Thursday, September 25, 2008

Gratuitous Self-Care

Here's a thing.

You know how when you look at someone else's life and admire that person's accomplishments and general ability to lead forward into life? At the same time, though, when it's you people are affirming, what you're actually feeling is "#$)(, this is hard."

Yeah. That's where I am.

There's not a thing I want to give up. Well, I would make a few changes here and there. What I mean is that there's not a category of things I would give up. I want meaningful work (and I need to eat, besides). I want to work out. I want to create things and tend my home. I want to learn new things and chart a course toward academia. I want to hang out with my friends and family. I want.... I want...I want...

But there are days when I'm just bloody exhausted. Yesterday I took a nap at 6:00 because I literally could not do anything else. And I still went to bed at 10:30. I've been getting up at 5:15 so that I can have a 1/2 hour bike ride before getting ready for work and flying out the door. This morning, even with all the sleep, I convinced myself that it was still too dark to ride at that time. (And it is getting darker in the mornings which is going to throw a monkey wrench into my scheduling.) But what I really wanted was another half-hour of sleep. The darkness was a red herring and not even I was fooled.

All of which leads me to this conclusion. I have to ADD a category of things to my life. Don't you just love how I come to apparently insane conclusions and then try to argue that they are other-than-insane??

Gratuitous self-care. I need some. I go to yoga once a week. I get a massage about once a month. But I don't even mean (solely) things that cost a lot or involve me going somewhere. A bubble bath would count. A cup of peppermint tea while rocking in the rocker on my front porch would be lovely. But I need more ideas -things I can do on a moment's notice that take care of me. What have you got in the bright-idea department, oh wise ones?

And, you're free to borrow these ideas too, because I suspect that your life is no less complicated than mine.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Thalia Comes Through

Bless her heart, she always does! (Thalia is the green bike, in case you've forgotten.)

Two things: Today is my 27th wedding anniversary. Sigh. Heart ache.
I had swimming on the schedule as my fitness activity for the day.

But I worked all day. I always work on Saturdays, but I knew enough not to take today off, for sure. Keep busy. Then I thought I would drive straight to the pool, then do some yoga at home. Somewhere in there I would eat and fold those wrinkly towels that are still in my bedroom (see the Martha post). Then I could hold my school work in front of my face, pretend I was reading, and really fall asleep. They the day would be over, and I would have survived it. See? I can do this.

Here's what really has happened so far. Right outside my office -literally, RIGHT outside my office- is the Fox River Bike Path. While getting my car out of the parking lot (not always easy.... homeless people frequently have cars, but they aren't always mobile. It becomes a navigation problem, driving around the "stopped where they died" vehicles.), I saw a cyclist. A real one -the helmet, the gloves, the shoes, the whole thing. And he was working it. And I thought, "for crying out loud, I could go for a bike ride." What I really want is to be alone, anyway.

So Thalia and I went for a spin. I can't quite get over the notion that an hour on the bike isn't a real ride. Part of it is that Thalia is such an uber-bike, that riding almost feels like cheating. I'm hardly working. But my life just doesn't have 8 hour stretches in it that are available for biking. And don't tell Thalia, but I'm not quite willing to give up those other activities for her. Well, I'd give up my job, but I'd have to replace it with another one, so what's the difference?

But darn it, an hour long ride is long enough for a little fitness effect and a lot of cobweb-clearing in the old brain. I can get through this day. I know I can.

Heart ache, for sure. But a little smidge of heart song as well.

And I had another thought that's unrelated to these others, except for biking and homeless people. When I bike, I too have the helmet, the shoes, and the gloves... all of which is a little silly for short rides. But as I've mentioned, I have arthritis in my hands, and the gloves really help. Most of the people I work with have really compromised health. But they also contribute to their own misery, just a little, by not ever moving in an intentional way. They would say (and I'm not blaming them, at ALL), given arthritis, that they could no longer ride. I say I'm a cyclist who has arthritis, so I wear the dorky gloves. I'm still trying to figure out how to make fitness inviting for this population.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Romancing the Stove

I like to eat lovely things. I like to cook lovely things. Why am I not doing that??? I seriously considered (but didn't do it,just so you know) stopping by McDonald's after spending some time at the yarn shop today. McDonald's??? Do I have no shame???

Then I came home and opened the freezer and found some bread my friend Tom made. SCORE!!! I had French toast for lunch, made with Tom's sourdough. And I remembered again that part of graceful living is eating well. And it's not hard. Well, it's certainly made easier when friends leave bread in your freezer. But really, it's not hard.

I could make this a huge dramatic project. I could marry a chef -not that any have come calling. "Will trade inventive sex for elegant food." Probably that's not going to work ;) I could contract with one of those services where someone delivers your meals. That just makes me feel sad and lonely. Or I could assess where I am right now, where I want to be, and chart a gentle course for getting there. I don't know how to cook in small quantities. I come home from work exhausted. My schedule is quite peculiar. Two nights a week, I work until midnight and eat supper at the shelter -and I've blogged before about the food there :( I need portable food to help me avoid unimaginable junk food. My situation is unusual, and clever googling isn't going to give me the plan that will work for me.

I don't need homemade sorbet at this point. I need breakfast, lunch, and dinner. What will help me the most? Do I have to know? Do I have to know right now? If I need everything, maybe I don't need a plan. Maybe I just need to do something. Anything.

Tomorrow I will eat breakfast. I have sourdough bread, after all ;)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Another "Martha Moment"

I'm guessing Martha Stewart doesn't have a laundry basket full of unfolded clothes in her bedroom. So, any comparisons of me with Martha are stretching the truth rather a bit. But I remembered how fun it was at the beginning of spring to go buy the geraniums that graced my front porch all spring and summer. And I remembered how plunking two plants down on the front steps helped me to claim my space just a bit.

Yesterday, Victoria and I went out for a girls day. She kept calling it a "mums with mom" expedition. Egad, child, stick with dancing. We bought these:
See the knife? I have a plan.

Pumpkin guts: I wanted the neighbor boys to help me with this part. It's just disgusting enough to really please children of a certain age, but I guess they weren't home from school yet.

Then this happened:

Everybody who walked by had to vote. Did the pumpkins get grouped or separated? Do I need more, or do I perhaps need a basket filled with a mixture of mums on the top step? Should I stick some ivy in the pots? I love this puttering.

And yes, even as modest a project as this helped me to claim my space in the house and on the planet. Martha knows how important that is.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I Have No Voice

My throat is fine. I can talk. I have no writer's voice. I don't know what to do about that.

One of the things we talk about in social work is self-authorship - a particularly cruel metaphor when part of the person's self-image is as a writer. But the idea (from Freud, who really did have some brilliant thoughts) is that our life is a narrative. There are many competing stories we tell ourselves about who we are. One or the other of them will float to the front of our brain at any particular moment, but they are all rattling around, making noise in our subconscious. It is our work, our meaning-making-work, to edit those stories. We have to figure out which stories are true, remove the power -the voice- from the false ones, and create a narrative that makes sense. We have to author a life.

We are all authoring our lives all the time, whether or not we claim the task. But I feel like I've been given (forced to undertake) the opportunity to do that quite explicitly. Sometimes that's wonderful. Sometimes that's terrifying. Sometimes it's lonely. Sometimes it just makes me unspeakably sad.

Things are not like they were last year at this time. My life is vastly better. But it's hard in different ways -ways that defeat me sometimes. The "I can't do it" voices can be quite persuasive.

If we move on to Jung, we are encouraged to assign an image to those emotions that rise up and seem disproportionate. I have to be the least visual person on the planet, so I've never been able to do that. But I can hear the voice of those nasty thoughts. I know exactly whose voice it is. Hint: it's male. We are supposed to stop asking "why" questions -which is very hard for me to do. We are encouraged to replace them with "what" questions. What happens if I calm myself, and step into these new roles as though they were already mine? Which really is nothing more than claiming a little of the "entitlement" that seems to have gotten other people so far.

But... anyway... my voice... my self-authorship, it's all taken a little bump. I don't know why I expect it to be a smooth road, but I clearly do. I'm hunkering down trying to move through it. And in the meantime, I don't have that much to say. I'm just surviving. Right now, that's my task, I guess. Perhaps doing that -just surviving- helps to remove some of the power from my "I can't do it" fears. I hope so.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

More iPod Love

It's been a long time since I had an iPod love post. One thing I've always liked about the iPod is how it allows me to reconnect with music I'd forgotten about. Putting songs together in playlists would jog my memory about some song from way back when. It would frequently also send me off on peculiar google searches; it's a bit of a challenge when you don't know either the song or the composer. Or I would start badgering my family.... "what was that song that was playing at the restaurant that time we...." That kind of thing.

I'm still getting my new iPod organized, eliminating songs and playlists that are sad for me, making new workout playlists.... And I discover that iTunes has made this process of rediscovering music even easier. The Genius feature looks at a highlighted song, scans your playlists, and suggests other things you might like. OF course it isn't perfect (and for all I know there are privacy concerns), but it's really really smart.

The forgotten song? Paint Me a Birmingham. For crying out loud, how did I not have THAT?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

I Think I'll Learn Japanese Today

Or maybe I'll finally scrape the 1940s wallpaper off the basement stairwell walls. Or I could cook. I need to cook.
The psychological principle is this: anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.
("How to Get Things Done," in Chips off the Old Benchley, 1949)

I am supposed to be writing. Well, look at me. I AM writing. OK, I am supposed to be writing a proposal for presentation at a conference. Thinking about it makes me ill. But it also makes me wildly inventive.

I could start that quilt I've always meant to make. I could call the dentist. Oh wait, I really do need to do that. Hang on. I could play with my virtual puppy on facebook. That has to be a low point.

Or, I suppose, I could just pull up my big girl panties and get to work.

If I write one paragraph at a time, can I have some ice cream?

Monday, September 08, 2008

Hold On Just a Minute

Today I went to the gym and did a lovely yoga practice and a weenie-workout that nonetheless left me feeling quite worked. There's this thing that happens when I'm exercising, and I can't explain it. Maybe it's because I don't have the energy to tangle myself up in mental knots. The clouds in my mind open a little, and things become clear and easy that before had me all in a muddle.

And, I hadn't grumped about Dave and my marriage in...days... so I thought it was probably time.

I've been repeating this nauseating platitude that the marriage was a failure for both of us and needs to be put to rest. I was trying to make it be true by repeating it -and then I was surprised when it kept sounding hollow and silly. That's because it's not true, for crying out loud.

Here's the thing. Dave had ALL the resources in the marriage. He had the power. He had all the money, for longer than I've admitted. He could keep me from having something just by quietly being stubborn. Things just plain didn't happen if he didn't want them to happen.

It absolutely IS true that I could have called him on this nonsense, and possibly by demanding an equal role I could have saved the situation. And even if I couldn't single-handedly have saved the marriage, it would have been better for me if I had done that. But if, with all the resources, all the power, and all the love by the way, he STILL feels that the marriage truncated him, I'm thinking the problem wasn't me. That's saying that my very existence is so strong that, even with money, time, and love he couldn't live his life fully. Wow, I'm quite the force of nature. If that's true, divorcing me doesn't matter. I'm still here, exerting my dark will, working my magic. Or maybe my magic only works if you're close to me. Who knows???

The simpler answer is that he took all the resources to shore up his crumbling sense of personal power. However subconsciously(or not), he made me small and made it clear that he was more powerful than I was-so he was powerful, by definition. How sad is that???

So my bizarre fantasy (or fear)that we'll stand in front of the judge at the end of the month, and Dave will see the error of his ways and ask to stop the proceedings in the nick of time.... not only will it not happen -which I knew. But even if it did happen, I should say no. I would just do the thing I do -love with my whole heart and forgive as best as I am able. He would do what he can do, which is somewhat less than that.

That marriage didn't fail him. He failed him -and the rest of us besides.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Ten Minutes at a Time

Can a book be written ten minutes at a time?

This might be the Shakespeare/Shakespeare's Sister dilemma. A real writer, a true writer, a person who's already written something famous-ish, can sit in his or her library all day. There's an eloquently documented terror in that kind of life (try Bird by Bird by Annie Lamott), and I don't mean to minimize the stresses of it.

But I don't live that life. I live this one, where I have something like zero-sum time management. Yet here I am, dressed and ready for work and I don't have to leave for 10 minutes. The laundry is started. Sean Connery, the red Roomba, is vacuuming upstairs. My bed is made. My gym bag is packed; my stuff is gathered for the day. I'm going to stop for gas and the world's fastest oil change (they PROMISED!) on the way to work. Good enough.

Today I'm apparently using that available ten minutes for blogging -a good thing in my world. But some days, surely, I could use it for other kinds of writing.

Here's the project: Just over a year ago, my brother and his wife lost a premature baby. Well, they didn't lose her; they know where she is. She died, because she was born wildly prematurely and with no lungs to speak of. Rachel Grace still lives with us, in a real way, even though I never saw her and she only lived about 24 hours. She was the baby we were meant to have at that time; I absolutely believe that. She changed us.

And there's this other truth that I'm a knitter, and a knitting teacher, and a thinker about knitting and women's communities.... Slowly, slowly, the idea is coming together: a book of knitting patterns for premature babies dedicated to Rachel. I have two knitting patterns in my head that would work for premature babies, I think. One is a sweater that instead of buttoning down the front has a front panel that buttons down the left side and the right side (side-front, essentially at the clavicle...does that make sense?). That would allow the baby to wear cute sweaters made by doting aunties AND be attached to life-saving machines (that have cords and leads and things). If I'm a clever girl indeed, I could figure out how to turn this pattern into a sacque or even a jumpsuit sort of thing. (A slight pause here while I wish I still had access to geometrically-trained in-house help.) The other one is just a pretty blanket, with a satin binding. We don't use multiple fabrics much in knitting, and I don't know why. The thing babies LIKE about blankets is the satin binding, in my experience.

There will be more patterns if my brain remains active and appropriately caffeinated. Each pattern could be (will be) associated with an essay. I need these essays to be, well, fabulous. So far what they are is platitude-filled drivel. This is not an auspicious beginning. But again, I refer to Anne Lamott -shitty first drafts, is her advice. That we have ;)

But the question on the table is, can a person write in 10 minute slots of time? It will annoy me, no question about it. It's like snacking, rather than dining. On the other hand, it might provide some needed urgency. "Get some words on the page; the timer is about to go off."

So, what happens if I stop wondering if I can be (if I'm allowed to be) a writer and just step into that role? A real writer -a true writer- couldn't let 10 free minutes pass by without writing -any more than a dancer could avoid dancing when she hears a scrap of music or a singer could avoid singing in the shower or the car. Writing. That's why the universe provided those 10 minutes in the morning. I should honor that gift and claim them. Eventually I'll have a book, and eventually is better than never!