There’s a post I wrote awhile ago, a year and a half ago, to be precise, to which I keep returning. (Read it yourself, here, if you’d like).
The question I was asking then (and which I continue to ask) boils down to what kind of life I’m seeking to live: is it a life with unexpected twists and turns and seemingly disconnected variety, or a life of intense and singular highly focussed work; or is there perhaps a third way, a way in between those two extremes?
A year and a half after articulating that question, I can’t say an answer has appeared. Has life, as it’s been lived since then, spoken? Not in any expected way. Not loudly. Not directly. But also, have I been listening to the universe in the same way? Expecting it to reply? I have not. And I’m not sure why.
Instead, I’ve been running.
Is that a metaphor? Have I been running away? Or toward? Or is running a question and answer contained in itself? This morning, I woke up a bit later than usual, but realized that without a run, my day would be consumed by negative energy, and that I needed to run as far and as fast as I could in the time available, in order to burn that energy off.
Where is this negative energy coming from? It manifests itself in a general grumpiness, irritability, sometimes in a muddled mind, or I get lost in thought. Not practical, useful thought, but distant drifting foggy thought in which I cannot find my way. There is something about running (or biking or swimming or any exercise that gets me working physically) that burns off the fog, that releases me, even if only briefly, into a happy state. Afterward, I feel productive. Alive. It’s like an energy exchange: bad for good.
What will you do with your life?
My youngest starts school in a year. A year, therefore, is my self-imposed deadline. Deadline for what? For direction. For the universe to point me wherever I’m meant to be going, or for me to point myself, to step off, to launch, to turn around, to choose. I type that as if it were absolute, as if I might choose the wrong path, as if there is a right path and a wrong path; and there’s not. I believe many paths could be right. Success (happiness? contentment?) is dependent on how I walk the one(s) I choose. Nevertheless. My youngest entering school carries the pressure of a deadline. I’m at an age when it feels like, to paraphrase a character in The Juliet Stories, I’m holding in my hands a diminishing collection of possibilities.
So. I have a year to figure this out. I don’t know about you, but a year doesn’t feel as long as it once did. Turn your head, laugh, and it’s vanished.
This week has been a long and fuzzy one. And yet it’s actually been quite short. We got home on Monday, late afternoon. I spent the evening in a state of intense irritation roasting and freezing a bushel of red peppers. (“Stay out of the kitchen. I’m sorry. I’m just really irritable right now.” “Yeah, I already know that, Mom.”)
The following morning, I took the kids to Vacation Bible School. Total flop. One day was more than enough and I did not send them back again. Albus’s first question, when I picked them up: “Mom, what are sins?” Warning bells ringing loudly. Apparently, the language was heavily weighted toward sin and enemies and the devil and death angels (no joke). I have a fairly high tolerance for religious language, but no. Just, no. I can’t abide the belief that we are born full of sin, fallen. I believe we’re born human, and we will all make mistakes, and we won’t always be right. But we’re not stained by our mistakes; what a terrible and debilitating concept. What a staggering lack of compassion, to see our errors and the errors of others as sinful. Mistakes are inevitable, and come with great potential. We learn by them. We learn pain. We learn to forgive. We learn compassion. We learn critical thinking. We learn to say sorry (and to feel it). We are strengthened by discovery, and discovery comes through trial and error.
So, long story short, no “free” babysitting this week.
I spent all of Tuesday canning a bushel of tomatoes. The kids had to entertain themselves for the afternoon. Albus was helpful, AppleApple, too. Summer has had the effect of bringing the siblings closer together. That’s a beautiful thing.
Wednesday was a scheduling day. My babysitter is back from Germany and we reunited that afternoon, but I hardly got any writing work done. It was all about the fall schedule, an intricate piecing together of interests and activities. I should have gone for a run afterward.
By yesterday, I felt fuzzy-headed and exhausted. But blueberry season is almost over, and there is an organic patch that friends have been raving about all month. We had to go. It looked like rain, and then it did rain, and then it cleared again. And the blueberry bushes did not disappoint, absolutely laden with fruit. We picked 14 pounds without really trying. More fruit to add to the freezer, and AppleApple and I made blueberry “hand-pies,” which ended up being too sticky to eat by hand.
But despite this positive and happy activity, I had a moment of panic late yesterday afternoon. I’m having a breakdown, I thought. Why? Because I was paralyzed by the thought of supper. Something had to be made, and quickly, because AppleApple had soccer practice; and my brain stuttered to a halt. Pasta plus rice plus potatoes? Is that really what I had on hand? Thankfully, I recovered, retrieved hamburger from the freezer, made a rice/hamburger/zucchini mash-up, boiled potatoes and grilled them along with eggplant, and boiled a pot of sweet corn. All’s well that ends well.
While standing in the kitchen paralyzed, it came to me: I need to exercise. I need to run. I need to stretch. I need alone time. Daily. This week, I’ve been so busy preparing for winter (canning and freezing), and planning for fall, that I forgot about today. It’s not about training for a triathlon; it’s about a daily practice of restoring and maintaining sanity, and peace.
Last week was a hard one for me. Home alone (with the children), I thought, well, I’ll think of it as a holiday. But it didn’t feel like a holiday. It felt like me, home alone with the children, with no writing time. It felt like in one short week, I’d lost the ability to talk coherently to grownups. My patience was thin. My envy of anyone with a job outside the home was thick. Note to all mothers of young children who read this blog and wonder how the heck I do the things that I do: I do those things while other people look after my children. There’s no secret to it, really. When I’m home alone with my children, I can barely string together a sentence without interruption. It’s a recipe for madness, not for insightful thought.
(I write this while one child quizzes me in multiple choice form and we all stare out the window at a man with a hammer breaking apart some copper piping in front of our house — not our piping, but I’m guessing he didn’t come by it honestly; but as I’m sitting in my bathing suit because it’s really really hot, and though the kids have suggested it, I’m not going to approach the man with the hammer to ask what he’s doing on our sidewalk).
Neither, really. But this morning, I got up early and went to a yoga class: my first in nearly two weeks. A short list for mental survival arrived. I must write this down and remember it, I thought. Why is it so hard to remember the little things that make life better? And then to step out of inertia to do them?
– yoga, for meditation and quiet thought
– writing, journalling
– reading poetry
And while this week alone with children is not a holiday, and it’s not going to be productive work-wise either, it is time with my children, unstructured together-time. We made an attempt at an adventure this morning. It didn’t really turn out (too many mosquitoes), but everyone enjoyed it. “This really is an adventure!” someone said, as we fled the woods amidst a storm of bugs. This week, I’m going to write a bit more, hang out a bit more, and yoga a bit more. And not try to wish this summer into something it’s not.
My friend Rebecca wrote this thought-provoking post on ‘thin spaces’, the Celtic concept of places (or moments) where the spirit world comes very near to our world. We can reach through and touch it; or it brushes us. She asked where we find our thin spaces. It might be a physical place, or it might be an experience. It might be something we can seek out, or it might be something that we can’t, that just comes upon us.
Here is my short list, the things that jumped immediately into my mind:
– being with someone during labour and birth
– sometimes while writing, when the words seem to come from beyond me
– when someone reads a poem out loud
– when my body is working very hard and my mind becomes very quiet
I was out with my siblings last night (and Kevin!), and I was thinking about how all five of us Snyder kids are both creative and impractical (thank heavens Kevin is practical). I don’t mean we’re disorganized or incapable of functioning in the world, but I do think we look at some practical things, such as work and earning a living, differently. Somehow, we must have been raised to value the making of things more than the buying of things. I think within that is some quiet value, never spoken of, of thin spaces. And our thin spaces maybe aren’t that profitable, but we were raised to choose unprofitable over practical if unprofitable feeds us in other ways.
I think many people choose the work they choose because it brings them closer to those thin spaces. What’s your work? Does it take you to unexpected moments or places of peace / calm / meditation / joy / insight / grace / giving / acceptance / fill-in-the-blank-with-your-word-for-a-thin-space?
Wait. I have something to add to my previous post. Just went out for a (luxurious) late lunch with my husband, as our evenings have been consumed by soccer soccer soccer. Got a chance to bounce my guilt/greed/gratitude thoughts off of him, which is always helpful: processing out loud.
And I realized that I feel something very strongly: neither sport, nor art, is a luxury. Both are human necessities, and if not expressed in positive ways, will find other ways out. Sport is a way for human beings to live fully in their bodies, and to compete, without doing violence to one another. At its best, sport can be clean competition, without conflict; a pure expression of physical exertion and skill. Every human should have the opportunity to experience the joy of his or her body, and of physical expression.
Sport over war.
And art is so essential to human life. Without it, there is darkness and depression and silence and disconnection. How could we live in a world without creativity, without lasting expression, without some way to translate the pieces of human experience that would otherwise be beyond us? It is so essential that you might not even recognize it around you. Buildings, graffiti, a photograph album, a blog post, the design of a garden, the words of a song that get stuck in your head, dancing.
So maybe my gratitude should go like this: I am grateful that I get to participate in sports, and that I get to create and enjoy art. These are gifts that should be available to everyone on earth. How can I share the wealth?
I keep starting this post, then erasing the words and trying again. I’ve been wondering how best to express my feeling of gratitude for the support and luck that make possible the arc of my days.
I am grateful to be able to send my children to school and nursery school where they are nurtured by caring teachers. I am grateful that I have a babysitter who picks my youngest up from nursery school three days a week, walks patiently home with him, feeds him lunch, plays with him, and loves him, so that I can write (that she happens to be a qualified teacher in her country of origin, who speaks five languages, is our fortune, too, though I’m rooting for her to get her Canadian qualifications so many more children can benefit from her gifts).
I am grateful to have a grant, and an advance, that allows me to focus on my fiction writing (and pay for said nursery school and babysitting time). I am grateful my husband has a job that covers our household expenses, so that my grant/advance can go toward writing time.
I am grateful for my family’s willingness to make room for my crazy triathlon project, and the countless hours of training it’s required (hours from which they are excluded).
I am grateful to live in a country with universal health care.
I am grateful for clean water from our taps, for fresh ingredients from which to prepare healthy meals, for the shelter and space of our home and yard, for safe sidewalks, and a community-oriented neighbourhood.
I am grateful for all of these things, while knowing that my fortune is neither deserved nor earned, and that the individual pursuits of art and athleticism are gifts. They are not mine for the taking. They could not exist without the offerings of many others, and of even larger, structural offerings that are pure luck: where I was born and to whom. I wonder sometimes how the relative few of us can bear to live with such wealth, when so many live with less than a little. How can I?
What I’m saying is that my gratitude is mixed with guilt, and questioning. What luxury–to train my body to complete an arbitrary task that has nothing to do with real survival. What luxury–to sit and to think and to create in repose, without anxiety or fear or threat. Are my luxuries just for me? Is that how I’m using them, and if so, does that not express greed rather than gratitude?
I’ve noticed an uptick in visitors reading this blog, and it would be a pleasure to hear your voices (thanks, Rebecca, for the inspiration: your post on engagement made me want to invite more engagement and conversation, here, too). So, what are your thoughts on being grateful/guilty? How do you take the luxury of your individual gifts and use them to satisfy something greater than your own comforts and desires?