What felt good this month?
Taking the train to Toronto for vocal cord physio, and seeing my sister: this was the best day all month, because it felt like an awakening. The day landed out of the blue, following a couple of weeks of recovering from covid, wearing a mask all day long to avoid getting family members sick, and missing out on fun activities. I was in a bit of a self-pity slump. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone felt amazing, important, necessary, medicinal. We had an open house for the X Page workshop; family came for Easter; I went on a weekend writing retreat; I’ve been driving to Stratford to record my audiobook. The 100 day creativity project has been an anchor too. I’ve been writing a lot, and playing the piano too. I love when the house is full of people, especially the kids’ friends. I’ve missed that so much.
What did you struggle with?
The first couple of weeks of April were lost to covid. I got it, Kevin got it, the kids seemed to escape. We ate so much take-out. I was tired for several weeks, and hoarse. Right now, at the end of the month, I’m struggling to meet all of my commitments. I’m most productive when focused on just one thing. I don’t want to let anyone down. I would love to be running more often. I ran two mornings this week and felt amazing — endorphins. But I was too tired the other mornings; so that’s a struggle. Trying to calibrate my biological limitations with my duties and responsibilities. The weather has also been very cold!! ARGH!
Where are you now compared to the beginning of the month?
My life has opened up, almost miraculously. I’m feeling relaxed and accepting. I’ve got things to do and places to go; I feel purposeful. I’m letting myself say what I need, more often, more easily. I’m patient with the things I can’t control (most of the things, honestly). I’ve had a few experiences this month that made me think maybe my calling is to be an emotional support person. Just be there, when someone else is going through something, not trying to change things or giving advice, just be there. I keep seeing how strange the world is, how out of my grasp.
How did you take care of yourself?
Sticking with the 100 day creativity project, even when I wasn’t feeling remotely creative (today was day 30). Organizing a writing retreat. Being with friends. Asking others to help out. Looking for clothes that fit. Letting myself be where I’m at. Getting my glasses fixed. Mediative puzzling (I’m doing them slowly these days, taking my time). Opening the house to friends and family. Recording the audiobook has been a gift to myself too: not easy, but a jolt of something new, different, creative, that taps into my acting self from long ago.
What would you most like to remember?
See above. How I took care of myself this month is also what I would like to remember. Stopping at the plant shop up the street with my sister-in-law was fun, delightful, even. Parking practice with my sixteen-year-old. An unexpected reunion with high school friends. Doing voice exercises while listening to my favourite playlist, driving through countryside.
What do you need to let go of?
This practice of letting go of a need for control is revolutionary. I’ll just keep doing that. Because every time I remind myself of what I can’t control by worrying or holding on or dictating or insisting upon or fretting over or demanding or clutching or clinging to, I’m able to stop doing those things. I can stop and just be. More than that — I can be thankful. Being thankful also comes from knowing my own boundaries are firm, and my needs are being clearly articulated (to myself, to those around me who are affected when I’m filled with resentment or fear). It helps to say: I’m okay, right now. That’s quite grounding. It also helps to place my feet solidly on the ground and breathe deeply.
Life. It’s bigger. It’s bigger than you and you are not me. The lengths that I will go to. The distance in your eyes. Oh no I’ve said too much. I haven’t said enough.
Fellow Gen Xers probably recognize that song (REM’s “Losing My Religion”). I don’t know why exactly it came to me as I sat down to write about Life. Maybe because it’s bigger. It’s bigger than it’s been, anyway, even after weeks of recovery (or maybe especially after that). I’m making plans, though they may change last-minute. My plans are mere sketches, a few chords on which to improvise; they delight me.
Last week, I took a spontaneous trip to Toronto on the train. Got me some vocal cord physio and an intensive on how to use my voice, in preparation for reading the audiobook version of my new novel (!!!!). Reading the audiobook goes on my bucket list (I don’t have a bucket list, but if I did …). Recording in studio is set to start next week. While in Toronto, I also visited my sister and her delightful pup (pictured below). I saw a man dance with a pigeon on the subway (not pictured). My eyes were overwhelmed by the sights out the train window. I was in bliss. It was exactly what I needed. Good medicine.
This weekend we hosted family. I didn’t feel like cooking, so I asked my eldest to make the scalloped potatoes — and he did! On Monday our second-eldest kid moved back home from residence, so the house was fuller when we woke up this morning. And our Open House for the 2022 X Page Workshop is tomorrow evening. In person! I feel myself buzzing with energy and new life. It’s not anxiety, it’s excitement. It’s a desire for connection that’s leaping out of me, off my skin, I can almost see it flashing from me in pinging waves, or like antennae reaching out. I don’t think I’ve turned into an extrovert during the pandemic, but I’ve clearly built up some extra space for social interaction.
Something I’m noticing about myself, as I return to life, bigger, is that I love being the still centre of a whirl — the ringmaster at the circus. Does this mean I enjoy stirring things up? I don’t know. I hope not. It isn’t conflict I’m after, but contact, connection, a performance that’s almost entirely improvised and feels natural because it relies on mutual trust, and self-trust.
This reflection came from a recent 100-day creativity prompt …
A list of things that are true about me.
I’m on day 2 of listing things. Here’s day 1 —
1 I love being the still centre of a whirl — the ringmaster at the circus
2 I am happiest when I am with people
3 I am trying to become less controlling
4 I love relating to teenagers — I think it’s an especially beautiful, searching, changing, vulnerable time of life
5 I experience big swings of emotion
6 Writing fiction is a form of therapy, for me
7 I love the feeling of trusting myself, it feels like a safety net into which I can fall
8 Discovering I’ve hurt someone is incredibly painful news and I resist hearing it, and/or respond defensively, and/or torture myself for it
9 I can be very self-pitying
10 I am oddly comfortable at the front of the room
11 I love learning new things and challenging myself to leave my comfort zone
12 My first instinct isn’t always right
13 I value strong relationships built on mutual trust, and care
14 I am not perfect at all
Today, I’m attempting my routine. I got up early, went for a run, slow and short, around the park. It felt amazing. It was chilly and there weren’t many people up and about, but the sky was already light. Spring is coming.
April is half-done and I can’t remember much about the past two weeks. Not much to keep. We ate a lot of take-out and the kids went grocery shopping for us. I did two puzzles. I also wrote a fair bit, and started a 100-day creativity project, inspired by The Isolation Journals with Suleika Jaouad. I appreciate the length — not too long, but long enough to test a person’s discipline. You really get to know yourself when you practice something creative every day; I’m keeping it simple, writing briefly and then drawing / watercoloring to music. The point is not to get “good” at the thing, the point is to do it and through doing to discover yourself, your daily fluctuations, where your mind is at. I also find it helps me escape the ordinary, and focus my mind and body in a different way.
I like that it isn’t about achievement, it’s about discovery.
One day at a time.
What felt good this month?
This has been a confusing month. It felt good to get to visit people again, to travel to see family, to go to the movies, go out to eat, host a kids’ birthday party. It felt good to embrace the human desire to connect and be together in person. I really loved it. I’m even glad for the desire to do things again. When everything shut down two years ago, I was so burnt out and overstretched that my main feeling was relief at not having to do everything all the time for everyone. In the interim, I’ve recalibrated my boundaries, and I feel more capable of saying yes and no with greater understanding of the costs and benefits of each. Having things to do — and wanting to do those things — the combination is a gift.
What did you struggle with?
In practical terms, I’m currently struggling with a case of covid. Because, yes, there are costs to the grand reopening; and it’s challenging to make informed decisions when the information available is limited and contradictory. I’m also going to say, I struggled with feeling impatient and ready to move past these endless covid-times, or at least figure out how to feel as alive as possible during these endless covid-times. I might have erred on the side of wanting to feel alive versus wanting to feel safe. That’s a struggle too — I don’t honestly know what’s right or what’s best or wisest. All along, we’ve made choices, often difficult, about how to keep our loved ones safe, trying to balance mental health with physical health, trying to maintain relationships and connections from a distance or in constrained circumstances, and on and on. I wanted to believe we could start to live with just a little less caution, but it looks like covid isn’t done with its part in our collective story yet. So that’s what I’m struggling with. (FYI I’m the only one in our household to test positive, and I’m hoping it stays that way; we are all doubled vaccinated and boosted; my symptoms have been like a very bad cold.)
Where are you now compared to the beginning of the month?
Funny. I’m less worried now than I was at the beginning of the month. I’m more optimistic about writing projects underway. I’m convinced that people are resilient and relationships can be healed. I have no particular evidence or logic to support any of this; in fact, there’s probably ample evidence to support the opposite conclusion, particularly when it comes to how people are coping in these really hard times. But this is where I’m at. I admit to feeling hopeful! Oh dear. I’m almost too superstitious to declare such a thing out loud … dare I? I’m trying to let myself feel joy from time to time; hope and optimism too; and not believe that just by feeling or expressing such wonderful things I’ll attract the eye of a vengeful and punishing god. Consider this part of the experiment. I’ll let you know how it goes.
How did you take care of yourself?
I made a list of fun things to do. I did some of those things. I wrote even when it seemed like I was writing in circles. I got somewhere interesting. I pushed myself to try new things, even when it risked failure. It was a good month for those reasons. I went on lots of walks with friends, and enjoyed putting # 34 on my list of fun things into action: surprising friends with small gifts. Honestly, that brought me such joy. I talked about hard things in therapy. I made plans.
What would you most like to remember?
Beautiful plants on my desk. Dinner with kids and their friends. The joy of the Canadian men’s soccer team winning at home to clinch their ticket to the World Cup. Watching movies at the theatre. Heartfelt walks and talks with family and friends. Writing and writing and writing.
What do you need to let go of?
Ideally, I would like not to act or speak from a place of fear. Or at least to be aware if I’m acting or speaking from a place of fear. There are so many things in life that get broken. So often they’re broken by fear, which manifests as judgement, as anger, as dependency, as control. I don’t want to break anything, especially relationships, because I have fear that is unexpressed or unacknowledged, or blocking me from being truthful, open, clear, first with myself, then with others. I need to let go not of fear itself, which would be an impossible task, but of being swayed or deluded or misled by my fears. Life is complicated, relationships are complicated, desire is complicated. Fear is natural. But it doesn’t have to steer my choices.
What to do when having a bad day? Or a bad couple of days? What does that even mean, to have a bad day?
For me, it means feeling extremely low in spirit. And it happens. I’m trying to track these low days, to figure out whether there is a pattern. On Monday, on my desk calendar, I wrote: “feeling very low.” On Tuesday: “still low.” Today I didn’t write anything, probably because I am feeling a bit better.
I’ve noticed a few things, during these low couple of days.
First, I noticed that I’d quit Twitter and hadn’t replaced that social media scroll with anything in particular … which sounds amazing and very healthy and all the rest of it, but in fact, has contributed to this low feeling, because Twitter and doomscrolling was exactly as soothing as any addiction, it was a distraction from my own inner life, and without it, I’m left facing: my own inner life.
And a whole collection of anxieties, fears, doubts, and nameless sadness lurks inside here. It was easier not to notice when I was busy distracting myself.
This is the push of the pandemic as a whole. It dares us to pause and observe what’s waiting to be noticed underneath our once-busy schedules, our racing around, our frantic quests for acknowledgement and personal satisfaction. Here I am.
What’s come up this week is a recognition that I’m still struggling to come to peace with certain childhood indignities, specifically the feeling of being an outsider always looking in but never fully understanding what’s going on (we moved often, and lived in a few different countries); being an outsider gave me the gift of observation, but what I’ve been more reluctant to acknowledge is that it also dug a hole of insecurities that manifests in unlikeable and unpleasant ways when I’m feeling … well … low …
Oh, how I attempt to protect myself from even the smallest rejection, from loss, from disappointment.
For example. I had a mini-tantrum at the dinner table several nights ago, when I wanted the last piece of pie and didn’t get it. I could have had a tart instead, but I wanted that last piece of pie and, also, I thought my children should have appreciated and loved me enough to give me the last piece of pie. (They may not have seen that piece of pie in quite the same way). I said (and this is an exact quote): “If I don’t get what I want, I don’t want anything at all.” I might as well have stomped my foot before running out of the room. I mean, I didn’t. I spoke in a calm and rational (if petulant) tone, but the words and the feeling were undeniably childish; and I did leave the room. One of my kids said, Mom, I can’t tell if you’re kidding right now. And my inner child said, I’m not kidding!
This got me thinking about two guiding principles I’ve been living by, and would like to stop living by, mostly because I hadn’t realized until recently that I was living by them.
The first is: Save it for later.
The second is: If I don’t get what I want, I don’t want anything at all. Or: I’d rather quit than lose.
Save it for later, as my siblings could tell you, goes back to early childhood, when I would hoard my Easter bunny, uneaten, for MONTHS. The end result, predictably, was that the candy became completely inedible, melting into a sticky disgusting mass hidden away in my sock drawer. This had the effect of not only depriving me of enjoying the original treat, but also of depriving anyone else of enjoying it too. It’s quite possible that I actually didn’t like chocolate Easter bunnies and could have given the candy away to my brothers; but I didn’t. Instead, I hoarded it like I was preparing for the apocalypse. The perfect time to eat it simply never came. Note to self: It never will.
I still do this. I’m trying to change that. I’m trying to eat the chocolate now, or share it, if I don’t want it. I’m trying to treat myself, and others, to little luxuries, today, right now. It takes practice. It’s a pretty sweet practice to practice, though.
I guess the outlook is to change from a scarcity mindset to a mindset of plenty, of abundance; not hedonism, but simply enough.
I’d rather quit than lose, my siblings could also probably weigh in on. Suffice it to say, it’s a shitty way to live a life. And I’ve only just noticed that this tendency is bubbling up in me again; thought I’d cured it over the years by committing to do a bunch of things I was guaranteed never going to win at—like running races, or coaching soccer.
This mindset comes with its own sub-mindset that is a bit more complicated, but summarizes roughly as: If this is as good as I’m going to get, I’m outta here. It’s about sensing when I’m reaching my own limitations and becoming frustrated with my inability to progress. I know this was part of what frustrated me with coaching, and with teaching; I was okay at both, learned lots and absorbed lots pretty quickly, but plateaued: it would have taken so much work to get even incrementally better, and it started not to seem worth it. I don’t like being okay at things. I like to be (dare I say it?) the best.
I’m going to dare to say it, because it’s my only chance of excavating that belief, and leaving it by the side of the road.
To sum up (should I even try to sum up this mess of a post???) …
Remove an addiction and you’re going to notice issues surfacing that were conveniently masked by said addiction.
This is a bit scary. But maybe your childhood self has some messages you’ll be able to hear again. Maybe you’d like a shot at changing some of those things that are, admittedly, painful, even excruciatingly painful, embarrassing, humiliating, frightening, etc., to notice.
One last thing: Make sure to tell someone if you’re feeling low. It’s really really hard, and it really really helps, just to confess out loud: I’m struggling here. Here’s the thing: other people can’t read your mind. I know it’s hard. But reach out and tell someone. The alternative is to keep sinking lower and lower, and that becomes quite a dangerous thing. Just so you know, I did reach out and talk to someone, and it made me feel almost instantly better. Didn’t fix the lowness, exactly, but immediately I felt less alone. My inner child was so relieved.
Find your safe person, or a counsellor. Please. A bad day can feel like the end of the world; it doesn’t have to be. You might feel selfish or foolish or ashamed to be asking for help, especially if you’re seen as (or see yourself as) a high-functioning person who wears a mask of competence. We’ve all got our masks on, and sometimes the person behind the mask just needs to take it off and be seen.
My goal is keep my mask off. Someday. Meanwhile, I’ll be over here, helping my inner child through the important life experience of not getting the last piece of pie.
I have a toothache. It’s affecting my outlook, I confess. This is the week of doing things that need to get done, so I’m going to see a dentist. To tell the truth, I kind of want the tooth just pulled. Last fall, I paid for an expensive root canal and less than a year later, the ache is back; was it worth the drilling and pain and cost?
It occurs to me, as I write this out, that pulling the tooth — the desire to pull the tooth, and be done with it — is a metaphor that perhaps I should explore in more depth.
Let’s assume I want to pull the tooth. Am I, therefore, the sort of person who rips painful problems from her life, leaving gaping holes, rather than spend the time and energy to fix them? Or am I the sort of person who recognizes that the fix is a scam, that when all the work is done, the tooth will just be hollowed out and crammed with filler, a shell of its former self, shored up for cosmetic purposes? It’s interesting, isn’t it, how a metaphor can be twisted any which way, to support opposing views.
Maybe it’s just a toothache. But I want it fixed!
All the fixes are imperfect, okay, I accept that. My question is: Which imperfect fix is worth it, given the costs? How can I ever know, when I’m trying to sort these things out? What’s the healthiest allocation of resources, what’s important to prioritize, what will I miss when it’s gone? No wonder it’s so hard, when making a choice, to say no — it feels like giving up, but also, it feels like an absence, a void, is scarier to accept than something known, even if the known thing is causing pain and can’t be perfectly put right again.
I know, I know. I’m over-thinking.
One of the problems of the pandemic is seeing fewer people, less often. It’s a recipe for unchecked eccentricities!
A friend said to me that she asks herself (and others): What do you want to do, and what can you do?
Another friend recommended long ago not to choose resentment over discomfort. Or at least to notice if it’s become a habit: truth is, if it’s what you’re accustomed to, resentment feels easier to accept than discomfort. Many of us (women, especially) are socialized to believe that feeling discomfort is bad and wrong, and that, when we feel it, we are bad and wrong, or we’ve done something bad and wrong. Resentment, by contrast, is an outer-facing feeling — blame someone else, blame the situation, blame anything but your own choice. Oh, resentment, you’re so easy to step into and you go on and on and on.
I think these are similar philosophies that acknowledge the difficulty, the fraught-ness, of decision-making. And I’m making decisions, choices, whether by doing or not-doing, all day long; some more consequential than others, but all fed by my private interior calculations that take into account (unconsciously, more often than not) my values, my relationship to others, my whims, my interpretation of available resources.
My daughter, Annabella, says that human beings have limited will-power, and that’s why routines are so important: a habit is a choice already made, and our energy can be spent making other choices, instead.
What do I want to do, and what can I do?
I want my tooth to stop aching. I also want the least expensive, least complicated option. But I don’t know: will I feel ugly or self-conscious if there’s a gap in my teeth?
I wonder how often I make choices based on how I imagine I’ll be perceived.
This post was never about the toothache. Not exactly. I like how these posts drift into the unexpected, into the weeds. I don’t know what’s waiting to be found till I come here and look around. More and more, I appreciate that this space exists, whatever its nebulous purpose. It feels like there’s room here for nuance and exploration and questioning, and eccentricity. I wander out into this space to make a few observations, see if anyone’s around. This is my overgrown empty lot in the middle of the city. This is my front lawn.