Category Archives: stuckness

The Clean Slate Club

AM’s post about moving to a new city and having to make a new social life really resonated with me, but not because I’m moving or looking for new friends. It’s because I’m envious.

I’m not a very social person, so it’s not the “building a social life” or the “putting myself out there” that got me feeling a little jealous. It was the part about “from scratch” and “new me, new city, new things, new people.”

I love my city with a completely unobjective partisan love, and I am thrilled to know and hang out with fantastic people I hope to keeping hanging with for a long time. It’s just, well, I miss “new.” It’s like this:

Remember leaving high school? (At least vaguely?) If you’re lucky you go off to college somewhere new, somewhere that you aren’t “Bob and Sue’s daughter” or “the girl from debate class” or “the one who threw that huge party junior year and the cops came and half the school got busted on the new alcohol policy and never really forgave you despite all the money you spent on liquor.”

Maybe you gain the Freshman 10, but I felt like I dropped the Freshman 50, walking around free on my college campus. I can still see myself standing in front of the theatre building on the bucolic Smith College campus when I had the sudden realization: “None of these people know who I am. Good lord, I could be anybody!”

Then you leave college for work, or grad school. Probably you have a series of jobs before you find one that you stick with for a while, or before the babies turn up at your door and tell you you’re not leaving for a couple of years. Each time it’s a chance to be brand new.

I managed to squeeze in quite a few fresh starts in my young life, transferring schools, skipping town, going online, leaving academia. Often these were hard goodbyes. Plus moving sucks. I hope to stay in this house forever, or at least until someone buries my ashes in the backyard. (Note to family: I’m hoping that won’t be for a while, so put away the shovels.)

Still, there’s a part of me that is always looking down the road for the next corner to turn. When I stay in one place too long I get Itchy. And Scratchy. (But not Poochie.) Living online seems to exacerbate this feeling: every word goes on your permanent record, every person you’ve ever known comes back to find you again. Except they know you as You 2.0 and you’re now at least OS X Snow Leopard and looking at upgrading to Lion.

So many sticky little threads holding you in place, fixing your identity: no wonder they call it the World Wide Web.

Much as the idea of a dramatic breakout appeals, however, it’s not in the cards. I’ve got the Real golden handcuffs: great kids, dreamy husband, a little slice of the Midwest that I’ve grown to love. How I’m going to achieve that great “Clean Slate” feeling I love is still a little bit beyond me: divorce, the Witness Protection Program, and high colonics are out, as are drug-induced amnesia and the convent.

Still, every great journey begins with a single step, and I’ve started this one like so many others before me: with an inspirational refrigerator magnet. Check it out, it might inspire you too:

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Whose Time Is It Anyway?, or, Advanced Mind Hacking

One of my favorite little books on meditation, mindfulness, and all that jazz is the classic “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hanh.

It opens with the story of a father who never has time for himself. Maybe this will sound familiar: housework to do, career stuff, children demanding time in so many ways. Even a child’s wish to play with a parent is just one more thing that must be addressed before getting “Me Time.”

Eventually, however, the father figures out a secret to getting limitless time for himself: he counts it all as his time. By bringing all of himself to the activity at hand—bathing the baby, helping with a math problem, washing the dishes—all of that time is his. Brilliant and beautiful: I love this kind of reframing.

As the gentle Thai monk points out in the next chapter, however, chances are quite good that the father doesn’t remember to bring all of himself to all of his activities, all of them time. One reason for that, he suggests, is that we all need practice and training in mindfulness, so that our habits support us rather than carry us away from that goal of limitless time.

But I know something the monk doesn’t, at least not as lived experience. Or maybe he is just too kind and gentle to point this out: sometimes, living on someone else’s time is easier. A mom can spend a full day living on family time: getting kids up and ready for the day’s activities, driving, shopping, cooking, mediating arguments, taking care of bedtime, planning for tomorrow. Even in 2011, you get Good Mom Points for spending a day this way. You’re busy, so you must be important, and you put your desires last, if you can even remember what they are.

It can be exhausting, true, but the dirty little secret is, you spare yourself the labor of choosing how to use your time, and so you absolve yourself of the responsibility of what happens with it. Dissatisfied with how the day went? Well, what could you do—you were never on your own time.

Even in a relatively healthy family, it’s not unusual to see each individual’s time get tangled together with everyone else’s. Kids rely on mom to be their engine, waiting for her reminders to get ready for their own activities. Dad counts on mom for maintaining social connections and organizing what happens around the house. Mom plans vacations and weekends around what the rest of the family would enjoy. There’s nothing malicious or insidious about this state of affairs: part of it is training kids, part of it is efficient division of labor, part of it is the joy of making other people happy. Still, it’s the rare family woman who doesn’t find herself wondering, like the father in the story, where her “Me Time” has gone and—much more challenging—what she would with do if she ever found it.

This is a mind hack Triple Salchow: be fully present in the endless loop of household activities, acknowledge the choices that you’re making, and acknowledge your own desires. You gotta get the first part right, or you won’t be set up to land it at the end.

I trip on all of these sometimes, but I’m worst at the last one. I admit it: sometimes I will do something for the kids or for my husband because it just feels too hard to think of what to do for myself. My birthday’s coming up this week, though, so I’m going to work on sticking the jump at least once, as a gift to myself.

“Let go. Let go. Let go.”

This morning I heard this piece about End of Summer Regrets on NPR. Psychologist Dan Gottlieb

Summer is over and maybe we didn’t do everything we thought we would. We didn’t get to the beach enough or at all. We didn’t take the family camping. We didn’t starting that exercise program at the pool. We are starting Fall and the new school year with some regrets.

We may be troubled over similar regrets at the end of each week, or even each day. Dr. Gottlieb says we need to “let go of the idea that They need you and that the world won’t be right” if you take time off from your responsibilities and schedules.

We postpone joy because we think we are too important to others and to the scheme of things, to step out of it.

I love what he says at the end of the piece about the idea that we will “go to the beach” when we get all our ducks lined up. He said to remember that they are ducks and ducks never stay in a line.

This was exactly what I needed to hear this morning, as I was contemplating the decision to stay home and finish unpacking, stay home and homeschool while trying to finish unpacking or take my daughter to the awesome new park I found. I needed this reminder and the permission to let go of my to-do list sometimes and have fun.

Stuckety Stuck Stuck

I’ve been feeling stuck for awhile now. What is most relevant to 40Questions is my feeling of stuckness as it relates to what’s going on in my head and in my life and how that translates to my fingers being stuck in the absence of motion above my keyboard.

I’ve been a writer all my life, but not consistently. I have often gone through long stretches of time where the only actual writing on paper or computer is grocery lists, essential emails, and in recent years, Facebook posts. It’s true that I’ve always been a mental writer (ha) in the sense that even long complicated assignments were often composed entirely in my head for days before the deadline and then flowed out, nearly in finished form. But in this case, that’s not what is happening. Or, at least, I don’t think that’s what’s happening.

Instead, I’m dealing with some harsh, unkind demons. I’m dealing with the critical voices that live in my head that cause my shy and private self to self-protect against exposing myself to others. When Mina kindly asked me to join her in writing a blog, I felt honored and…terrified. I love to write, and I love the feeling of connecting with others through writing, but I hate exposing myself. My life thus far has included some really great people around most every bend, but there have been some very judgmental and critical people in important roles too, and they have done some damage to my sensitive self.

I wish I could be more kick-ass, and just say “screw you” to the people who would judge me, for whatever reason. But that’s not my nature.

I guess, in a small way, agreeing to blog, is a whispered, “screw you.” Small steps.

So, why the stuckness? Why now? The why doesn’t matter so much to me as the how. The how to move forward from here. What helps you when you are stuck in your writing and/or in your life?