A nagging sense of frustration has been nipping at my heels lately. I am certainly busy enough these days — taking care of Little Bird, taking care of the house, taking care of the veggie garden, taking care of the animals. I am a caregiver, yet lately it all feels like a bit much. It is time to take stock and see where the imbalance lies and what can be done about it.
I hope you will indulge this rambling discourse on the state of my life, as I see it.
It’s been almost a year of craziness. We moved from our very urban life in Pasadena to Northern California in November of last year, and lived for two months in a hotel while we found our house and closed escrow. We moved into our new house in the semi-rural Santa Cruz mountains in January.
For about six months after our move, we went through some crazy illnesses — sponsored by Little Bird’s preschool buddies — and my mother’s move into a retirement community and sale of her house. These events, combined with the dislocation of the move, were very stressful to me. Like a pebble dropped into a pond, the ripples of my dislocation spread in my little family unit. Little Bird became crazy clingy to me, and My Guy became over-protective and exhausted from carrying so much burden.
Finally, our lives here are smoothing out. I can take a deep breath, look back, and see how hard it really was. But I’m on the other side of that now. My health is back, I’ve lost seventeen pounds, my back only hurts a little, and I can sleep again. Thank you, Baby Jesus!
Home and the Natural World
To be honest, I don’t feel entirely integrated with my home yet. This life is so different from what I’m used to: in Los Angeles, we lived in a two-bedroom condominium overlooking city and freeway, with no outdoor space of our own. Now, we have an actual house with a third of an acre of backyard. Talk about an embarrassment of riches! It’s hard to know what to do with it all.
Since we moved here I have noticed that my comfort zone is definitely indoors, working in the kitchen or reading in the bedroom or living room. I’m not a natural gardener, and I feel hesitant about working in our garden, like I might offend or hurt the plants somehow. I have a long ways to go before I’m fully comfortable and at home in our outdoor space.
Yet, we have the most amazingly generous land around and beneath us. Our peach tree literally showered us with hundreds of white peaches. The neighbor’s Bartlett pear tree rained down delicious pears into our yard for weeks. My summer squash grew into the size of alien spacecraft. Sun Gold cherry tomatoes voluntarily sprang up in odd parts of the yard. Every turn of the season, the garden gave us wonderful surprises.
I had no idea how estranged I had become from the natural world after living in the city for so long. I look forward to becoming more comfortable in it, and receiving with gratitude the gifts it brings. I think that if I just spend an hour or two outside each day, it will make all the difference.
My Own Self
I have become aware recently how ingrained is my habit of not taking care of myself. Our culture encourages us to put everything and everyone else ahead of our own needs. Women are supposed to put other peoples’ needs ahead of our own. Men are supposed to put the needs of work ahead of their own.
I think the most important thing I can do is to continually remind myself that I am the most important person in my life, that I matter. I have my own needs that must be attended to first, or else my well will run dry. To use another great metaphor, in the event of an emergency landing, I need to put on my own oxygen mask first, then put on Little Bird’s. Otherwise, we’ll both go down.
I still have much to do to become mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually healthy — establish a regular centering prayer practice again; find a new spiritual director; start doing some regular physical exercise again; and connect in a meaningful way with other people, i.e., make some new friends.
And finally, I come to perhaps the most important thing for me: my writing. Ironically, this one is hard to write about. I have suffered for many years from the dual convictions that I both need to write, and that no one has any interest in what I have to say. I won’t go into the whys and hows that that second bad seed got planted inside me, but suffice to say that it has created great frustration for me almost my entire life.
I think that I may be finally ready for a change. On a car trip to Los Angeles recently, I became dimly aware of a series of thoughts running through my head on a semi-conscious level (from “so and so wrote a book about exactly the topic I am interested in” to “it looks really good and has gotten really good reviews” to “there’s no point in me writing at all because it’s already been done, and much better than I could do, so what’s the point.”).
In a rare burst of insight, I stepped back and observed those toxic thoughts from a healthy distance. I realized I had been hearing thoughts like these all my life, which were designed to keep me from failure and disappointment. These thoughts were like a brick wall separating me from the writing life that I want and need.
There is no magic button to delete these thoughts and feelings from my psyche. They come from a deep place of hurt and fear inside me. However, what I can do is this: keep working on being aware of them when they rise up inside me. Simply giving them a space and observing them compassionately will free up space inside me to do what I really want: to continue writing.
And as a pledge to myself, now that Little Bird is in preschool again after summer break, I promise to give myself the first couple hours of that me-time. Instead of going home and immediately starting work on cleaning up the messy kitchen or doing laundry or any of the hundreds of household tasks pulling at my sleeves, I am going to the local coffeehouse to write.
And now that I have done so, I’m going home to clean the kitchen! I’ll see you again soon.