I had some folks over for game night recently; Engineer Hubby has been traveling and on this particular evening the boys were both avidly watching (and then bemoaning the results of) Virginia Tech’s football fate in the regional championship. I’m sort-of following FLY-Lady’s “Cruising for the Holidays” plan, which means I do a little bit every day, and although some days I resent the little bit, it also means that having people over isn’t stressful: a quick sweep to gather up the day’s cat and dog hair is about all that’s required. Which is lovely! I know author Laura Benedict actually gave FLYLady an Official Acknowledgement on the Acknowledgement page of her first novel, which is no small thing, as anyone who’s fantasized about having such a page, and who they’d include on it, knows.
So. Folks over. For all my hermit-crab ways, I know I need people and their quirks and their loving ways and their good hearts and thoughts in my life. ‘Twas lovely, and we had a few drinks and few nibblies and it was very Civilized. Though some of us are more persnickety about the rules being strictly followed than others; some of us want the game to be played Efficiently (eg, no side conversations! What’s your card?!), some of us are hard of hearing; some of us don’t realize others of us are hard of hearing; some of us think the others of us are competitive egotistical maniacs; some of us think everyone is taking it too damn seriously!; some of us know we’re hard of hearing and speak slowly and clearly; some of us are writers and are, compulsively, taking massive quantities of mental notes. Not necessarily me; there was a poet at the gathering, too!
Notwithstanding the specifics of that event, I find myself floundering, more often than I’d like given my age and so-called experience and wisdom, in social settings. This is temporarily mitigated when I read essays by other writers who experience the same thing. But it remains a chronic challenge for me. A zone of discomfort, albeit one softened by a healthy slug of port, and a zone where good things also happen.
And it reminds me of the friends with whom I do not flounder. A few rare souls with whom my awkwardness is nonexistent, for whom my sense of humor is instantly understood, who make me feel beautiful inside and out. I want to nurture those friendships, and yet I don’t. I don’t often invite them over for game night, or drinks, or to watch a movie or to take a walk in the woods or whatever other small, daily bit of life I’m living and could share with someone.
This is often because, frankly, I don’t want to share. I want to be left the hell alone. My kids gobble up all my extrovert energy, plus we are SO DAMN BUSY.
And it occurred to me while taking one of those solo walks that my relationship with my friends parallels that of my relationship with my favorite authors and their books. I had a passionate love affair with Henry James novels in my early twenties. I’d love to return to Portrait of a Lady and see what, if anything, resonates with me now. Ditto Laurens van der Post’s A Far Off Place. But I don’t make the time. I pick up new books, I skim the inside flaps of the latest and greatest novel, I take notes when Maureen Corrigan gives her recommendations and compare those with the various bestseller lists compiled by Publisher’s Weekly, then don’t venture to the library to pick up a copy, or splurge and buy a copy.
Just as I fail to pick up the phone to call my brother and father on a regular (dare I say it, disciplined) manner, I fail to return to the words and stories that formed me. I need to reflect and refine my thoughts to write –I’ve re-read Emma and Middlemarch, and both yielded generous fruit. How different to be on the other side of love, marriage and childbearing and read Austen and Eliot! Why don’t I re-read more often?! Why don’t I call the friend of my early twenties, the one with whom years melt away when we bump into each other? Why don’t I commit to hosting or attending more social gatherings, where I’ll deepen old connections or build new ones?
The effort it takes to enter the social discomfort zone, open new books or re-read known novels, is laden with potential friends, readers, fellow-writers, insights, opinions. And I’ll never know if I don’t show up.
Well, I tell myself. You are So Damn Busy. Yes, but.
I am so damn busy in part because I’ve fallen into a rut of thinking that butt-in-chair, hands-on-keyboard (or pen-on-paper) is my only “real” writing time. I hold those hours sacred, and everything else is play, time away from the Real Work.
When time away is forced upon me by, say, an older son with a concussion followed by head cold that puts him to bed all week with pathetic requests to me for things like tissue and Vicks Vaporub, I have, traditionally, squirmed with anxiety about the time away from my desk. But! Personal progress! This week, spurred in part by The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, and The Life Organizer by Jennifer Louden, I forced myself to consider these breaks opportunities to undertake “other” writing work. I decided to make the most of what was before me, instead of lamenting what I don’t have: uninterrupted chunks of time. So, I hosted my writers group at my house for our craft discussion. I read the memoir I’ve had on my to-do list, settled into my reading chair and stared at my bookshelf and selected my top three re-reads for 2012. Had folks over for that game night. All things related to my writing life but that I haven’t done because “I don’t have time.”
I suspect, based on the evidence, that breaks from at-my-desk time will continue to occur organically while my boys live at home, and run into each other at high rates of speed, cracking skulls. But I also want to honor the time to (re)connect with friends – real and fictional – old and new.
It feels cold-blooded to pencil into my calendar, “reading hour” but if I don’t, it doesn’t happen. It feels equally workman-like to schedule a phone call with my dad, my friend from the 80s. But if I don’t, it won’t happen. I’m breaking out my 2012 calendar and inking in sacred time for getting into my discomfort zone, socially. And for reconnecting with those real and fictional friends.
With a back-up plan for the inevitable snow days when the boys are home, flying off sleds into snowbanks.