Tag: Prioritizing

28Mar

Rehabilitation

This is when I know it’s an addiction—when I haven’t read a bedtime story to my girls in a week, when a friend leaves a voice mail after an email after a text message and then waylays my husband to make sure I’m okay, when I start thinking up next week’s grocery list on a Monday and run instead of walk to find a pen. My drug is accomplishment. It always has been, from the impossible checklists of my childhood to the precarious tower of college jobs, and like any chemical-inflamed dependence, it hollows out my living appetite.

Some wild-eyed part of my brain insists that when I can no longer find a single loose end to wrap up, not a single other must or should, my craving for accomplishment will finally be satisfied. However, I’ve watched through the keyhole as my own mind invents responsibilities, and I know the truth—that I crave the hunger more than I crave its end.

It’s a sobering realization that I can’t just… stop. Not without some iron-clad justification—six hours until sunrise, a waiting room lull—and even then, I only grant a temporary concession. I wake up in the morning pre-tired. I have woken up nearly every morning of my life this way.

No need to tell me that the valuable moments of life are the slow-cooked ones, the savoring of time with loved ones, the meditation melting on my tongue. I have known transcendence, but never in the scurry. It’s only when I’m still that the important unblurs. This blog owes its existence to my need for reflection and refocus, but sometimes, weeks like the last one take over and I lose sight of soul-care in my scramble to do more, always more, just one thing more and maybe it will finally feel like enough. I medicate the endless gnawing with my dust cloth.

Right now, sitting here honestly with you brings on the shaking effort of withdrawal. I can see every spill on the kitchen floor, every unfiled paper on my desk, and every shaded block on the calendar all at once, and they wage a trembling tug-of-war against gravity. My coffee is just strong enough to keep me in my seat as I fight myself on two opposing fronts. It’s every kind of unsettling.

But oh, I can feel it’s good. Deliberately refusing my compulsion to hurry and accomplish, choosing instead to stop and write and reorient, pushing back my panic at the ticking of the clock, ducking outside for a tryst with the cherry blossoms… this is my rehabilitation. It’s not easy, but it’s good, and I’m powering through the withdrawal this morning because being here does what grasping for accomplishment never can: It fills.

16Dec

Power Down

(Photo from our misadventurous trip to Milan in October;
wouldn’t you love to just sit on the side and watch the water glimmer by?)

The trick is finding a way to be still. I could push myself beyond sleep, breathe coffee, prioritize like a woman running for her life. I could certainly find a way to do more. But my soul… It starves while I pour myself into other forms of survival, and my heart retreats, scared off by the panicky mess it knows is coming.

You would not believe how frustrating it can be to fall into soggy crumbles when I try to sustain productivity for any significant duration. Those times I am trying the hardest to move mountains are often the times I showcase my incapability, and how the hell did I hold down jobs and a scholarship GPA in college? (Answer: I was a decade younger. Also, unlimited coffee refills at the all-night IHOP.) I can feel the shutdown coming on when I try to power through another late-late night, and that’s when I know it’s time to shut off.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t replied to your emails or responded to your comments or kept up with your blogs or thanked you personally for supporting my book, please know that I’m not ignoring you. On the contrary, I’ve never been so reliant on or so appreciative of this gorgeous online community. However, I’m trying to balance out the runaway rush of life light now with moments of quiet, computer closed and mind unplugged. It’s the only way I can fall asleep these days and the only way I’m going to survive this month with body, heart, and soul intact.

So this is me signing off for the night. See you tomorrow? 

14Dec

A New Way

It’s twenty to midnight, and my footsteps are splashing far too loudly on the asphalt. An urban legend I once heard about attackers hiding under cars with razor blades sweeps over me as it does every night when I’m the one locking up the offices. It won’t help to worry, but I grip my car key with bone-white knuckles and don’t breathe again until I’m on the road, headlights washing over empty parking lots and prostitutes with umbrellas. Their eyes haunt me all the way home, my prayers grounded with exhaustion. I pull myself upstairs, peek in on my sleeping daughters, and set an alarm to startle my next workday into motion six hours later.

This is not the way.

[Join me over at The Sacred Life for the rest, would you?]

16Nov

Write Fright

I should probably clarify after my last post—I don’t hate my job. Not even close. I get along well with my colleagues, I enjoy getting to know my students, and watching them improve in English holds a special satisfaction as all teachers know. However, the time factor simply isn’t sustainable for me. Teaching isn’t a job that can be done more quickly or efficiently to make time for other pursuits; when students pay for twenty hours, those twenty hours belong to them. Also, the job requires almost as many unpaid hours in lesson preparation, paperwork, travel, and office minutia as it does in paid ones. Throw in students’ schedule openings—usually only during evenings when my girls most need their mama and their mama most needs to unwind—and the stress of coordinating childcare when my husband’s traveling for work, and you have one headache of a lifestyle.

Possibly even more compelling is my realization that I’m only working for work’s sake, i.e. to earn something, keep my résumé current, pretend to be a bona fide adult, all the standard reasons responsible people sign over eight hours a day. I’m good at my job, but it drains rather than inspires, and I find myself increasingly resentful of the time it takes away from my real life, everything and everyone of big-picture significance to me. I can’t continue giving away the best of myself to what matters the least.

So Dan and I have a project in the works, a tangible form to one of the grand ideas I hinted at in my last post. I am equal parts terror and excitement. I am so tired from this year that I can hardly imagine summoning up the extra energy and enthusiasm this project will require, and I dread taking a risk that would dangle a very poignant kind of failure above my head. On the other hand, oh goodness am I looking forward to it. I’m desperate to dislodge my soul from my current routine, and this is an opportunity to dive back into my one wild and precious life rather than continue banishing it to the eternal waiting room of Someday. Even with my inner ‘fraidy cat protesting, it feels like the plunge into peace.

If it’s okay with you all, I’d like to take this opportunity to scream with fright, dance a little jig, and pour myself an extra coffee. It’s going to be a good winter.

Make mine a double

(Details are forthcoming; stay tuned!)

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.

28Oct

Timestamp

The world is too quiet when I’m the one locking up. Some sense of maternal duty I never asked for moves my hands to check thermostats, unplug coffee machines, and tuck an entire building of offices in for the night. The parking lot is isolated except for my car huddled like an island in the fog, but even in this vacuum of sound and light is the ever-present rush—to pick up the girls from the babysitter’s and carry them sleeping to their own pillows, to redistribute the mounting mess of our house, to hang the laundry already gone stiff, to herd myself into bed far too late and sleep poised on the edge of the next overfull day.

Recharge time is a luxury out of my price range these days, and so I stop counting coffees. Health is not a priority. Relationships are not priorities. Art isn’t, peace isn’t. There is no room for these things in 10-hour work days, no space for them in the file folders crammed with lesson plans. The only portrait of the future visible from here is a whiteboard, but I don’t have time to quantify the stark sense of loss that brings.

This is no way to live, but it feels like the only way for now… so I put the office building to bed, do the same with my family, and conjure back that fog-enveloped quiet to bring sleep if not rest.

29Sep

Chicken Glitzle

I wasn’t going to write this week. I had made peace with that, or as much peace as a woman can have while digging around in her bottomless purse for an inhaler while trapped in the fast lane (metaphorically. mostly.). However, despite the lists piled around my ears (not metaphorical, these), I can’t seem to close my computer right now and dash away. Perhaps it’s best to go with instinct on this one.

So here’s the scoop—The sky has been falling steadily on us for the last several weeks, and sometimes miracles are the projectile du jour, and sometimes bad news pelts down like a hailstorm of cinder blocks. I’ve done a lot of ducking and a lot of internal pep talking, but mostly I’ve been working my brain down to the bone in an effort to help us survive the next month or two. It remains to be seen if this will make any difference or not, but I have to try.

The worst thing for me about living each day “di corsa”—on the run—is that I check out of my own life. I’m not the marathon runner in our family, but I imagine that this is what it feels like to get into that mental groove and see nothing beyond but a finish line. I have my blinders on and my focus given fully over to effort, but the glaring problem in this scenario is that I don’t see a finish line. I only see a falling sky.

I am probably employing just a tad more drama than our situation actually warrants, but I’m surprisingly bad at Zen when worries compound and I can’t get out of the fast lane to examine them properly. I’m distracted and rushed and knotted up and pretty thoroughly disconnected from All That Is Important.

So I’m skipping town. I’ve been invited by none other than my business-tripping crush to be his date at a banquet on Lake Como this weekend, and I’m going to put on my best impression of elegance (maybe in the back of the closet?) and pretend to be a celebrity for one glitzy evening, and hopefully, as the mood shifts from Chicken Little to Cinderella, I’ll be able to plug back into my own story.

And if it doesn’t work… well, every banquet needs a drama queen, right?

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