying is, this is happening a lot these days. And it makes me question whether the universe is speaking; it seems much more likely that I am hoping to hear it speak, that I’m listening extra hard.
But. It is also pleasurable to find resonances in unexpected places. It is good to be open. I believe that.
Maybe I should be looking for a third kind of life. A life in which many small changes, and several large ones, accrue over time to create a story that is both consistent (not scattered) and varied (rich). I’m so damn interested in people and relationships. I’m so damn interested in the minutia, the stuff of life itself. What can I make of it? What am I making, even now, and perhaps without recognizing it?
(But I do wonder, I do, why I am drawn to the intense and unpredictable.)
On the eve before each birthday, I like to sit down and write, right around midnight, usually for a good hour of pouring out and thinking ahead. This is a ritual I’ve been observing for many years, and I always write by hand rather than type. Because I rarely write by hand anymore, the journal in which I’ll write tonight is the same one I’ve used for several past years too. Its pages never seem to fill anymore. There was a time when I filled several paper journals each year. At one stage, I faithfully recorded my dreams upon waking. But I’m not sure what that taught me, other than how to remember my dreams. I’m not a dream-reader, though do find certain recurring themes curious, and occasionally dream vividly of people no longer in my life, who have died or are in some other way gone and inaccessible to me otherwise. There’s something quite beautiful about those dreams, as if in dreaming I can find forgiveness or mercy or grace that cannot be granted while awake.
I don’t know why this blog slanted in this particular direction.
My journal is leather-bound. We drove home today from our Christmas get-together with Kevin’s family, and beat the snow; I was thinking about writing tonight. I know exactly where the journal is waiting for me, on top of my dresser, with last year’s hopes and dreams waiting to be read and discovered, with last year’s anticipation and wondering waiting there too. Where have I travelled this year? What unexpected opportunities and challenges have come my way?
It feels, at present, that life comes down to time. That at its essence, time is what life is. We can’t call back lost time, and we can’t know how much time is left to us. We can only spend what comes to the best of our abilities, given the limitations and possibilities of our circumstances. I am glad and grateful for how I’ve gotten to spend my time so far, and how I’m spending it now. This coming year, I hope to explore, discover, dream, wonder, write, deepen relationships, and fear neither transitions nor challenges.
Spending the morning alone with CJ is taking me back a few years, to the first year-and-a-bit I spent alone at home with my first-born (his younger sister arrived not quite eighteen months after him, at which point, life became considerably more chaotic). The house was so quiet. I used to turn on the radio, or the television, for company. We were living in a new city and knew no one. I didn’t feel lonely. I was 26 years old, and utterly thrilled by motherhood, captivated by this newfound, instant purpose to my life. I am thinking about this not only because my feelings have changed in ways profound and subtle over the last eight years, but also because we have been discussing the implications of stay-at-home mothering in my women’s studies class. For most of the students, fresh out of high school, this is purely theoretical. For me, it feels deeply personal. That slogan “the personal is the political” is suddenly relevant. At times during last night’s lecture I felt hurt and upset, as when the professor said rather casually something along these lines: most of you aren’t planning to get your degrees so you can stay at home and bake cookies and raise children, are you? Her point being: at this stage in your lives, all of you fresh-faced, ambitious first-years, you’re harbouring bigger plans, right? But that’s me. That’s me in a nutshell. I am the woman with the master’s degree at home with my children baking cookies. My professor was essentially sympathetic to the quandaries and choices families have to make, husband and wife together, in order to raise children in a society that hasn’t really figured out how to support young families: is daycare the answer? Early childhood education? Paternity leaves and benefits? Why is there this unspoken concept of “the mommy track”? Her answer to all of these: it’s the patriarchy, stupid (I paraphrase).
I can’t do this topic justice in one blog post, so herewith, I present a few random thoughts. First, I refuse to think of this (at least) decade spent primarily with my children as lost time, or a waste of my talents and abilities. There was nothing I wanted more than to stay home with my babies. Nothing. No amount of subsidized daycare could have driven me back to work, when I had the option, financially speaking, to stay home. I asked Kevin whether he felt a horrible pang upon returning to work, leaving his babies at home. He couldn’t remember. He is, however, a very active involved father, and I know his feelings toward our children are just as strong as mine. But the truth is, had he wanted (and been able) to stay home, I would have fought him to get to stay home instead. I didn’t want to leave my babies and go back to work. On the other hand, what Betty Friedan was addressing in The Feminine Mystique, “the problem that has no name,” that puzzling, weary, unspoken malaise experienced by many stay-at-home mothers (in the 1960s, and now) is a real phenomenon. It’s a feeling of spiritual lack, unfed by middle-class wealth and comfort; and of personal, often secret, longing. The feeling of being unfulfilled. And guilty, too, becase our children are supposed to fulfill us, somehow–I would argue that still remains the overwhelming trope.
I would like to counter this with a baking-your-cookies-and-eating-them-too philosophy: my own, which is unfolding even now. We live our lives in stages. I’m not a big believer in being able to do–or trying to do–everything all at once. If I am fortunate, my life will stretch long enough to be lived in quite different ways at different times. (Though this is not without compromise). I am coming to the end of the young-child stage, the every day, every minute, pre-verbal, breastfeeding, diapering, lost sleep stage. Of course, my children will continue to need me, but not at this same level of simple intensity. The problems become more complex, but children grow. It’s what they do best.
For me, spending this young-child stage so completely with my young children has been deeply fulfilling. But, like my professor suggested, it is not the only thing that I want to do. I’m getting ready to move along, to enter the world, on occasion, unencumbered by my children (I mean that literally; as a young mother, I felt naked on the rare occasion I was out in public without my kids, I wanted to tell every passing person about their existence; and I don’t feel that need anymore, which is an interesting shift).
What fascinates me about life is how much there is to learn from every situation, every pain, every contact, every seemingly ordinary moment. No one told me to take this class at this moment in my life; in fact, it seemed a bit silly, even self-indulgent. (I am taking it because, should I choose to pursue a degree in midwifery, this course would count toward that). But it has become, like so many of the things I’ve chosen despite no one telling me that I should or could, another entry point for these random pinpricks of light that illuminate my path.
Thought of the day: obligation and responsibility make us who we are, and by living up to these, we are molded and changed by the things we choose to do. This may explain why children respond so well to routines and (small) responsibilities. Kevin and I held an impromptu, late-night parenting meeting on the weekend–initiated by Kevin, which I appreciated–and we made a master list of all the things we’d like our children to do. Such as: practice piano, set the table, clear their plates after supper, use manners, better behavior in the car, help tidy the house, clean their rooms once a week, brush teeth, wash hands. Very simple, basic stuff. The table setting routine was easily put into play: a simple rotation, one child each evening in charge of helping mama. I remind them in advance that it’s their evening, and so far the response has been cheerful. Fooey is especially pleased to be my helper. We’ve also returned to holding hands and singing a prayer before we begin serving food, as a way of pulling all of us together. And this is a very basic parenting tip, but just reminding the kids of the plan, well in advance, and repeatedly, makes everyone more open to it. Nobody likes to be told, cold, while in the middle of building a gigantic Lego ship, get your boots on we’re leaving Right Now! Much better to call out a five-minute warning … even if it means you’ll be five minutes late.
No photos, because I’m upstairs.
Obligation also works for grownups, too, I think. I’m terrified by the concept of retirement. Sometimes I wonder why I’m so driven, why I layer my life with extra reponsibilities away and beyond what is already required of me, and wonder what exactly I’m hoping to achieve, or even what achievement means to me, and worry I’m hiding from something inside myself–hiding by working so hard and being so busy. Um, that sentence was way too long. But conceptually, it encapsulates the inner trackings of my brain, when I get a spare moment to think Too Damn Much. Which perhaps is why I appreciate being busy, being active, doing rather than thinking. I question less, when I’m doing.
Life isn’t all about action, of course. It needs to be about contemplation, too. And even about rest. And occasionally, leisure. I’m always trying to make use of everything, every scrap of experience. I want it to be useful, somehow … educational, or fulfilling, or meaningful, or something that brings pleasure. I hope this makes me more open to experiences; but maybe it just makes me more introspective. Like, alright already, just enjoy the moment, Obscure Canlit Mama, don’t try to make it into something else!
Part of growing up has been accepting, with humour, who I am. Even while trying to alter in many minute ways, and hopefully for the better, my public and private self.
Listen, as penance for this blah-g entry, my next is going to be brief, maybe even glib, and accompanied by cute photos of my offspring.
Here’s what’s on at our house … the crockpot and the oven. And the television. And the computer. And the baby monitor. This morning, I was browning beef at 7:45. Not, perhaps, the ideal odour to send wafting through the house at that hour; the recipe is for sweet and sour beef. It also has chunks of green pepper, onion, and carrot, and I’ve added a block of tofu, just to ensure no one will like it. You know, it wouldn’t feel like supper if someone wasn’t exclaiming, “Ewww!” I’m also baking brown rice. Have cleaned green beans to be cooked up fresh when we burst through the door after 5 o’clock, having run the music marathon: pick up children early from school, plus neighbour friend, burn carbon across town to piano lessons and early childhood music class. Tonight, I’m adding in a quick trip to the shoe store to buy Albus a pair of non-destroyed runners. He and Apple-Apple are participating in running club at school, and after the first session, last week, Apple-Apple was glowing, she loved it, and Albus said, nope, not much fun. Too much running.
Tell me about it, kid.
But here’s the thing, I’m running, but I feel happy. I’m trying to fit perhaps slightly too much into this raggedy suitcase called Life, but I’d rather do that than the opposite. To everything there is a season. I appreciated the summer season a great deal. It was languid and a bit boring, as perhaps it should have been, because I’m filled with renewed energy.
No time to elaborate; but hope to soon. It’s time to wake a sleeping babe …
**written at the “new” cottage, The Treehouse, Seeley’s Bay, Ontario**
Afternoon. Too beautiful to sit indoors. Shadows of leaves, the bay water, wind, Fooey watching videos, CJ asleep, big kids and Kev trying out a round of pitch-and-putt golf. I spent yesterday and this morning reading, all in a big sustained gulp, The Girls, by Lori Lansens, a book found here in the cottage. Couldn’t resist (despite bringing along two library books, now untouched). This was not deep literary fiction, though well-crafted and appealing. Lightish. I appreciated the small, quiet observations, such as how the most extraordinary situations don’t seem bizarre while they’re happening, it’s only afterward that one has to cope with them and reflect upon them and place them, name them–not just experience them–that the reverberations are felt. The narrator wonders whether perhaps we never get over our losses. It is funny how we’ve accustomed ourselves by that phrase to believe that human beings “get over” things, as if we could ascend a loss and then descend on the other side, walk so far we couldn’t see or remember it anymore. It’s more like the effects are embedded within us. Not that we’re doomed to spend our lives sad and ruined, just that life doesn’t permit us to be the same.
Is reading a distraction, or does it pull me into a different kind of now?
I worry often that I’m not present enough. And then wonder what presence really means.
Wondering–what will make me happy, satisfied, content, or is that mining false gold even to seek such ephemerals? Wondering–what will I choose to do with my days? Is it enough to cook, clean, preserve, parent? What more, exactly, am I craving? I want to fill these days absolutely to overflowing with meaningful actions; and feel a simultaneous and contradictory pull to let my days fill themselves naturally.
I used to think that writing was a way of seeking and perhaps finding permanence; certainly it’s been for me a form of solitary meditation. I’ve begun to think, however, that it leaves something out: the body. And I wonder–is doing, experiencing, being present oddly more permanent? I think about the families I got to know through doula’ing, and how my life and theirs are, for that speck of time, embedded with each other’s–because we were present and together at a significant moment of transition and becoming. My part was small, and it wasn’t my story, but I bore witness. Bearing witness … that may be where my talents lie.
Writing is one way to bear witness: the private distillation of experiences, physical and emotional, into words. It can feel intimate, but it’s also crushingly lonely. Reading may be another way, opening oneself to a larger world, to different stories. Also solitary. The appeal of the doula experience, upon reflection, is the shared human interaction; yes, it’s a way bear witness, but in a physical, corporeal way. It happens and then it’s over. You can’t write about it afterward (I can’t, anyway, not descriptively). The fact of it happening is enough, more than enough.
Come to think of it, that’s a lot like parenting.
Okay, that handwritten scrawl of a self-indulgent text required way too much editing. Writing directly to blog is much more efficient. And I didn’t come around, at the end, to any satisfying conclusions. Sorry folks. Above, an inundation of photos. Sorry, again. Guess I really really really missed blogging.