I don’t know where I learned it but somewhere as a child I started to believe that “perfect” was the goal. A perfect score on the test meant that I was OK, read: not flawed, excellent, deserving of a prize. I think somewhere someone well meaning had taught me that we should always strive for perfection and the rare moments when I hit the mark filled me with a deep relief that I mistook for joy: “I AM good enough”, I would think. As I grew, such a mindset pushed me to excel, but it also pushed me into a kind of deep unhappiness and state of panic.
I only jumped into things that felt like I had a chance of perfecting–if it was truly hard or my progress was slow, well I gave up and put my attention to the areas where I was naturally talented and where perfection was more “attainable”. I shied away from things I was bad at, sat on the sidelines if I could. And I carried great shame about the things that I struggled to master.
And I carried that shame a lot. Because of course, in 99.9% of the things I do, I am not perfect. Not even close.
I am happy to report that I for many years now I have been on a mission to let go of the story that I need to be perfect. In some areas, I have found it easy to be gentle with myself. For instance it was easy to make the choice to let go of having a perfect house when faced with the choice of doing that so that I could spend time with Max. But its been harder for me to let go of perfection in my work. Even though it made me crazy at times, I gained a lot of self-satisfaction from being so GOOD at it. It was only after I realized that the projects that were good worked just as well as the ones that were perfect that I realized I could actually enjoy the work and the process, versus enjoying the fleeting 30 seconds after I finished something supposedly perfectly.
But the greatest gift of letting go of perfect, has been allowing myself to really dig in and try things that I am not naturally talented at and will never be perfect at, but I really enjoy. Like art, and music. Like playing my guitar. My guitar playing is sloppy and my hands are slow to learn. It has taken me almost 3 years to play an F chord clearly–and still, you got it, its not perfect, but there are few things I enjoy more than banging out a Pogues song or strumming a little Dylan.
Letting go of perfect has freed me up to take risks. I will never have the perfect words to say to a friend who is struggling, but its OK to just sit with them and hold the space, or better yet, imperfectly and awkwardly stumble through words that might bring comfort or a new perspective. I am willing to try something completely new for the sake of experimentation with no attachment to being able to do it well. Like picking up iceskating after more than 20 years or learning to swim. Or speaking a new language in a new country or playing at an open mic, despite my disasterously messy playing. I am bit by bit allowing myself to live more fully, more authentically and more joyfully.
Of course, I am not perfect at this practice either and I can find myself slipping into real unkindness toward myself when I don’t hit the mark when I think I should do better. Like communicating with my loved ones. Or in disciplining Max. I am practicing this kind of self compassion every day. Its the practice, not the mastery that matters.
I love that Brene Brown is holding a Perfect Protest and encouraging us all to throw off the heavy weight of perfection to more freely live into our own lives. I can’t wait to read her book, The Gifts of Imperfection.
Click over here to play along with this beautiful woman and lets create a most imperfect revolution.
Today was the first day of school in our neck of the woods. While I mourn the passing of summer (with her promise of long lazy days, nights by the pool, adventure and breaks in the routine) I also relish the return to rhythm and routine that the school year brings. The smell of freshly sharpened pencils and brand new notebooks instills in me a sense of calm and order and new beginnings. Its an opportunity to start fresh, develop new habits and start all over again.
Last night Max and I emptied out his backpack–turned it completely upside down. We clean it out at the end of the school year, but it always seems that there are things we are not quite ready to let go of that somehow linger all summer. Sure enough, there on the floor, were the forgotten notes, cherished book, favorite pencils, stubby erasers and half eaten cookie that showed that second grade was a year well lived. We sorted out a few pencils for the pencil jar in the kitchen, put the book on the shelf and threw the rest away. We shook out whatever crumbs remained clinging and declared a fresh slate as we loaded the backpack with the new pencil box, highlighters and loose leaf paper that his teachers asked us to supply.
I think this time of year is all about just that–permission to let go of whatever is no longer needed in order to really begin again. To start anew, not at the same place but with all the years of wisdom behind us. To carry the accumulated wisdom forward without all the half eaten cookies and stubby broken erasers to weigh us down.
This weekend, I was furiously trying to organize our house to make way for our babysitting coop that uses our house as homebase during the school year. For some reason, I found myself deep into my bedroom closet. I think I had gone there in search of a hanger and decided to donate one thing to Goodwill. It’s no lie when they say that one thing leads to another because an hour and a half later I was still at it. You would be amazed at what I found was still in my closet. Not half-eaten cookies but clothes and boxes of letters and other items that should have been moved long ago. But as I put each item in the appropriate pile, I knew full well why it still lurked all dusty in my closet. I must not have been ready to let that thing go. Its OK. Its going now.
Clearing is an iterative process. I let go and create space. The spaciousness that’s created gives me courage and suddenly find I am able to let go of so much more. And so it goes, every fall, every spring, every time I need some room, every time I need a change. I let go of what no longer serves me to make room for what I need to learn.
I find that this physical tangible exercise of cleaning out my closets and emptying Max’s backpack has a momentum of its own. It’s no lie when they say one thing leads to another. Suddenly I am inspired to leave behind all sorts of things that no longer fit me: old stories, old habits, old fears, and even some old dreams I long ago outgrew.
And you my friend, what are you letting go of, so that you might begin anew? How do you prepare for the new learning that will come your way?
The summer has raced by at epic speed. I don’t know why, but I am always amazed and shocked when August announces herself. While I have come to terms with the fleeting qualities of spring, autumn and winter, I never quite believe that summer passes. And when it does I always get a tiny bit frantic.
On Saturday, a friend commented that I had this spazzy energy about me, like a juggler desperately spinning way too many plates. I am sure you know that feeling too. I was spinning way all these plates, while hopping on one foot and, having dropped quite a few, I was dancing around to avoid cutting my tender feet on the shards of the broken ones that lay strewn all around me.
One of the luxuries I have given myself this year is a week of stay-cation, strategically placed the week before we go away and right before school starts again. It is a week to focus on nothing but catching up, cleaning up, looking up, dumping out, digging out, sweeping out, starting fresh, starting over, just getting started. It officially started on Saturday. But my friend knew that I was in no place to start such a week. It was true–I had a bit of deer caught in the headlights kind of look. Too many things to do–too many things on my mind. I would start one project and then look at the dishes piled high in the sink. I would start to clean the dishes but then think I really needed to start a load of laundry to maximize the time. In the first hour or so of my “Week of Productivity”, I thought I would never get through the day, let alone the week at all without making myself crazy.
But then, the answers came.
They came because I was reflecting on the spazzy, plate spinning voices in my head. The ones who keep it all going, my 47 things, for better or worse. These mental to-do list spurting gremlins reminded me of those people at meetings. You know the ones–the ones with really important contributions who insist on being heard at exactly the moment when their idea takes everyone off track. The ones who you love to have in your meetings for their creativity and their persistence, but you hate to have in meetings because they move the meeting farther and farther from its goals.
The key to managing these people (and my gremlins) is I think we all know–acknowledgement. At work, we use the old facilitator’s trick of keeping “a parking lot”–the big piece of paper where we can put the stuff we need to get to–just not right now. There is something magic about writing it down. It creates a kind of peace. We are heard and so we can stay focused.
I am whispering what I did this week here to you, just in case, you know, you feel this way too sometimes. I swear its magic.
HOW TO STOP SPINNING PLATES
1. Take one day to drop all the plates. Plan nothing. Let everything fall. Visualize them falling, smashing, it all coming apart. Don’t rush, don’t do on the anything on the “to-do” list unless you must for personal safety of you or your loved ones. This is important to start the reset button. Its OK, I promise.
2. Visit with people you love. Eat good food. Soak in the sunshine.
3. On the next day, take out a piece of paper and a pen. Write down everything you think you need to do, no matter how small, no matter the priority. Don’t edit the list. Don’t categorize. Don’t make it neat. This is the parking lot this is where you place everything that might needle you all day. As you write down each thing, imagine yourself, actually placing it in a basket to be dealt with later. Promise yourself that one by one these things will get done, no matter how long the list. If its here on the list, it is safe.
4. Fold up that piece of paper and put it and your pen in your pocket.
5. Start one thing on your list. When your mind starts in with the to-do list ask yourself if it its already on the list. If it is, tell yourself its on the list, you can let it go. (If its still bugging you write it down again). If its not or you are not sure, take 5 seconds to write it down, imagining it safely going away, out of reach, into the basket to be taken out in due time. Get back to what you were doing.
6. When you are done, cross that thing off and then pick another thing to do.
7. Anytime the “to-do” gremlin comes to call, acknowledge him, write her ideas down quickly, without editing or categorizing and then get back to the issue at hand. Write down anything that comes to mind. Appointments (lab work done Tuesday 8:30), phone calls (call Kaiya, call Erica, call Max’s dr to set up appointment), things to pick up at the store, anything that is distracting (remind Max to find the flashlight when he gets home).
8. When you have no more space on the paper, get a fresh sheet of paper. Write down the things you still have to do. Leave out the things that you have already done. You can get rid of duplicates. You will find that after a day or so, the gremlin has fewer and fewer ideas. If she hasn’t slowed down, thats OK–you can staple another sheet of paper to this one.
So far, this has (I think) made me more productive. More importantly it has made me sane. We will see the final results at the end of the week.
Six summers ago our babysitter went away to Central America for three weeks. Juan and I were short on cash and so we could neither afford a vacation away nor could he take the time away from his fledgling business. It was just Max and me for three weeks. We spent lots of time in the parks and library and when he would lay his toddler head down for a nap, I discovered the joy of “mindful cleaning”.
My life was in chaos at that time. I was working too long and too hard. Motherhood was overwhelming. My marriage was disintegrating and I was tired, anxious and not sleeping. My house, I have learned, is often a mirror of my heart and so it is no surprise that at the time, my living space looked and felt like a bomb went off in it.
I am not much of a housekeeper, even in the best of times. Just ask my mother, Juan or my college roommate (sorry Cindy for those four years I buried you in squalor!). Somehow, the art of keeping my space in order feels like I mystery I may never crack. I have never quite figured that organization thing out. Over the years, I outsourced a lot of that work–to cleaning services, to my husband, to my mother who would frantically scrub each time she visited. While in some years it has been better than others, I gave up on housekeeping because as the ultimate achiever I felt the calm, tidy peace of my mother’s home was something I would never achieve. A clean, orderly space might momentarily be mine, but as a rule it eluded me. The idea of spending energy on something I would never accomplish just struck me as silly. I was driven by the finished product and this was one I never would obtain, so why bother?
But that summer, when Max would sleep, I would sit. My mind would whirl and spin with worries of how everything was falling apart. Then around day 3, after a good long cry I fell quiet for once. And in that quiet, a wisdom rose: You have to take care of your life.
I didn’t know how to fix my broken marriage. I wasn’t ready to face what was making me struggle at work. I had no idea how to tackle the lack that filled me like a canyon. But I knew how to do laundry. And there was so much of it piled up. I knew how to clean windows and I had many that were dirty and streaky in the summer sun. I knew how to dust and there were inches of hidden grey dust piled up on the tops of cabinets and shelves.
So, I started to clean, not in order to arrive at a picture perfect home, but simply because it needed to be done and I needed to quiet my mind. Around this time, my friend Anne had told me about mindful eating, a practice she had started after a trip to Kripalu. She said its principles could be applied to anything. I wondered if it could apply to cleaning.
I treated myself with a small bag of new cleaning products–Mrs Meyers I think it was in geranium or lavender or some other delicious scent. I used the mid-day hours when Max would sleep to scrub and clean solely because 1) it needed to be done and 2) because it gave me a relief from the constant thinking I was doing–about my marriage, my career, my “failure” as a mother. For three weeks I cleaned, bit by bit.
The house did look better at the end of that month, but to be honest, I never did quite achieve utter sparkle. The mystery of complete cleanliness and order would remain a mystery. But at the end of the three weeks I had found some peace. In my heart there was more quiet. And I also knew that without having to solve any big problems, I was stroke by stroke, taking care of my life.
I have often returned to this exercise when life gets at its most overwhelming. This winter, all crabby I had a moment where I felt unnourished, depleted and wholly uncelebrated. “I take care of everyone!” I whined to myself. “There is no one to take care of me!” But that deep wisdom got bossy with my complaining mind. “Just breathe and take care of your life” it said. So I put down my computer, my guitar, my books and my worries and picked up the laundry basket, the mop and the spray bottle. Not with any goals other that simple deep loving care of myself and my son.
I have thought of this story often as I have seen bits and pieces leak out of Karen Maezen Miller’s new book, Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life. I am a little girl waiting for Christmas, anticipating its arrival, joyously loading the dishwasher while I wait. You can read an excerpt of it here. You can hear Karen’s beautiful soothing voice reading a selection of it here. And you can start your search for peace of mind in here, in your own laundry room or kitchen with nothing more than than your willing hands.
While things have been quiet on the blog-front, while things have been quiet on the work front, I have spent my days unearthing closets. My house has, over the last several years, slowly fallen into a state of chaos. There is so much active energy here, so much coming and going. We host our babysitting share here and so on any given day the house is full of neighborhood children. Max and I dash in and out. Our friends come and go. Its beautiful. But it also takes it’s toll.
For so long I have been tackling things from the outside in. Desperately trying to make the place appear calm, even if the space is ready to have a nervous breakdown. So this week, I have devoted myself to the task of tenderly, lovingly, taking care of this home from the inside out. I am starting with the closets.
Its practical. The closets have become so unorganized and cluttered that nothing fits in anymore. Everything is left out because there is no place left to put it. It dawned on me that most of stuff that is buried in the drawers and closets, we don’t need anymore. Old wedding pictures that I put away, not quite ready to pack them away in the basement for Max’s memories. Its time to move them away to storage. Tiny mittens so cute I couldn’t bear the fact that they don’t fit Max anymore. Its time to let them hold someone else’s hand. Checks from old accounts, no longer active. Holding onto them does not make me richer. The story goes on and on.
But its also a meditation. The truth is that if you were to walk into my house right now, you might not notice much of a change. On the outside it looks like the same nutty, full, overflowing home. Taking care of something though with no outward results feels revolutionary to me–but is strangely satisfying. Only I know how those closets used to be. Only I know now how they are.
Its also a metaphor. A metaphor about 2009 and the journey I have taken. This year, there has been so little change on the outside of me, I look exactly the same as I did on this day in 2008. Same job. Same home. Same friends. Same hobbies. Same lack of ability to play guitar. Same obsession with hockey. I weigh exactly the same and if I am correct, my hair is the same length. I am wearing the same boots, same coat, same gloves even. My black jeans are still my favorite pants.
But inside, inside, a revolution, quiet and still has occurred. And that changes everything.
We have been snowed in all weekend. A blizzard hit DC. Big snows don’t come very often here, but when they do everything shifts and changes and the world transforms. Suddenly all the details become lost in blankets of white that spread and cover and hide and shift and bury everything we thought we once knew. The world is full and empty and new again.
The snow arrived on Saturday. I spent my morning shoveling, only to find that the steps were covered as soon as I stopped. I spent my afternoon walking Max back and forth to his friend’s house. The 10 minute walk across the park became a 30 minute hike through wind and blowing snow, growing deeper around our legs each time we ventured out. We made 5 trips back and forth. When Max would collapse dramatically in the snowbanks, telling me he was too exhausted to complete this quest, I would simply urge him to just keep moving. He called me “Hermes”, the god of travelers. He held my hand. He counted on the fact I would carry him through, even though he had to walk the whole way himself.
I spent the evening curled up listening to friends play their guitars by a fire, thinking that it was a postcard scene of winter. I spent the entire next day digging out and still my steps turned to ice. As I shoveled for hours on end I alternated between feeling proud and strong (what other woman did I know who was shoveling her driveway?) and bitter and alone (what other woman did I know who was shoveling her driveway?). But mostly I just shoveled because it needed to be done and I was the only one to do it, no matter what story I would tell about it.
And now today, despite the clear roads we all have a day off. I am not sure what to make of this unexpected bounty. I lit a fire in the morning and made banana bread. I will wrap presents and listen to new music.
But mostly, what I crave, more than anything is to be alone. Its the solstice and I feel the yin, dark, quietness and want to stay here. Some journeys are to be taken alone. I will continue my never ending quest to empty my life of clutter, of the unnecessary, and hope that maybe the magic of the winter solstice will make this clearing easier. I want to empty, empty my brain of thoughts, empty my closets of junk, empty my life of what is no longer needed. Maybe the clearing is the way through the darkness.
The ancients believed this is that day that requires the most faith. Before modern astronomy taught us about predictable orbits, only the most unshakable real trust would do. I wonder what it takes to touch that faith.
Tomorrow, there will be a little more light and we will begin slow climb toward summer’s fullness. But now I will choose empty and see what happens.
The bonfire from our August summer vacation
Max has been sick much of the weekend. He has a crazy summer cold. He is sick one moment, fine the next. I think I may be getting it.
Saturday was big and juicy–a ripe summer solstice full of rain and thunderstorms and sunlight. It was the new moon and when the day, full to bursting finally gave way to the dark it was truly dark. I made wishes and burnt them in flames to send them up to heaven or the universe or perhaps some place across the veil–wishes for the health of my loved ones, for my journey, for babies to be born, for other babes to come home and for even more babes to stay right where they are most loved.
Sunday morning I found myself at the rink. There were only a few of us there–a figure skater working on her routine and a couple of die hard hockey families. While Max got his sea legs back and skated himself back into wellness, chasing his friends, I dwelled in my beginner space again, and slowly worked on my “C-Cut”–the hockey style way of skating backwards. The 80s pop that was blasting over the loudspeakers fell away and for me the rink felt silent–just the cut of my skates on the ice, the whoosh of my boy whirling past. My mind was still as I worked on something so new, as I tried to keep my balance in this new way. I could not think of anything else while I was paying such close attention to where my weight was.
It still surprises me how much I am settling into things that are unsettling, choosing the unfamiliar, the new. Some might think I am rushing away from my life, searching for distraction but I know that no–its an opening, to the practice of being a beginner, to sink into the richness of life with all its possibilities. I wobble in these new unfamiliar hockey skates but I notice how different it is, how much easier I can turn, and it is fascinating to me and it makes me curious. I to wobble in a newish way of being, I see how strange I feel to let go of some old patterns, assumptions and ways. It scares me a little and it makes me curious.
Today at yoga we had a substitute teacher. She was a good teacher but she is not my beloved one. I realized how attached I had become to Karen’s style, rhythm voice. I heard myself say…”Ah…but Karen has us hold that pose for 5 breaths-not three” and I giggled and realized how todays yoga practice for me was simply being there with someone new. To adjust to a new place, to arrive somewhere else than where I had hoped and to see the beauty in it.
But making room for all this new means clearing out the old. I am diligent and its seems that my practice is to let go, let go, let go some more.
I am quiet tonight. I am here at my desk at work and I long to stay, clear papers, clean out email, let go of all the things that don’t need me. This letting go is a new exercise for me–even though I have been practicing for years. It is an onion and the more I do I continue to wobble, beginner like, letting go of what is not needed to make space for fresh dreams, new paths, fascinating journeys. I am scared to let go of too much. There is so much of my life that I love and I am terrified, even as I say yes, that the price I will pay for my dreams will be too high.
I say yes anyway and comfort myself with the fact that there is still a lot of stuff to get rid of that doesn’t serve me before I get to the rest of it, before I am left asking myself what dear and beloved bits I need to sacrifice. Right now I am sacrificing my latte’s, paper clutter and toys and clothes we don’t need. I am letting go of habits like buying things we want just for kicks. I am slowly letting go of my all to quick reactions–the ones that assume that someone meant to hurt me when they spoke–the ones that personalize. I am practicing letting go of my self judgements and my inner gremlin’s admonishments. That is practice enough.
One day I may be asked to sacrifice my financial security, my comfort, my community. I can talk a good game about non-attachment but Oh, if I am honest it terrifies me–when I wonder what my dreams will cost. Its a silly exercise really as there is no way to know. So I focus on the paper, the negative self-talk, the reactivity. I know that really there is no magical economy–no God or Goddess with a ledger book keeping score of what I have given up before I get my prize. There is no formula of suffering that must be met before dreams can be realized. I know it but I am still practicing owning it.
I know that simply the practice is the point. And it will carry me where I need to be. That I believe because there is no other way to go.
Losses will come. Anyway. And grief and letting go will be part of the game. Anyway. And I will keep breathing anyway.
OK we are a few days into our adventure in anti-consumerism. I have decided to hold this exercise lightly, to embrace it gently and not to worry too much about it. It is not a dare…It is a lifestyle change. There are no winners or losers. It is not something to be feared…It is an adventure. And I am learning that there really aren’t any hard and fast rules–I am going to have to figure it out as I go along.
Nevertheless, I find myself wanting to set some guidelines to help me form what this is…and just as important…what it isn’t. For me, this is not an contest to see what happens when I don’t spend money. Nor is it a plunge into austerity for the sake of itself. It is not about saving money, although I suspect that will be a nice benefit. For me the goal is simple: I want to notice what happens when I feel that need to consume. I want to be with that urge instead of going with it and I want to see if something shifts or changes. I want to explore the insecurities that lead me to feel the need to reach for my wallet. And then too, I want to teach Max to think twice about spending his hard earned cash and I want us all to understand the value of money. Oh…I want to reduce the amount of plastic garbage that is filling up landfills. I want to limit my footprint on the earth…
We survived our first big outing–We had gone to Kettler Ice Complex to watch a Washington Caps practice. They have a pro-shop full of very exciting Caps gear as well as hockey sticks and skates and things that we covet. We made it out alive and without spending a dime. There was one or two fleeting moments when I wished for the freedom to buy (for myself) but let it go and felt that much lighter.
But then, we went out to lunch. It was an outing. We were with friends. We wanted to celebrate the New Year and food shared together seemed like a perfectly fine thing in my book. Other than the doggie bags we brought home (and ate for lunch today) and the extra buzz from the sodas we don’t keep at home, we didn’t accumulate anything. It felt right, even if someone doing this experiment to save money would shake their head at me and scowl.
Our outing boiled down this way to me: Stuff-no. Experiences–within reason. Technically we did not NEED to go out to eat but it fits into my scheme. So does dance lessons and guitar lessons and Max’s karate class which I laid down tuitition for on New Years Eve. What I wonder is whether as I eliminate my need for stuff, do I spend less or more on these kinds of activites? We shall see…
A few other guidelines have come to me and feel right, at least for the beginning.
If I buy something I will buy non-disposable. I will buy used. I will buy local. And only after I have found out that I can’t borrow it and only after I figured out that we don’t already have something that we can repurpose or I can’t make it from something I have.
Lunches out at the office–I will limit them to one a week. I will pack my lunches but allow myself to do the working lunch with colleagues or the occasional meeting of a friend. Good food and good friends makes my heart sing–not numb.
The house, even now, 5 full days after Christmas is full of junk. The floor is littered with pieces of cardboard packaging, little bits of plastic. Toys have taken over the living room and while it is a joyful scene I feel like we are choking on our abundance.
This was a leaner Christmas than ones past. I made a conscious decision to limit what we would receive, what we would get. And still, it seems like there is too much. Too much in a house that was already bursting at the seams. I have periodically taken long weekends to declutter, hired dumpsters and practically rented a my own personal truck to take unneeded goods to Goodwill. But still, the things in our life seem to be taking over no matter how hard I try. It is time for radical action.
This coming year I am considering an experiment. An experiment about consuming less. I am considering not buying anything unless we need it.
This is not an easy endeavor. And if I am completely honest I have to admit that I am both overwhelmed and terrified about making this commitment. Like every other red-blooded American who grew up in times of plenty, I have been and am susceptible to comfort shopping. I blunt my discomfort with excess. And then I grow fat, weary and a bit numb.
So I am, slowing, easing into a year without stuff. But what does it mean not to buy something unless you “need” it. What do we really need anyway? Need is such a loaded word, a word that is more illusion than reality. We need air, water and something to eat. Does saying that we won’t buy it unless we need it simply mean–nothing but food, electricity, heat and medicine…clothes for Max when his get too small? Or does it simply mean I am eliminating splurge/impulse buys?
What are the rules? What are the limits? How does one design something like this that will work? Am I simply formalizing the rules I have tried to live by or am I really trying to create new shifts in this house?
I have thought long and hard about it. I am still working it out. I am trying to figure out what does it mean.
What does it mean to have a consumption free year…What kind of things can we consume? Food is a given, but what about other things? I am giving up services too–like dance class and guitar lessons (NO!) but then what about the things I “need” for those activities. What if I lose my guitar tuner? What if I “need” new picks. And what about birthdays? Christmas? While giving up my Starbucks seems reasonable–am I also giving up treating Max and his friends to icecream?
I am thinking long and hard about our goals…what I am trying to teach Max…what I am trying to learn myself and I am trying to create reasonable guidelines that will help us grow and will create radical shifts without being so impossible and scary that I get paralyzed. If you have any ideas I would love to hear them. If you have ever done such a thing I would love to hear what worked for you.
I have decided that along with my other posts I will try and keep a record of this year here on this blog. It could be quite ordinary and boring….or it could create radical shifts. I don’t know. Its OK not to know. And I’ve told myself that it is OK if this experiment is not perfect or saintly or radical enough. Its enough just to play with the possibilities and give it a whirl…isn’t it?
I wonder what will come of it? I wonder what may happen or open up or close down for us? I wonder…
Ten years ago this past July Juan and I moved into our house. Compared to the one bedroom English basement we shared in Mount Pleasant it was a palace–expansive and huge and wide open. Of all the things we loved about the house, the most magical were the closets. In Mount Pleasant we had only one closet in the whole damn place–one closet to store his clothes and mine, the shoeboxes full of memories, the rollerblades and iceskates and winter boots and summer sandals. Here we could have his and her closets. A closet for coats. A closet for out of season clothes. A closet for linens.
In the front of the house is a den. The real estate agents call it a bedroom and I suppose it could be one in a pinch. It is large enough for a desk, a chair, some shelves. Even though I doubt a twin bed would fit in comfortably, the real estate agents can call it a bedroom because it has a closet. This closet was most wonderous of all–a deep bonus closet in a bonus room. I dubbed it “the knitting closet.”
In my younger days I had three or four knitting projects going at once. The projects were always scattered around the apartment in their half-finished glory, shoved into one basket or another. And then there was the yarn I would buy at wool festivals or on sale from my favorite shop. And the yarn that was left over from the projects I had finished–the yarn that was too beautiful to throw away even if I had no idea what to do with it. It littered our apartment and drove Juan nut–all that wool.
And so, ten years ago, as I stood in my grown-up house, I knew that all the collateral clutter that came with my creative outlet would finally have a home. Its own special closet. A place where I could put all things creative. The place I would stores the pages and pages of patterns, the unwieldy piles of books, the hooks and the needles and the bags of wool and cotton that would one day become sweaters.
A few days ago I found myself on the phone with a friend of a friend. She is an astrologer and an intuitive and a woman of power. I had never had my chart done and I thought it would be a fun thing to do–an early birthday present for myself. I had heard so much about Charlotte from our mutual friend and I had a feeling she was my kind of sister. The chart reading gave me an excuse to support another mama in her business and to finally connect with someone I had longed to meet anyway.
An hour into our conversation, I was in tears. I wanted what she was saying to not be true but deep in my heart I knew she was right and it reduced me to a puddle. I don’t know if it appeared in my chart, if she felt it as a clairvoyant or if she just figured me out in the first hour of our friendship. But she nailed me. She said that I think I am done letting go but I have so much more to do. She said I want to move on, but I am still stuck. She said I think I am in touch but I am missing the mark.
She told me that I am the type of person who wants to box things up in neat little packages and declare them finished. I want to draw bright lines around the events in my life and proclaim them to be done. “whew…what a journey…So glad I learned from THAT experience….so glad I am OVER that…so happy to have crossed the torrential river to have found safe ground. No looking back now. Its done. ” I want things to be tidy and linear. I want to move forward into a place that is neater and less complicated. I pack up my experiences in little boxes and shove them into closets.
Now wonder this line from this song has haunted me all summer:
You pass through places, and places they pass through you
and you carry them with you on the soles of your travelin’ shoes…
I box it all up and shove it in a closet.
Yesterday, the three day long migraine started to let up and I was finally able to get up and move about. I could move but I could not really think or read or look at a computer or even a TV. I couldn’t stand to sit in bed more more moment and so instead I decided to clean my home office. Mindless work that would allow me to move my body gently. All the better if I couldn’t think.
My office has become a junk room. I never work there anymore, instead dragging my laptop to the dining room table and work here at the end of it. I know it would be so much more serene if I just had use of the closet. The knitting closet.
Over the years, the knitting closet has become a cartoon version of itself. It is so stuffed full of crap that you have to open it only a quarter of the way and shove something in quickly lest the whole mountain of stuff fall out on your head. Really. The closet was filled with half-finished knitting projects and half-finished scrapbook pages, bags and bags of yarn, candle making supplies, and paper and toys Max no longer played with.
I have attempted to clean out the closet in years past. I sometimes made small progress, sorting the yarn into bins and the unfinished projects into piles. Baby projects, gift projects, things I started for myself but never could complete. But cleaning out this closet was always a frustrating experience because I could never allow myself to throw anything but a few errant pieces of paper away.
Each unfinished project represented a dream to me. A small dream, maybe a dream I forgot I had, but each project represented a piece of my history, a piece of my heart. There were the pillowcases I bought in Mexico and had started to embroider that I swore would one day decorate our marital bed. There were the girly-baby sweaters that I had abandoned when Max was born, deciding instead to pick them up when I got pregnant again. There were gifts for friends I had long ago forgotten. There was yarn I bought when I was poor and ambitious–yarn I had intended to make into things to sell, yarn I had intended to make into things to make the house pretty, yarn I had intended to make into things to make me look sexy when I lost that 10 pounds. There was the half completed barnyard animals that I had started for a friends child but kept because maybe Max would someday have a child would appreciate them. There were the patterns for the jackets I had intended to make as a way to supplement my income. Each one of them representing hours and hours of hard work I couldn’t dare declare to be in vain. Each one of the things shoved half finished into the closet reminded me of some unfinished business I might just come back to, a dream that perhaps had not quite come to fruition, but maybe, possibly, one day might. Better hold onto it, just in case.
There was nothing to do but throw it all out.
Half-finished dreams shoved in a closet, even when they are disguised as trite metaphors, have a way of being sticky.
I went through it all, the yarn, the needles, the projects half knit. I stopped weighing the hours that had gone into each piece and asked myself instead was I really going to finish it? The answer to every project but one was no. And so, I salvaged what I could, collected the needles and the stitch holders and notions in my tool box. I saved the most precious, luxurious and wonderful of yarn that had not been made into anything–that had no dream attached and gave away or threw away the rest of it.
As I struggled over throwing away the partially completed projects I realized it was not all my work that I was still attached to but rather whatever the half-finished project represented to me–a sibling for Max, a Christmas when I would surprise Juan, a life where I knit and designed things for a living. Dreams I had thought I had let go of, but maybe only half way, dreams that were still half complete and shoved in the back of my heart.
I want so badly to be done with loss. I am really anxious to come to the place on the other side of the river when grieving is not necessary. I don’t like coming back in circles to the place where I stood before, the place where grief feels raw and fresh. I want to be Polly Anna and all aglow in gratitude for the life I have made in place of the life I thought I would have. I want to get to the other side and be DONE WITH IT ALREADY.
But there is no other side. There is just my life. With the closets that need emptying, one by one.