Tag: Failure

3Nov

Shadowshifter

The morning smothers. The sun, already high above our traditional November fog bank, filters down as a sickly and distorted parody of itself while familiar landmarks waver like shadows. My head feels no more stable than the ground shapeshifting below.

I finally cut back a bit on working hours. Dan had to convince me that it wasn’t worth losing myself to make a few extra euros, and he’s right, but now I find myself in a sort of No Man’s Land of perceived failure. I’m not available enough at work or present enough at home, and my contributions to our family’s wellbeing seem paltry at best. I don’t know how to find my niche through all this fog, my mind continually swirling in and out of focus. I hardly even know how to find my keys these days.

Even with a full morning off and strict instructions to myself to spend it tapping into the live feed from my heart to the keyboard, all I seem to be dredging up are flecks of rust. This time last year, I was working on a book I haven’t had time to touch since, and the comparison presses in more heavily than all the murky skies this week combined. I wince when I think of this dearly neglected little blog and the stories I would love to tell. Despite my neuroses over the word, I have to give time and importance to the writer in me or else… well, the previous two paragraphs give a pretty good idea of what happens.

And while I can keep my laptop closed and ignore away the blank-page aching, I can’t forget that I am still mother, wife, and friend. No space on the margins equals me treating loved ones like half-slots in my calendar, rushing through each thin patch of minutes because I can’t afford any other pace, and honestly, it leeches the color from all of our lives. This is the shadow-world of stress and overcommitment and lost perspective, of self-smothering and fog that stretches much, much farther than the eye can see.

If I had to pick my ideal life right now, it wouldn’t look so very different than the view from this comfy pomegranate sofa that coaches (couches? heh) most of my blog entries into existence. I would still choose this house with its tall windows and delicious ski lodge vibes. I would still choose this city-town with the tree-lined parks and chatty friends within walking distance. I would still choose these two exuberant little girls and this dream-chasing husband. Really, the only thing worth changing would be myself… from a harried shadow wraith to a human [learning] [creating] [enjoying] [loving] being.

I just have trouble believing that cutting back a bit on working hours is sufficient to blaze away this gloom.

9Sep

Basta

Autumn has taken over the evening shift for the last week, slipping into the dusk while I teach and then gusting the scent of dry leaves across my headlights as I steer home. The girls go back to school in three days. For better or worse, this summer has packed its bags, and oh I haven’t finished editing our photos from June, and oh my inbox is breathing Darth Vader-style down my neck, and oh there are so many fall courses to schedule and prepare, and details are beginning to riot, and the waves of time I glimpsed shimmering into distant horizons have evaporated, and it’s suddenly September, and how can it be September, and will the seasons ever, ever line up gently with the timeposts in my head?

Basta, as we say in Italian. Enough. Because as behind as I may feel at… well, basically everything, I really just want to sit down and tell you about our epic summer camping trip and pen a few letters and read myself hoarse with the girls, and I am sick of letting responsibility dictate my every breath.

I’ve been listening to a book which talks about letting small, bad things happen so we can achieve big, good goals. This particular wording has penetrated a part of my mind that endless priority evaluations haven’t been able to dent, perhaps because it acknowledges that focusing on what I want to do will create problems and that they will suck. This rather baleful assurance is the realistic coating which helps me to swallow the truth: that I need to start operating very differently than I do now.

I am both hard-wired and programmed to take responsibilities life-and-death seriously, which explains why it can take me days to pack for an overnight trip. I’m a good little automaton, following whatever marching orders my mind conjures and then worrying endlessly when I can’t keep up with them all (see: most of this blog to date). It will come as a surprise to no one that this does not improve our quality of life. When I look around the carefully labeled mess of my days, I see small, good things necessitating big, bad ones on repeat x infinity. For example, I get up in the morning and immediately start tackling to-dos rather than charging my batteries with some much-needed soul attention. I start dinner on time instead of committing a sudden burst of inspiration to paper. I help the girls clean up rather than play with their toys. I say yes to every job that comes my way and subsequently miss weeks of family evenings. I keep house instead of finishing my book, organize files instead of connecting with friends, and pile so much pressure on myself that I can no longer unwind at the end of each day. This is my routine, my parasitic pace, and how the hell can I stay so loyal to it?

The smug satisfaction of dutiful living does not equal joy.

So enough. Enough trying to find balance; no such thing exists. Enough putting those concerns which suck my soul dry at the top of my priority list. Enough sacrificing my “one wild and precious life” to feed a compulsive busyness disorder. Enough expecting perfection from anyone, including myself. Enough worrying what people will think about the way I choose to live (much, much easier said than done but probably the most liberating decision I could make). Enough grasping at work-beaten paths. Enough wallowing in the future and missing all the beauty in my here and now. Enough worry. Enough envy. Enough minutia. Enough needless stress. Basta.

What “basta” will look like in practical terms, I’m not quite sure yet… only that leaving a dirty kitchen to its own devices in order to unravel this post is a pretty good first step.

21Apr

Inventory

Life has felt off lately. It’s not that I’m having trouble adjusting to work but rather that I’m having trouble fitting Everything Else around the shaded blocks on my calendar. Recharge time has auditioned against grocery shopping and lost (hey, we’ve still gotta eat), and I’m always surprised by how quickly my perspective begins to flounder when my schedule fills up. I just get so focused on the task directly in front of my nose that I don’t notice which way I’m walking. Then comes an unhurried morning like this, the opportunity to rendezvous with myself, and I realize I have no idea where I’ve ended up.

I could be anywhere—a plateau overlooking wide horizons, a sinkhole hidden somewhere, a thicket of brambles, a strange new world—and the not-knowing spins my head off its axis. At the risk of outing myself as a control freak, I only feel like I can relax into my life when I’m sitting securely atop it, when I can survey it and take inventory and toggle wrongs into rights with a flick of my wrist. Getting lost inside my own head space seems like the ultimate failure.

I’ve been thinking about gratitude this morning as well. I know people who swear by gratitude journals, by counting blessings, by thank you notes turned into holy liturgy, and it certainly couldn’t hurt my pessimistic nature to stretch its neck to the other side of the fence once in a while. I’m not on top of everything—or possibly even anything—right now, but I’ll take inventory nonetheless…

…Of my wildflower daughter with the honey-kissed hair and freckled nose and my other daughter with the hair like a curtain of sunbeams and the laugh crinkles, both wearing tutus and singing variations on a theme of  “Ring Around the Rosies” in the other room…

…Of this job that asks of me my training but not my life and gives back more than it takes…

…Of the daisy constellations in the spring-green universe of our backyard…

…Of the weekend ahead penciled in for adventure and relaxation and games of hide and seek through lakeside trees…

…Of the gift of choice… and the greater gifts that I wouldn’t have known to choose…

And tallying up the bounty surrounding me, I still may not know exactly where I am, but I discover that I’m glad to be here.

10Feb

Love Thursday

Anyone remember Love Thursdays? Apparently, the tradition is still alive and well at Chookooloonks, but it seems to have slipped out of vogue elsewhere which is a shame… especially when one finds a wee reminder of love tucked inside a walnut shell on a foggy Thursday morning.

This morning wasn’t the smoothest we’ve ever had. The trouble really started yesterday afternoon when I decided to knock tax filing out of the way during the girls’ naps. Three hours later, I was hopelessly lost inside the labyrinth of IRS form instructions with bad words on the brain and nary a plan for supper. As a result, bedtimes were far too late, and we all woke up unwillingly this morning with only half an hour until school.

I felt like my head had been run over by a nice mid-sized sedan, and patience escaped me within the first minute when one daughter greeted the offer of a tissue with wailing and gnashing of teeth. The other passively protested the not-hot-pinkness of her jeans by taking ten minutes to put on one sock. Backwards. Both girls were crying by the time their shoes were tied, and I was seriously contemplating the benefits of getting a sister wife or two.

At five minutes until school, two overtired girls slumped against their overtired mother in the kitchen, our goodbye hug sagging with defeat. I could still feel the sedan’s tread marks across my skull as yet another signature on my sign-in sheet of failures—my failure to get up early, to respond to this morning’s preschool dramas with grace, to “mop up hurt with embrace,” to finish the taxes yesterday, to ration my time skillfully, to keep up with the to-dos, to be fitter, happier, more productive, to mother effortlessly…

Because it’s not effortless for me, you see. Loving my girls is the fiercest instinct I’ve ever experienced, but mothering them takes intention, sacrifice, trial and error and error again. Looking at how other moms do it is the surest way to convince myself that I suck. That mom enrolls her children in a variety of extracurricular activities; that one takes her children on weekly field trips. That one had each of her children reading by three and a half; that other one relaxes on the academics but gives her children hours of undivided attention. That mom chronicles her children’s growing-up years with breathtaking photos; that one writes books to hers. Each new way of mothering flashes in neon letters until I am dizzy from the should of it and wondering how drastically I am screwing up my daughters.

My mother-in-law doesn’t see it the same way though. When I got to spend time with her a few weeks ago, she reminded me of what matters above all activities and achievements. It’s the one thing that comes to me by instinct rather than effort, and we have so much of it around here that it shows up inside our walnuts. We love each other. We really do, even when the girls have to entertain each other because I got caught up in the difference between Form 2555 and Form 2555-EZ and forgot about supper. Even on groggy, rushed mornings when we hug through tears of frustration. Even when I think longingly of sister wives and sleeping in.

Maybe it’s impossible not to screw up our children, and the real goal of parenting should be to keep their future therapy sessions to a minimum, or maybe parenting just comes less easily to some of us. Either way, a simple shape this morning reminded me of the truth my mother-in-law shared with me—that love doesn’t just cover a multitude of failures; it renders them obsolete.

Duet

17Nov

(Un)Excused Absence

Saturday is when I should have clued in.

November had stashed away one last jewel of an afternoon, and it glittered emerald and gold in an unexpected flood of sunlight. Some friends of ours were taking advantage of the gorgeous weather to harvest their olives—another regional tradition that I’ve wanted to participate in since we moved to Italy—and they invited us to join them. I couldn’t imagine a lovelier way to spend the afternoon… soaking up the beauty of our friends’ country home, teaching the girls how to climb trees, rolling smooth olives between my fingers, and connecting with nature and laughter again after a stressful week.

However, I could not go. Literally. I had been dragging myself out of bed before dawn for days and scraping out my brain until late at night for any bit of creative residue. My Saturday word quota was filled, but I was beyond exhausted. Over a late lunch, my mind ran frenzied laps around the manymany other things I needed to get done until it simply stopped. Total shutdown. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t respond to simple questions. I couldn’t hold my head up.

While the girls skipped out the door with their dad to enjoy the last perfect fall afternoon, I burrowed under piles of covers where I spent the next few hours shivering uncontrollably and dozing off only to snap back in a panic over everything I needed to do. That’s when I should have clued in that NaNoWriMo was costing us too dearly.

It didn’t sink in though until yesterday when I read this:

“Sometimes I think I can do this and do that and then do this after I do that. But the truth is, motherhood permeates everything. It trumps all. It’s the calling that interrupts this and cancels that and makes this look like it never mattered anyway.”

Her words thudded into my chest and jolted my eyes back into focus. I hadn’t actually played with my girls since, oh… Day 3. The priority of writing a book in thirty days had edged them out, labeled them as threats to my agenda, marginalized their need for a happy, attentive mother. I had told myself we could survive anything for a month, but that simply wasn’t true. The crusty dishes could survive. The unsorted laundry could survive. But we, with our beating hearts and fragile skins, were not surviving my absence from life, no matter how excused.

I parked myself on the girls’ rug yesterday evening to play Legos with them and practically had to glue myself in place. I wanted to be there, to be a mother again, but my mind was lost in a maze of Christmas lists, insurance policies, and an ever-looming storyline while a disembodied voice over the loudspeakers reminded me that I was still 3,000 words behind. I told it to shut up. It boomed an accusation of laziness. I asked it what could be more important than my family. It answered, “NOT FAILING.”

Wrong answer.

I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to understand that that voice over the loudspeakers, the voice of achievement no matter the cost, didn’t have any more control over me than I gave it… but I would rather clue in late than not at all. Before going to bed, I reset the alarm to give myself an extra hour of dearly-needed sleep, and I woke up smiling for the first morning this month. Throughout today, I’ve worked on extra-bookular activities and spent time with my family without guilt. I worked on the novel too, but I let myself feel proud for adding 500 words rather than despondent over not completing 2,000.

I’m not quitting NaNoWriMo, and I’m certainly not giving up on my strapping kindergartener of a book. However, one month is too long to devote myself to literary abandon. I have a worthier calling that interrupts plots and cancels characters and makes an impressive 50,000-word goal look like it never mattered anyway. My new goal for November is to make sure my girls know that I know this… and if I manage to write a large chunk of book in the process, well, that will just be olive oil on my bruschetta.

11Nov

NaNoWriMo – Day 11

I don’t have any good blog entries in me right now, but I wanted to say hi, to share a quick snapshot of my month as a manic writer.

Every day this week, I’ve run face-first into my perceived failure and thought I cannot do this and choked on the frustration of being such a slow writer in a daily race against my expectations.

Every day this week, I’ve done it anyway. I’m not behind (yet). However, the load of other responsibilities stacked unevenly on my head is growing heavier, and the weekend looms like a low doorway just ahead.

My brain feels fragmented, picked over, deflated drop by drop like the foam balancing on my vanilla bean cappuccino.

I love writing, but I can’t explain why—even to myself—when I’m in the thick of it, unable to see the forest for the words.

The process feels a little like this: standing in a room of sunbeams grasping for them one at a time, never sure if I’ve caught the right one or snagged a different one by mistake or simply grabbed a handful of air.

Air and light and particles of gleaming dust and failure and triumph and coffee… and now, sleep.

3Nov

NaNoWriMo – Day 3

I got up this morning as the tips of the sky were turning to tangerine. It’s not easy for me, this early to rise business, but creativity is a heady incentive, and I always value the extra hours of writing time. Except, that is, when they can’t be used for writing.

Dan had an early work meeting this morning, so it was up to me to get the girls to school, preferably on time and intact. That is usually his job, and I had no idea the magnitude of parental responsibility involved. While showering, I fielded questions and issued instructions (mostly “Close the door!”). While drying my hair, I mediated arguments and tried to follow preschool jokes. While whisking on some mascara, I wiped noses and bums alike. Cher probably takes less time getting herself ready for the day. And once I was finally presentable, it was the girls’ turn.

There were two complete outfits to be chosen. Eight separate limbs to be wrangled into the appropriate holes. Socks to be removed, turned right side out, and replaced. Shoes to be found. Matching shoes to be found. Uniforms to be rebuttoned. Bags to be packed. Medicine to be administered, hair to be fixed, and faces to be washed. Two energetic little bodies to be bundled into coats and scarves and backpacks and corralled along the walk to school. We made it with five minutes to spare.

While I should theoretically have felt great that I accomplished the morning’s goals (on time? check! intact? check!), I mostly felt like life was over. I had gotten up so ridiculously, agonizingly early only to spend those hard-earned hours on the mundane. I felt like I had missed my shot at productivity for the day. I was frustrated at the girls for needing so much from me, and I was frustrated at myself for not being more efficient. Back home, not even my morning cappuccino warmed in a pool of sunshine helped. I budgeted, wrote lesson plans, and made some important phone calls, but I didn’t have the heart to write.

By the time I picked up the girls from school, I had given up on writing for the day and NaNoWriMo in general. My situation was clearly hopeless, so I brushed it out of my mind and took the girls to the playground. I pushed them on the swings, soaked up their school day stories, and kissed their windblown cheeks. We walked home kicking up fallen leaves and shared gingerbread bears before story time. It was so refreshing to see them as my sweet, vibrant little girls again rather than as competitors for my time.

I have a chronic disability when it comes to cutting myself slack, and I’m glad I was finally able to look it in the face. I had accomplished a lot of good things with my day despite the residual brain fog from Monday’s late night. No, I hadn’t penned another book chapter, but I that didn’t mark me as a failure—just as another one of the millions of mothers who don’t try to write novels in one month. NaNoWriMo could wait a day. I began to breathe more easily and smile more freely, and when Sophie lay down for her nap, I discovered I had a few words in me after all.

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