I have a dear friend with whom I share most of the details of my life. A looong time ago, after a good therapist helped me realize I have an unusually ginormous not-in-the-middle-of the-bell-curve need for solitude (hard to come by at the time, with two preschoolers at home), I shared this revelation with my pal.
She chuckled, and asked how on earth I was going to get more alone time than I already did: in her view, the Saturday mornings the Engineer Husband gave me to meet with my writer’s group, plus the hours I hermit-ed while the kids were napping, was a Big Allotment of Alone Time for a Mother. I spent the next two months in a journaling frenzy, trying to figure out if I was nuts for wanting more solitude than what all the other mommies seemed to need, want – and survive on.
Luckily, somewhere in there, I stumbled upon the notebook in which my mom had recorded her observations of me as a young child – an extension of her Montessori training – and one of them relates the first time my parents left me alone in the house. I was about six, and my parents walked with my younger brother to the park. She writes that when they returned, “Lesley twinkled up at us from her seat on the couch, where she was reading, and said, ‘You could have stayed away longer, you know.’”
I still feel like that almost every day. Everyone I know and care for could stay away just a little bit longer. But I love my sons, my husband, my friends, my neighbors. Balance, wherefore art thou?
In my experience, balance hides out in the woods for 360 days of the year, emerging only under the least-expected of circumstances, eg, when even tho’ the kids are home sick, they both sleep quietly all day and your neighbor’s freezer is too full to hold the extra soup she made and would your family like it?, thereby freeing pretty much the entire day up for whatever your heart desires, plus a wee nap.
So on those 360 days of non-balance, of course it all comes down to butt-in-the-chair-hands-on-keyboard, right? Yes. I believe in this, and I swear by it and … I’ve been using the end-of-the-school-year glut of final projects, potlucks, and parties as an excuse to slack off on my writing practice. The excuses are, good, solid, legitimate ones (the car needs major repairs, the dog needs a heartworm test, the 13 y.o. has outgrown ALL his clothes and we must cover his sweet butt with Something lest social services stop by). I’ve been anticipating how during the summers, I enjoy, at most, only 90 consecutive minutes to myself on any given day – given days that will dwindle from five to two or three, so why bother, anyway? And yes, I’ve been enjoying release from walkthedogcleanthelitterboxesshowerdressmakelunchesandhustleoutthedoor.
But this past weekend our family had a crazy-INSANE argument, and I realize that when I downgrade the importance of my daily practice everything else goes to hell. Fast, and not in some pretty little handbasket, either.
I drank a gin-and-tonic, and re-inspired myself with this great TED video by Elizabeth Gilbert on creative process and transcendence through art, another once-a-year occurrence.
Then I approached this particular Pit of Despair by asking myself a “deeply curious question.” The concept of a deeply curious question was introduced to me by Vicki Creed during a grassroots leadership training series. It’s a question that only the person you’re asking knows the answer to: in other words, it has to be something unique to them. Not, “did you try that diet? Did you read that book?” but “has this happened to you before? What did you do then? If not, have you ever known this to happen to anyone else? What did you think about it?” etcetera.
This seems straightforward, doesn’t it? It’s surprisingly not … try it when someone comes to you with a dilemma. Or invite practice by working with a trusted friend or family member; you can each (confidentially) share a dilemma you’re having, and ask each other deep curious questions.
I have found this to be very helpful in dealing with the insanity my family falls victim to. By asking what they think rather than telling them what I think, not only do I learn what’s going on, I’m better able to provide appropriate guidance (for my sons) or support (for my spouse) … and last weekend’s blow-out fight when I didn’t practice this is proof enough of its effectiveness.
But nevermind doing it for others, test it on yourself. What’s your dilemma? Not enough consecutive “free” time? OK. Have you ever confronted this before? What did you about it then? How did that work out? Did you like the result? If so, can you recreate some of those elements? If not, what didn’t work about it for you? Can you imagine another way to have it play out? What do you need to make that difference?
These actions can sound hokey, or like a waste of time, and they might be, But! If we don’t try them, we won’t know. Just like with vegetables when we’re kids (tho’ my children remain unconvinced). A friend of mine was flailing in the reedy pond mid-life can occasionally be (had been fired from a job, wasn’t sure where she was going to live, what church to join) and I said, well, here’s a resource that helped me during a bad year (Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach). She returned it to me, and said, well, that author advised things like bubble baths, and that’s just not me so it didn’t work. I asked if she’d taken a bubble bath? No, was her answer. “I just know that’s not me.”
Why dismiss, out of hand, the possibility? Even if you’re forty-seven and bubble baths don’t appeal to you, get in the water anyway. Pay attention, and see if there’s anything to be gained, or if you’re right, and you loathe baths. So you’ve always written in Word. Try Scrivener (if you have a Mac) and see if its features benefit your writing at all. Or sit down with that notebook of gorgeous paper and a pen that flows and fits your hand just right, and see if different words emerge.
This summer I’m shooting for a thousand words a day tho’ I won’t beat myself up if I don’t generate all new words; I’ll also count toward my thousand reworking the short story I’m wrestling with. But no exceptions. I’m going to write first thing after rising, and the boys will get their own summertime breakfasts.
Summer breakfasts should always, IMO, include a chocolate croissant and a coffee drink, iced or not, your choice. Thus we finally arrive at the chocolate! Because I am, at heart, a lazy animal who’d prefer to sit around and read all day while someone scratched behind my ears, I give myself “encouragement” throughout my writing practice time in the form of … chocolate. Good chocolate. Fair Trade chocolate because the human and environmental degradation that occurs to sate the world’s craving for this fabulous serotonin-enhancing food nauseates me. Supplemented-with-flavors chocolate. Chocolate without soy lecithin because even tho’ it’s more expensive, it melts in my mouth more velvetly than those with soy lecithin. And little teeny tiny meltaway mints, the kind shaped like chocolate chips and with white crunchy round things on them. While I’m working on individual sentences, each improved string of words = one mint to dissolve under my tongue while I dance on to the next one. Ridiculous? Yes. But one of the beauties of solitude is that no one can see me, or make disparaging tho’ perhaps accurate remarks about the absurd turns my writing practice takes.
After the writing and the chocolate, I’ll do my chores and make a big ole lunch, since realistically my kids will have barreled out the door without eating quite enough protein to give them sufficient energy. The noon meal will, however, be PB&J or cheese sandwiches. Nothing too fancy. ‘cuz after they fuel up, I’m pretty sure they’ll need to go outside again. So I can be alone … for just a little bit longer.
*I saw these words in a painter’s studio, a reminder to try a new approach to their art. You don’t have to do anything forever. But to make informed choices that will be most helpful to manifesting your intentions, you do have to try new things!
What are your strategies for those times when life chops up your hours into smaller-than-you’d-like bits?
No more promises about what the next post will include! Winging it is more effective for me at this point!