Tag: Prioritizing

12Nov

Stop This Train

I don’t know how it goes down in your neck of the woods, but the Polar Express has a habit of showing up around here nearly two months ahead of schedule. It tends to barrel into me around the first of November, all twinkle lights and full steam ahead, which is patently unfair. After all, autumn only recently got herself settled in. Mr. Skinnybones, our happy Halloween skeleton, is still hanging in the doorway with whatever accessories the girls have draped over him for the day. I’m only just beginning to turn my mind toward turkey and communal gratitude. You can’t stop a locomotive though, and once it hits, I’m along for the slap-dash race toward Christmas.

It knocks the breath out of me every dang year.

I still haven’t entirely reconciled with the fact that I’m a designated magic-maker now. Nine Christmases into parenting, and I still feel like some elf somewhere should be assigned to help me turn craft supplies and cookie dough and toys encased in bulletproof plastic into a holiday experience greater than the sum of its parts. All Santa sends, however, is his train, which flips calendar pages wildly in its wake and reminds me how few shopping days are left if I want free shipping. Which of course I do. Who wouldn’t?

The thing is, I ache every year for Christmas to be both bigger and smaller than it is, and shopping is without question the part I wish were smaller. Giving, on the other hand, is my favorite. It’s the one thing about the holidays that needs no manufactured fairy dust at all in order to thrill and fulfill. There’s always a significant disconnect for me though between spending and giving, and that’s where the source of my holiday angst lies.

I realize that at this point I’m in danger of sounding like one of those soapbox speakers railing against the consumerism in our society and shaming people for buying so much as a stocking stuffer, and oh goodness no. Watching my girls open their presents on Christmas morning turns on every twinkle light in my soul. I suspect however that I am not the only parent who goes into January with far more thoughts on the money she shelled out for those gifts than on the joy of watching them opened.

Right?

My giving feels stilted by the need to accumulate. I feel trapped each year into spending however much it takes for the pile of gifts under our tree to look sufficiently impressive, and that sense of rush and scarcity and helpless forward motion starts… well, approximately a week and a half ago. I’m on the train already, but the difference this year is that I’m brainstorming an escape plan.

I’m thinking of how the girls literally skip around the grocery store when we’re filling a bag for our Nigerian friend begging outside, how they can’t wait to hand over the bread and oranges and chocolate and soup mix and wish him a happy afternoon. What if we included him in our Christmas plans? Asked him what other kinds of needs he and his roommates have and tried to meet some of them as a family?

I’m thinking of how Krista Smith is going to do daily acts of kindness with her children in December instead of going with a traditional toy- or chocolate-stuffed advent calendar. In the interest of full disclosure, we already have an advent calendar tucked in the back of the closet (both Dan and I have a weakness for all things Lego), but I love the idea of adding on an advent action as well. Mailing cards to people who might be feeling lonely, taking a plate of muffins to the single mom in our building, choosing a few toys or clothes to give away, helping babysit our friends’ newborn so they can go out for an hour on their own, checking out Momastery’s Holiday Hands listings for anything we might be able to contribute… None of it would take much time or money. Just intention.

I’m thinking of how my homegirl Erika is gifting her sons with Help One Now child sponsorships because it is going to make her boys’ hearts glow wonderland-style to know that three more Haitian children are going to have food on their tables and parents by their sides this Christmas. I know that there are so many charitable opportunities this time of year that you can’t massage your overwhelmed temples without your elbows knocking into one. In fact, I wrote several years ago about how all the needs brought to my attention every day on social media were paralyzing me, and how do you care for one cause without caring for them all and coming unhinged in the process? The truce I’ve struck since with my conscience if that one need particularly grabs me and I can do something about it, I have the freedom to do so without guilt or second-guessing. Child sponsorships are especially dear to my heart, and if we can commit the funds, I’d love to add one of these sweet faces to our Christmas morning lineup.

I’m thinking of simplicity this year. Fewer homemade cookies (sorry, local friends!) so that we can have more time to open our home to people. Fewer purchased presents so that we can have more resources for giving and less stress overall. Fewer commitments so that we can spend more time together as a family (Lego play day, anyone?). Fewer concessions to obligation so that we can make this year about celebration instead.

Any of you up for jumping the track with me?

image source

27Aug

The American Context vs. August in Italy

For the second time in a week, I’d found myself smack dab between the lines of Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day.” The first time had happened the day after we arrived in the Italian Alps, after we had laced up our shoes and left the narrow walls of our hotel and picnicked on a grassy slope, butterflies tangoing with the wind around us. The second time was on our final hike of our getaway. I was stretched out in a meadow with my camera, trying to soak in as much of the place as I could before we packed up, when the miniature grasshopper sprang onto a blade of grass in front of my nose. At least I think it’s a grasshopper. It could be a cricket or a locust or a boll weevil for all I know (or, to be honest, want to know) about six-legged creatures. I did not, however, jump back shrieking in my standard Insect Encounter Dance. Instead, I watched it, fascinated and at peace while Mary Oliver filled my mind:

“Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.”

I had the time to understand her phrase “idle and blessed,” to take the ancient Hebrew lyric “Be still and know” to heart. Out of all souvenirs, that state of unhurried intention is what I most wanted to bring home with me this summer.

It didn’t even make it down the mountainside.

///

August is a quiet month in Italy. School is a purely September construct; no one is thinking of fresh pencils or new jeans just yet. Instead, everyone is in beach mode, moving through the steamed air like half-dressed anemones. Shops are closed. Utility companies are on vacation. No one here expects anything remotely resembling productivity.

Except for me.

Even here, in the warm laze of summer, I choke for want of time. It feels almost like a nutritional deficiency, this sense of depletion when I look at the clock. If I could just work out how to double the hours between eating and sleeping, I think, then I could keep up with the pace of online work, to say nothing of the dust bunnies that procreate like… well, rabbits around here. I would also settle for getting my brain to work twice as quickly or my body to have twice the energy. Basically, my aspiration is to become Bart Simpson on Squishee syrup.

///

I just started reading Tsh Oxenreider’s Notes from a Blue Bike, and I can so closely relate to her struggle to keep the slower European lifestyle within the faster American context that I want to look up from every other sentence and tell her, “Me too!” I know I don’t have a great deal of room to pine over the European lifestyle considering that I live here and all. Obviously, I’m already in the perfect place for slowing down, embracing simplicity, and savoring the little things. What’s not as obvious, though, is that I’m still operating in an American context. I am the American context. My work philosophy, my personal expectations, my tendency to view life as an emergency… all of it is part of the cultural package that leaves me rushed and harried even when everyone around me is in vacation mode.

And this is after seven years of adapting.

Clearly, I still have much to learn from Italy, but Tsh’s assurance that we can choose how we live is buoying me today. Even as I write this, we’re packing up for a few days at the beach with friends. My attention keeps drifting down to the to-do list on my desk, a wee slip of paper that carries enough weight to sink me some days. It’s already tried twice today. There are so many chores to squeeze in before we leave, and I need to remember the beach stuff down in storage, and I haven’t gotten a haircut yet, and the girls will need packing help, and my email inbox is going to seed again, and how can I sit here dallying with words when there is so much to do, so very very much, and so very little time in which to do it, and AAAHHHHHHHH?

The answer is with that little grasshopper above. I can sit here and write today (albeit distractedly) for the same reason that I could lie on my stomach photographing blades of grass last month—because I chose to do it. I can ignore the chaotic context within me and do things on purpose that give me life. I can throw my lopsided sense of responsibility to the wind. I can choose.

I know that vacation isn’t the typical setting for one to channel her inner Thoreau, but my hope is that if I can remind myself how to live deliberately when I’m kicked back on the sand, maybe—just maybe—it will stick around once I’m back home.

“Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

4Feb

When a Head Cold Leads to Paralysis

The cold virus I’ve been dodging for weeks closes with a snap around my brain one evening, and I know I’m in it for the long haul. It drags me to bed like a wolf with fresh prey, preferring to gnaw at me under the protective dark of blankets. Noise hurts. Light hurts. My head feels like it’s being digested. I force myself up far too soon (the children need me! and if not them, the laundry certainly does!) and regret it almost immediately. Gravity pulls the cold from my sinuses down to my lungs, and I’m down for the count.

This is why I haven’t been writing lately—because sickness has a way of wrapping itself like fog around the landscape of my mind until it’s all I can see, and because no one wants to read about somebody else’s head cold. That’s a fact.

With so little of color or substance penetrating this head-fog, I’ve stayed quiet, and in some ways, it’s been nice. I don’t tend to give myself slack unless I’m forced to by extenuating circumstances, so sickness can be its own form of grace. I’ve been devouring books in long, thirsty gulps, sleeping without an alarm, and letting Dan bring me hot drinks without repurposing his kindness as guilt. Rest is such a gift.

To be honest though, I’ve let the gift turn into an excuse. Quiet is a little too easy a condition for me to accept, and it doesn’t take anything more significant than a head cold to validate the lie woven into the threads of my life that says I have nothing of value to say. See? my mind asserts, No one wants to read about what’s going on in your head. This is faulty logic, of course—swollen sinuses and theological reconstruction are hardly the same kind of head issues—but it’s pretty damn hard to refute all the same.

It’s staring me in the face each time I open Facebook. Link upon link upon link to other people’s words… some beautifully penned, some slapped into a template for maximum page counts, all competing for the attention of a public simultaneously addicted to and numbed by viral posts. The Internet has gotten so loud. How could my voice possibly matter in this sea of words, in this roar of marketing machines and big opinions? Why work to put my heart into sentences when someone out there has surely already said the same thing, only better or with more impressive graphics?

Please don’t take this as a hankering to be louder or to build a competitive platform. Fame isn’t why I’m here, and God knows the world doesn’t need any more noise-for-noise’s-sake. I do want to matter though. All my life, I’ve hungered for significance, rooting through theologies and grasping at circumstances for extra legs on which to stabilize my position in this world. I’m not saying this is a healthy habit, but it’s the truth. In fact, I’ve poured far too much time, energy, and money over the years into activities that no longer worked for me simply because I couldn’t acknowledge that their significance was over. (See: classical ballet, psychology courses, and every craft in which I’ve ever dabbled. Disgruntled cross stitch samplers, anyone?)

I know that I tend to pour more of myself into time-wasters in a [misguided and ultimately doomed] attempt to make them matter, but I also know that I tend to give up on good things prematurely for fear of starting this time-wasting cycle… and it all becomes a jumble, my perspective darting around wide-eyed and disoriented in the muddy in-between. How do I prioritize without clearly glimpsing the thumbprint of significance? How do I distinguish my creative calling from the cacophony of my expectations, much less from the noise of the world around me?

In times like this, Dan often reminds me that I think too much, which, YES, CLEARLY. I’m a lifelong pro at thinking a good idea to death, at second-guessing my second guesses until the whole thing goes belly-up. I’m a serial doubter, which is different from a cynic in that cynic has pre-packaged negativity ready to slap on an issue whereas I can’t decide on which brand of negativity to use. This isn’t likely to change. (Sorry, dear.)

All this leaves me in a rather paralyzed place regarding the new year, especially in regards to writing and blogging and social media and the ever-changing face of the creative community. WHY is a pretty big question to be bringing to the table, and I’m having a hard time proceeding without knowing the answer.

However, inviting you into the discussion in my mind is why this blog exists, so here we are—on the downswing of an epic but still categorically boring head cold, searching for personal meaning on a global scale, and actively refuting the lie that there is nothing of value left in this world to say.

Join the discussion, would you? I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on navigating the noise and content overload we encounter online. What motivates you to keep showing up? What helps you keep standing on your own two feet in the fire-hose stream of input? 

14Jan

Holiday Hangover

We told everyone that this time around, we would be doing Christmas in our pajamas, and we did. No suitcases, no schedules, not even snapshots to commemorate the thing. We spent the holiday drawn in tightly to our little family nucleus, and when a Yuletide virus stopped by to knock the four of us out of commission, we simply paused the carols and curled up for a nap. It was as low-key as you can get.

And still still still, despite our PJs-and-leftovers approach to Christmas, the season managed to flatten me as surely as a wrecking ball. This happens every year. I imagine us strolling through a December as serene as the lyrics to Silent Night, our faces reflecting the twinkle of simple delights. After a Christmas of grand surprises and Norman Rockwell reenactments, we’d settle back with our eggnog to watch the snow fall and our children play jacks until the new year chimes in, inviting us to skip down new avenues of creativity and possibility with all those fresh reserves of energy. I imagine REST as the defining characteristic of our holiday.

Of course, my daydream version of December is 97% dependent on house elves while the other 3% is up to the weather.

Real December has a knack for turning joyful occasions into deadlines and togetherness into a theater production. At least it does for me. No matter how committed I am to slowing down and savoring the holidays, most spare moments still find me scrambling to finish the backdrops and props of traditional merriness while our budget burrows a hole under the fence. Some of that I’m sure is due to my being The Mom, which is shorthand for Santa-Claus-party-hostess-errandboy-housecleaner-magic-experience-coordinator-pixie, while the other part is that I’m terrible at letting go of expectations (mine + others’ + ones that I attribute to others whether or not that impression is accurate). I’m so afraid of disappointing anyone that I run myself into the ground preparing for events that I’m then too worn out to enjoy. Really, REST ends up being the opposite characteristic of my holiday, so it’s no big surprise that I tend to start January with an emotional hangover.

I’m not writing this to complain about our Christmas but rather to notice and remember—to acknowledge the patterns that end up depleting me and to tack my observations up on the doors of future Decembers. It’s only now that I really can begin to notice, with the girls back in school and house renovations wrapping up (what timing, eh?) and all the upheaval and rush and too-late nights of the past month gradually losing their grip on the present. Self-care can now get a word in edgewise, and I’m relieved to be getting back to myself. I love the sparkle of Christmas, but I also love the slow glow of a nourished heart. Here’s hoping that next year, I’ll finally find a way to combine the two.

How were your holidays?

13Nov

Where My House Elves At

(Prints available on Etsy*)

Dear Internet,
You’ve got some ‘splainin to do.

I know that sounds sitcom-silly at best and beat-cop-antagonistic at worst, but I mean it sincerely. We’ve been together a long time, you and I, from that first GeoCities homepage in ’99 (those synthesized MIDI versions of Third Eye Blind songs I had running in the background really classed up the joint!) to this morning’s reflexive Facebook scroll-through. I understand that change is inevitable over the years; neither of us is as earnest or as driven to gimmicks as we were in the early days of online socialization, and you never promised to conform to my expectations of you. Still, there is a certain version of reality that you’ve been projecting as something obvious and ordinary which continues to baffle me. And no, I’m not referring to the whole leggings-as-pants thing (though you’re welcome to explain that one too while you’re at it).

What I need you to help me understand is how the average Internet citizen of today seems to be able to juggle three or four full-time jobs at once. Let’s create a composite character for the sake of example: Harlingen Housewife is a totally average mother of four with her own Etsy shop and personal website. She gets up at 5 every morning so she’ll have adequate time to write a viral blog entry and run a few miles before making her family organic omelets for breakfast. While the kids are at school, she works on her third memoir, clears out her email inbox, and dusts the attic, keeping up a steady stream of Twitter banter all the while. After lunch, she focuses on her children, chauffeuring the older ones to extracurricular activities and facilitating art projects with the younger ones using a homemade watercolor recipe that she created on commission for Pinterest. Supper is quinoa-based. After reading the kids to sleep and treating her husband to a few rounds of lovemaking, she gets to work knitting custom convertible car tops for her Etsy shop. Only one or two tonight. After all, she needs plenty of sleep before her keynote speech at the next day’s Billionaire Bloggers Conference.

This is just a flat stereotype, of course. There are women who also manage to homeschool or run farms or travel the world or conduct publicity tours while doing all of the above. Some even hold down glamorous day jobs without missing a beat in their online success parade. Or at least that’s the picture you’re painting, dear Internet.

Here’s where my confusion comes in. I opened Twitter the other morning and immediately closed it again because—let’s be honest—99.7% of all Tweets nowadays are links to other pages, and I didn’t have time to read and compose retweetable comments on the thirty showing up on my screen, much less the thirty thousand queued up from the previous day. I didn’t have time because I was hoping to fit in a run before lunch, and adding two new pages to a writing project had already taken the lion’s share of the morning. The girls had an event scheduled for the afternoon, which meant that I would only have two hours after lunch in which to fit (or rather, fail to fit) errands, housecleaning, bookkeeping, emails, homework help, ironing, and a short lapse in judgment involving cookies… and there was the day, stretched out before me like a threadbare map, every inch of it already accounted for and found lacking.

You see, Internet, the contrast is just too great between what I’m able to do with my day (maintain a happy and occasionally hygienic home + write a little) and what you imply other moms are accomplishing with theirs (All The Things). Either I’m spectacularly incapable, or you’re skewing the truth. Or perhaps I’m just latching onto a skewed perspective of the truth that you never intended me to have. It’s hard to figure out sometimes what is real out here in the no-holds-barred glitter of your ether.

I realize that just because I can’t juggle multiple full-time gigs at once (and we DO agree that stay-at-home parenting is a legitimate occupation, right? good.) doesn’t mean that other people can’t. I also realize that the enviable personas attracting your spotlight are most likely supported by teams of babysitters and house elves and graphic designers and pizza delivery guys backstage. That’s just a hopeful guess though. For all I know, you could be the ultimate landing place for multitasking superheroes.

So please, dear Internet, in light of all the years we’ve spent together and my enduring love for the avenues of self-expression you’ve opened to the world, do me the courtesy of explaining:

  1. Whether or not task forces of mythical creatures are running the lives of successful bloggers for them
  2. What the primary difference is between my workday and theirs (if you say it’s a 5 a.m. wakeup time, I reserve the right to punch you in the throat even though I’ll know you’re right)
  3. What others are sacrificing for the appearance of having it all
  4. If those sacrifices have been worth the resulting success
    —and lastly—
  5. How anyone can keep up with Twitter and do anything else ever

Sincerely,
Puzzled in Perugia

 

~~~
*No

18Sep

The New Here

Next to my desk, a window opens onto the landscape of community. Puppies take on sidewalks with the zeal of cartographers while their owners shuffle behind in contrails of cigarette smoke. Utility trucks linger in the road to socialize with light posts and the odd pothole. A street sweeper dodges double-parked cars, painting cleanliness in drunken zigzags down the pavement. Women in house dresses putter on their balconies, shake tablecloths into the wind, rest their elbows on the ledge and survey the neighborhood with unabashed attentiveness. I wonder if they notice the masking tape still labeling our windows. On second thought, of course they do. They’re not afflicted with polite indifference like we the Americans.

We’ve been in this house less than two months, and I’m still walking through it with the curiosity and hesitancy of new acquaintanceship. I’m not used to its voice as it settles in for the night or the design of morning sunlight on its floors. I still drive toward our old house on automatic pilot, forgetting every. single. time. that we live on the other side of the neighborhood now. It’s only half a mile, but my perspective is still struggling to make the jump, to detach itself from one sense of home and apply itself to another. It’s okay. I’ll get there. And sitting at my desk pretending not to watch our new neighbors from behind a not-yet-cleaned window is as much a part of the process as unpacking has been.

~~~

I’ve been gone for a few months, not just from my blog but from myself as well. I don’t know how to put it any more truthfully than that.

Here in the spaciousness of retrospect, it’s not difficult to see how it happened, how life started amping up at a time when my heart was already dangerously threadbare, how I chose what looked the most likely path to surviving this summer. I shut down my inner life. We were scheduled to start moving the day after returning from a long and draining business trip, and the rest of the summer was already strung up in deadlines and impossible hopes like prayer flags on a spider web. There was simply no time to feel anything. No space for rumination, no margins in which to transcribe my heartbeat. The jaws of busyness were digging into me as effectively as a bear trap, and I had no energy for MacGyvering my way out. The next best option was to stop caring and, via that clumsy mental trickery, to stop feeling trapped.

I don’t recommend it, for the record. Self-smothering works to an extent, but at some point, your oxygen-deprived muscles will lose their grip on the pillow and air will rush into your lungs, driving like a spearhead against their atrophy. It usually happened in the wee hours of the night for me—the slipping resolve, the rush of thoughtsfeelingsdesireshurts, and the gasping pain of trying to breathe and trying not to all at the same time.

It was a hard summer, but one stippled throughout with moments of sheer beauty: toasting under the Barcelona stars to a full and hard-won decade of marriage with my Dan… standing awed and brimful next to my little sister and brother-in-law as they pledged their own marriage into being… sifting an inaugural rain of flour and cocoa over my new kitchen… reading adventure stories with the girls nestled like puppies beside me… dancing… kissing… tasting…

…until my need to engage in this messy, gorgeous, multifaceted human experience outweighed my urge to retreat from it.

It has been is a hard road back to life. The night still tugs at the sleeves of my mind instigating restlessness. I have to ration my energy, which only refills these days at the drip-slow pace of a morning in bed or an afternoon without responsibility. Joy and motivation and clearheadedness have been slow to return, and words slower still, but this return to blogging—a prospect that tinged my summertime periphery with anxiety—is proof of the more comprehensive return to myself.

~~~

Sunlight traces my desk with long September arms. The air outside rustles like notebook paper, and the compulsive energy rifling through it brightens my mind as effectively as caffeine.

This isn’t going to be the same kind of autumn as the last few have been for me. Rather than the usual heel-clacking charge into work and projects and PTA mode, I’m approaching the next month or so as a recovery period. The biggest change is that I’m no longer teaching. I stumble over my own tongue when trying to explain this to the kindly curious in my life. My reasons for stopping are valid, necessary even, but balancing my sanity on them for all to see makes me feel like nothing so much as an unsuspecting audience member called into the ring to perform a tightrope act.

There is such expectation hidden in the fine print of adulthood, especially here in Italy where nineteen mothers out of twenty work outside the home. Granted, most of them have nonne to cook their dinners and watch their littles, but it would be unfair of me to pin my career on the availability of relatives. For one thing, teaching has never felt like a career to me but rather an interim activity, a source of revenue and C.V. references during years when more authentic professional paths seem closed to me. Throughout this last decade of marriage and new motherhood, I’ve chosen jobs based solely on my ability to do them, and while I will always be grateful for each opportunity and experience, I can’t continue in this temporary holding pattern. It’s time to slip out of the parade of exhausting and unfulfilling jobs and directed my one wild and precious life’s energies toward finding My Work.

And then there are my girls, something like three feet taller and twenty years older here on the other side of summer. They’re loping ahead of me, more independent and articulate every time we sit down for bedtime stories (“You look tired, Mom; would you like me to read tonight?”), and I’m suddenly, fiercely, desperate to harness this fleet-footed stage of childhood, to slow time down with the full force of my attentiveness and appreciation. Time. Time off, time out, down time. Time to notice. Time to be with.

I don’t know how I can explain this urgency without jabbing barbs of discontent or regret into my fellow mammas. Neither do I feel capable of telling them that the trajectory of my career and the trajectory of my soul-identity have never matched and that I need this time, as fundamentally as I need oxygen, to find the right track. I’m plagued by the suspicion that I’m asking more than my share out of life. I worry that my explanations will either imply judgment or invite it, and the last thing I want my personal soul choices to do is to propagate unhappiness. Second-guessing is my first nature, here as in every growing process.

One surprising benefit of this summer’s withdrawal from life, however, is that I’ve returned without my former addiction to respectability. I still prefer others’ approval, of course, and I can’t entirely stop wondering how I line up in the estimations of the other parents at school, the customer service agent, the dressing room attendant, the gray-haired woman whose balcony perch allows her a perfect view of our bedroom. I don’t want to be viewed as flighty or incapable any more than I want to show up to a social event wearing the wrong clothes, but if I am to be the subject of others’ whispered conversations (which is already assuming myself far more important than I probably am to my acquaintances’ thought lives), so be it. The desire to fit in no longer holds the reins of my mind.

The view from here is welcome but unfamiliar, ever so slightly off-kilter with newness. This neighborhood and this season, both experienced before through younger versions of myself, tug equally at my imagination and insecurities. There is so much potential here for life to slump back into its old ruts, for me to grow disillusioned with forging a new path and return to the parade. I’m ever aware of the delicate effort it takes to remain present and accounted for. There is also potential for change, though—the new house a tangible excuse for cultivating new habits and the September wind as worthy a conduit as any for fresh starts. And delicate effort or not, I am here.

13Jun

Give It Up For Sanity

The school year has been blazing to an end in a last glorious succession of ceremonies and recitals and plays and class dinners. Folks, we haven’t seen white space on the calendar in three weeks. Ordinarily, we could focus our energy outward on all these events and just half-ass our way through home life, but rental agencies have been showing our house, and if you’ve ever had to get a building inhabited by two miniature artists and their work-from-home parents ready for viewing on a daily basis, then you know how absolutely minuscule I feel by day’s end.

Granted, I tend to lose perspective within two minutes of our schedule filling up, but it makes sense that I would feel like only a quarter of a person if only a quarter of my soul-waves are getting any airtime. When you’re moving and freelancing and juggling the unique physical-emotional-socioeconomic needs of your children and trying to keep your small family world spinning on its axis, there isn’t a whole lot of room left over for navel-gazing, not to mention frivolities like reading poetry in the bathtub or, say, communicating clearly with your spouse.

I know some people who seem to thrive on busyness, but I am not one of them. Sleep deprival and deadlines turn me into a manic-depressive robot (emphasis on the depressive). I have one of those high-maintenance souls that need long stretches of quiet—endless stretches, really, because if I can see the end, my mind will paint it as a deadline, and then the gentle work of steeping myself in reflection will take on all the pressures of a high-stakes job—and breathing room cluttered by nothing except for fresh flowers and the steam swirling off a cappuccino. I also need ungodly quantities of sleep. Think toddler on Benadryl.

The problem is in trying to arrange these amenities for myself while ever conscious of 1) how much I’m needed in the domestic and social and occupational circles beyond my own head, and 2) how little right I have to ask for luxuries like space and time when I’m already so very privileged. When I try to look at my life through a global perspective, I’m paralyzed by the disparities in women’s rights and opportunities, and if I am lucky enough to have fresh flowers and hot coffee on my desk, how could I possibly ask for a side of endless quiet?

I know this isn’t how compassion is meant to work; my freezing up with assumed guilt isn’t going to make the world a better place any more than it’s going to force my body-soul-mind mechanism to operate efficiently. Also, I’m cringingly aware of just how often I end up writing variations on the theme of Self Care Matters Even When Life Gets Busy. (I don’t dare scroll through my archives right now.) However, I have to admit that I still have zero idea HOW to maintain my own inner balance when life fills up. Everything that I do on a day-to-day basis feels important—indispensable even—so what do I give up in order to meet my ridiculous but necessary soul-needs?

This isn’t a hypothetical question. I really would like to hear from you, find out what you sacrifice in order to keep yourself whole and healthy, hear how you prioritize sanity in the thick of your own busy lives. Do you let the health food aspirations go and hire Papa John as your weeknight chef? Do you sweep your kids’ Legos under the bed when no one’s looking? Do you stock up on dry shampoo and pharmacy-grade deodorant and downgrade personal hygiene to “a nice idea?” What is it that you give up in order not to give up on yourself?

Help wanted

High-maintenance minds want to know.

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