Took dogs for long, early morning walk.
Fried eggs. Made lunches.
Played Bach on the piano. Slowly. From the Preludes.
Class prep. I teach tonight.
Listened to the news; turned off the news.
Dressed in a white blouse.
Voted. (But I took care of that last month, early.)
I’ve been asked to speak about time management to a local writers’ group … and let’s just say the time management required to produce this talk on time is going to challenge whatever skills I do possess. The fall season is upon us, and as the engines rev back up to max, I am remembering why early morning exercise is so important to my survival as a functional human being. That probably sounds like a tangent, but trust me, those precious early hours lay the foundation of my days — the focus on a straightforward challenge clears my head and reminds me that I am strong, disciplined, dependable, capable, and other adjectives that inspire me, and keep me on track and focused on the important stuff.
I need reminders all the time.
Sometimes I need literal reminders, for example, in the form of a scribbled sheet of paper propped beside my computer on which every single deadline for the next two months is written in decreasing size (I underestimated how many deadlines await). These deadlines tend to relate to ambition, to the exterior worlds in which I aim to stay engaged, educated, funded, and connected as a teacher, writer and coach.But sometimes I need different kinds of reminders. Metaphorical reminders. Metaphysical reminders. Seemingly tangential reminders. Reminders that don’t belong on calendars or to-do lists, but that are even more important; reminders of habits and behaviours that make me a whole person with reserves of loving-kindness, with enough to give. I get these reminders from my kids, sometimes, from their requests, their priorities, their needs. Slow down. Play the piano together. Walk the dogs to meet us after school. Watch a soccer game. Listen to a book being read in French. Be here, now.
I also get these reminders from the quiet space of exercise. You are stronger than you think. You can do this. Be kind to yourself. Be generous. Take joy in this body that is capable of doing this, today. On a challenging long run this weekend, I received a very specific reminder. You are not afraid that you can’t do this, you are afraid that you can, and that it will be hard. You can do this and it will be hard.
Finally, I’m reminded of how easy it is to pair activities, a form of efficiency that keeps me focused and happy — especially effective when one activity is less-than-riveting. (Pairing is not the same as multi-tasking, which I don’t recommend at all: in pairing activities, I’m not juggling two equally onerous tasks at once, I’m doing something while waiting for something else, i.e. while leftovers heat in the microwave for lunch, I run to the basement and throw in a load of laundry.)
Yesterday I had ten minutes to wait outside violin lessons; I brought along a cheap drugstore notebook and sketched out a Lynda Barry journal-page (see photo, above). Later that evening, at soccer practice, I brought the same notebook and wrote, by hand, a new scene for the novel I’m currently redrafting. These were not merely productive moments, they were also very happy ones. Ridiculously happy ones! In those moments, I felt like I’d ducked into a secret hideaway, or climbed to a hidden treehouse, in which I was free to play. (I’m going to teach my students the Lynda Barry journalling method in tonight’s class. It’s a great tool and easy to use.)
So, yeah, be here, now!
Do stuff while you’re waiting around. Don’t kill time, keep it alive.
This might be the core of my time-management talk (yet to be written … it’s on that list): No matter how busy you are, clear space within the clutter to daydream, to dream, to create, to play, to rest your head. Prioritize these things. Seriously.
“Your needs have been met.”
It was with these words that my wonderful teacher and friend opened yesterday evening’s kundalini yoga class. You have food. You are clothed. You have shelter. You are safe. This is bliss, she said. And I felt the bliss of it, of what I have, of what I take for granted. Your needs have been met. Truth.
Rice with spices and paneer. Lentils with pumpkin and turmeric. Stretchy pants and a tank top. A house with rooms to move through, to fill, to relax into. A neighbourhood where children walk to school, and I feel safe to walk or run, even in the dark.
I’m going to repeat these words to myself, make them my mantra, whenever I feel a lack, any lack, overwhelmed, frustrated. Your needs have been met. Your needs have already been met.
My theme for the month is: health. It’s expanding out of quitting caffeine, which has been a good choice for me; I feel more calm, physically less jittery, mentally dreamier. I’m prioritizing sleep, going to bed earlier whenever possible. I’ve begun seeing a chiropractor to address my chronic hamstring pain. I’m doing fifteen minutes of daily meditation, with yoga. And I’m going to return my dentist’s calls … I promise. It’s on the list.
Nothing too radical. I’m taking time, because I have time, and I can. My needs have been met, more than met, amply met, undeservedly met, and I have the luxury of choice and of choosing. How to say thank you, to express gratitude? I can’t think of any way except to be at peace in this life, in this body. And to share it somehow.
Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. —Leonard Cohen
Goodnight, year past. Welcome, another circle of seasons. All I want to say is: keep letting the light in, no matter where it’s coming from. But also, let the light out, let the light shine through. It’s in you.
This past year, I wrote a private daily meditation, semi-focused on my word of the year, which was success. In fact, my meditations were probably only on the subject of success maybe 1/25th of the time, and they certainly weren’t written daily, but they were nevertheless a satisfying outlet for the thoughts that needed time to mellow, or the stories that didn’t belong here on the blog.
I’m considering doing something similar this coming year, but writing instead a daily poem. I used to do this when I was a teen and into my early twenties. I wrote poems almost every night before bed, few of them publishable, and that wasn’t the point–the point was to put shape to the unspoken, to play with language, to settle my mind, to practice and learn and pour my day out.
Today, I gave it a shot. I haven’t picked a word of the year yet, so filed it inside this past year’s scrapheap of meditations. Writing in poem-form felt easy and free: free-er somehow than writing in prose. Maybe I was tapping into a stream of curiosity and playfulness that’s running underground at all times.
Here’s an attempt, though I won’t elevate to Poetry. It’s more properly named a meditation, a scrap of wondering.
Want A man with sunken cheeks and lanky pale hair Walks—strides Across an empty lot, up a short ugly shaved hill and into traffic Carrying what looks like a tent, bagged, by the handles That man has had a heap of troubles in his life, I say We wait at the stoplight and watch him in the rearview mirror cut through the line of cars behind us He isn’t wearing any gloves! I mourn But you say, He could get gloves if he wanted them Could he? Where would he get them from? They give them out at the shelters, you say, and you are probably right If he’s not wearing gloves, it must be because he doesn’t want to be wearing gloves, give him that at the least, give him agency Why would he not want to wear gloves? Why would he want to stride through live traffic carrying a tent, sheltered by a lightweight beige jacket with a broken zipper, his hair flowing down his back, his face falling in on itself, tanned and rough and toothless What love and care has he known and who offered—offers—it to him and is it too late, far too late, to— But I don’t know what it is too late for I don’t know what could change the course of a life rivering chilled through traffic, only that it isn’t as small as a pair of gloves Only that he comes across safe to the other side of the street and keeps on walking Only that I want to apologize for the warmth inside this car, this car itself, its vanity plates, the loved child in the seat behind strapped in safely and saying, Who, Mom, who are you talking about?
Knitting project # 1.
Make, make, make.
Receipt of knitting project # 1, on Christmas morning.
Give, give, give.
Receipt of knitting project # 2, on Christmas morning.
Tis the season to fall out of routine and into sloth, indulgence, mirth, and despair, seemingly overnight. The highs are high and the lows are low. I did not follow my own advice from holidays past, and suffered as a result. Eating, drinking, socializing, lying around in pajamas. It sounds so peaceful, so relaxing. And then the house is a disaster, and somehow I, too, am a disaster: pimpled, lank-haired, moody, tired yet restless. (Basically I turn into a teenager again, albeit a teenager capable of cooking up a turkey dinner for twelve.)
This morning I got up earlyish and met a friend for a walk/bitch session, then went to a yoga class, and therefore all is rosy again.
I can even face, with some measure of equanimity, the fact that today is my last day in my fourth decade of life. Which is a fancy way of saying that I turn forty tomorrow. I don’t feel old enough to be turning forty, but the calendar disagrees. When I turned thirty, I didn’t mind it at all. I was preoccupied, newly pregnant with my third child, and thrilled about that. I enter this new decade with less of a sense of purpose and occupation. Maybe that’s not true. But maybe it is. A decade ago, I was hip-deep in the care of small children and had published my first book. The path ahead looked clear and certain.
The path ahead looks less clear, less certain right now. I admit that freely, even though it unnerves me, a bit. It unnerves me not to know, exactly, what it is I intend to do or accomplish. It unnerves me to be out here looking around with a sense of freedom, wonder, and possibility. It unnerves me, but of course it also thrills me, intrigues me. I think my viewpoint for this coming decade is going to be broader, wider. I won’t be looking down into the faces of tiny, needy creatures looking up, with arms raised. We can talk about so many things, as a family, that we couldn’t a decade ago. We can consider, debate, plan, set goals. I can set individual goals, apart from them. They can set individual goals, apart from us. Or we can set goals together.
I figure I spent the first decade of life mastering the basics: to stand, to walk, to run, to talk, to read, to write, to get along with others.
I spent the second decade of life experimenting: with identity, with relationships, with my own morals and values and sense of self, with education. (I messed up a lot during this decade, for which I forgive myself; and expect the same from my own kids–the messing up, that is. It’s the only way to learn. I’m still doing it.)
I spent the third decade of life framing in my version of adulthood: continuing education, working toward a career, getting married, parenthood.
I spent the fourth decade of life shifting focus and experimenting with identity once again, as the children grew and I began to claim space and time for myself. Sometimes I think the best parts of my day are made up of hobbies, all of which began in the past decade: writing this blog, exercising, taking photos. I feel like I should call them something more profound than hobbies, but I don’t know what. They aren’t money-earning activities. Yet I value them more than almost anything else I do, for the stability and sanity they provide, which colours every other aspect of my daily life.
The fifth decade is a mystery. I want to imagine it as a really exciting decade, with momentum, experience, and confidence underpinning my efforts.
Here’s hoping. And here goes…