It’s infinitely odd to move back into your childhood home as an adult.
You know this house inside and out - where each dish fits within the cupboard, the odd way you have to jiggle the handle of the bathroom door, exactly which stairs will creak as you try to sneak out after curfew. A thousand physical manifestations of the girl you once were. The comforting realization that at least here you know who you are. The terrifying realization that this place will give you no indication of who you could be.
Yes, these walls have seen you transform before - from the caterpillar crawling of your elementary-school days to the butterfly-wing stretch of high school graduation. But you have the sneaking suspicion that each chrysalis holds just one use. Now that this one has cracked open, you cannot crawl back inside. You cannot expect to emerge once again, another species of butterfly, wings larger and more beautifully painted than before. Becoming a butterfly was supposed to be the end of the story of the girl who lived in this house, not a midway pit stop in the larger journey of the woman who traveled away and back again.
You wander the rooms and the hallways, counting steps and ducking through doorways that seem somehow smaller. As you dust knick knacks, you note the cracks that you never saw before. Either ithey had not yet broken, or you had not been looking.
You fight twin desires: Enshrine this house, found a museum to a personal history, mount plaques proclaiming that B once slept here. And: Burn it to the ground, roast marshmallows over the dying embers. Watch the fire die down until you can sift through the ashes for the door hinges that survive to take with you as you move to someplace new. To compromise, you redecorate. You move into the bedroom that once belonged to your mother, feeling like a fraud as the days of playing dress up in her closet glimmer in the back of your mind. You clean off countertops and pack small items into boxes that you throw into your brother’s old room, a secret revenge for the fact that he is not here to help you sort the meaningful from the mundane. Unwilling to throw anything out for fear you might need it later, you shift furniture around as if moving them to a new location gives you ownership over the pieces that your parents once used to make a life. You tear down the curtains your mother always had on the window so that more light will come in, gleefully ripping the fabric into small squares so that it will again be “useful” as rags.
And though you may not yet know what to do with your days here, you have to admit: it’s lovely to wake to the sun streaming in on your face.
So, I started my last question to B by writing that I had seen signs everywhere that people were lamenting the perceived lack of time in their lives. Now, as I prepare to write about how great it is to say “no,” I must acknowledge that I am far from the first person do so. In fact, there was a New York Times Smarter Living article a few weeks ago that discussed the power of saying no (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/26/smarter-living/if-its-not-a-100-yes-its-a-no.html). But all that aside, I just wanted to update you all on the progress I’ve made on some of the issues described in my question to B, specifically the poetry journal and the weekend-only guy.
I ended up emailing the poetry journal last Sunday (3/11) and quitting right then and there. Of course, right after I sent the email, miles of doubts ran through my mind: “I shouldn’t have quit, I want to be super involved in the creative writing world one day, this position could’ve led to me being a journal editor, how am I supposed to know the types of poems I’m competing against when I submit to journals if I’m not reading for one myself, etc." But my brain quickly calmed down, and days later I still think I made the right decision. Time will tell. The lesson here is that there is almost always trade-off. Of course I couldn't avoid losing something when I quit. I lost a window into the literary journal world, and perhaps a path to future opportunities. But I also gained a lot of time: time to work on my own writing; to say yes to future, as-yet-unknown opportunities; and to just REST and DO NOTHING while watching a different Marvel movie with my friends every Saturday until "Infinity War" comes out, instead of simultaneously, furiously reading through piles of poems.
One other note: the journal editors I worked with were quite gracious, and though I didn’t even offer to become a reader again when I felt like I had more time in my life – as B said, offer only if you really mean it, and I wouldn’t have really meant it – they said I was welcome back any time. I’m so grateful to feel like that door is not completely closed, and at the same time to feel no obligation whatsoever to go back, because I wasn’t the one who suggested it.
Okay, now for the update on weekend-only guy. We couldn’t meet last weekend because his friend was in town, so I agreed to a weeknight meet up. We were supposed to meet Wednesday, and I asked if he wanted to come to my Chicago neighborhood for a drink, but he countered by asking if I would just go to his apartment. This was going to be our third date; for the first I went to his neighborhood for drinks, and for the second I went to his apartment. Even though I uncomplainingly agreed to go to his apartment after he asked me to for this third date, inside my head I was annoyed; I thought that it was high time for him to travel to me. But somehow I didn’t have the courage to say that. One reason was that he works long hours and wasn’t getting home until 8 or 8:30 Wednesday night. But another reason was that he’s always assertive about his preferences and I like to think (with him and with other people) that I just don’t care as much. But if I really look inside myself, I discover that’s not true. In most cases, I actually have clear wants, needs, desires, and preferences.
Before I reached that point of clarity, however, I had a long stretch of time where I was full of anger towards him. How ridiculous! He didn’t do anything wrong. He even gave me an out when he asked me to go to his place, saying, “I understand if you don’t want to come over again.” The real truth is that my anger started even before I texted him “Yes;" it started when he asked me to come over in the first place. In fact, my anger blinded me so much that I didn’t even REGISTER the out he gave me until I went back hours later to look over that text. I guess I felt so obligated to acquiesce to his preferences that it felt like he was forcing my hand. (To be fair to me, the fact that he even asked me to travel to him a THIRD TIME does warrant some annoyance, in my opinion. But it does not warrant as much anger as I actually felt.)
Anyway, in the midst of all this anger, I went on a run after work. As I ran, I realized that there was no good reason to go over to this guy’s place later that evening if I really didn’t want to. I liked him, but not that much, so there wasn’t much to lose. And even if I had been way more into him, accommodating his request with hidden anger bubbling up inside me would not have been healthy or good for either of us. So I texted him this, is so many words: I’m so sorry, I should’ve been more truthful earlier, but I don’t feel like leaving my neighborhood tonight. I’ve gone to your neighborhood twice and now I feel like it’s your turn to come here.
And he was so understanding! He said he could definitely come here, and we could reschedule for a night when he didn’t have to work until 8 or 9pm.
So as you can see, I dished out two “no's" this week, even though I had to take back “yes's" to do so, and I am SO glad I did. I’m not saying it changed my life completely; I’m just saying it improved small logistical aspects of my day-to-day life, and it empowered me in the process. And that, my friends, is worth the sacrifice.
Now that it is 10pm, I am finally sitting down to write to you. I had thought up my topic this morning - how I feel way too busy, like I never have enough time - and then, throughout the day, I kept seeing posts on social media in that same vein. E.g., “I have priorities, my problem is most of them are first priorities;” someone quoting Maria Popova: “The cult of productivity has its place, but worshipping at its altar daily robs us of the very capacity for joy and wonder that makes life worth living;” and advice that having fun is a key to good health, and “requires disconnection from routine.” SO, signs from the universe that I chose a good topic. :)
Basically, I was wondering if you had any advice for me on how to create more time and open up space in my life. Too often I feel rushed, and like I never have time for what I REALLY want to do. Being an adult is crazy: I do my laundry, go grocery shopping, make meals for the week so I don’t always eat frozen food and/or eat out, do dishes, exercise, hang out with friends, try to go on a few dates so I can say I’m “trying,” etc. My evenings fill up so quickly and I feel like I never have enough time to do NOTHING. I also try to practice my flute, read for fun, and work on my creative writing. At the same time, I think to myself, I must be doing something wrong, I’m not SUPPOSED to feel this crushed for time. So I judge myself and think the problem is more me than it is the society around me (it’s probably a mix of both).
One concrete thing I should maybe do is quit the poetry journal I joined as a reader (i.e., reading and voting on poetry submissions, about 3-4 hours a week). I just joined at the beginning of January, so I would feel bad for quitting barely 2 months later. But it is a lot of work, and though I do get some benefits from it, I think it’s taxing me more than anything. But I’ve thought this for weeks and haven’t quit! B, help me quit!
I also deleted my dating apps in January and have just gone on a couple dates since then, but this one guy I’ve seen twice keeps asking and asking for my time on weekday nights, and I keep saying no. I’ve finally asked him if we can keep it to weekends for now. I’m proud of myself for voicing my needs, but his prior neediness (what I perceive as neediness) keeps weighing on my mind. I enjoy hanging out with him in person but I don’t enjoy how much he’s asking of me. Is it even worth it to keep seeing him? I’m lonely and I want a boyfriend, but I also feel like my time is precious to me and I don’t want to share it with this guy. Does that mean he’s the wrong guy, or that I need to focus on me right now and shouldn’t be looking for a relationship with anyone, period?
Perhaps I haven’t given you enough context for you to answer all these questions - but any thoughts are appreciated. :) Much love to you, B.
I definitely feel you on this question - I believe we both recall the fateful day when I declared that showering takes too much time.
I see a lot of absolutes in this question. I’ll start backwards, because I think your last paragraph is the easiest to address. Not wanting to spend weeknights with a guy does not automatically equal that he is the wrongest wrong guy to have ever lived, or that dating is not something you should be doing at all right now. It just means that, right now, for you, dating on the weekends is all you want. That’s fine! That’s a perfectly valid way to date!
Good on you for telling boy what you wanted. Now it’s up to him to say, “Yes! Weekend dates sound wonderful, let’s do that.” Or he can also say, “I’m looking for someone to spend every waking minute with. So sorry that is not you, but I wish you the best.” Vaguely wanting a boyfriend does not mean that you have to automatically give over all your time to a potential beau. You don’t need prove that you are “serious enough” or “really trying” to date. You also don’t need to give up dating altogether if weekend dates are something you enjoy. Embrace being a person who dates on the weekends, and feel no guilt for saying no to weeknight dates. Weekend boy may eventually turn into All the Time Boy. He might also turn into Never Ever Boy. I think going on dates when you feel like your schedule allows for the moment is a great way to let that all unfold in its own time.
Now on to the trickier stuff. As much as I wish I could, I can’t wave a wand and give you 5 more hours in the day. Also, knowing you, you would fill those hours with worthwhile things that you are passionate about and we would be right back where we started. And I don’t think cutting out some things that you love is going to actually give you any more peace about how your time goes by. So I think it’s probably better to focus on ways to maximize your time doing things that you choose.
One way that I do this is by combining things. I am a big fan of having an audio book or a musical or some band that I LOVE playing while I bop around doing chores. Is there a way you could add a soundtrack to your daily chores to make that time feel less like awful drudgery and more like a nice little interlude in your day? Additionally with date boy, can you plan some dates that also get things done for you? I personally would LOVE going on a date to the grocery store (especially one with free samples) so that we can both get our weekly groceries, then going back to one or the other’s house to cook a meal/meal prep for the week together. Is that something that you would like?
If that sounds way too stressful, there’s also the opposite strategy. I’ve noticed my husband feels way more stressed out when we try to do too many things at once. He prefers to do a task, give it his full attention, and finish it. Are you trying to pull yourself in too many directions while you race around completing little bits of things? Do the unfinished tasks weigh on your mind so that you’re never truly relaxed? Maybe you need to take a breather from doing all the things at once and just pick one or two priorities a day. Yes, they may all be first priorities but I don’t think the world will end if a day or two passes on them.
Which brings me to my last suggestion. Write things down. I don’t know what kind of schedule/to do lists you may or may not already make, but the human brain calms down almost instantly when it can see a clear list of all the tasks waiting for it. Letting things float about nebulously in our heads makes them bigger than they really are. Even tiny tasks like dropping a letter by the post office can take up way too much executive functioning if we constantly fear we will forget it. But if “Mail letter” is written down in a place where you trust that you will look at it, that small task can leave your conscious mind.
For me at least, I’ve found that writing out a list focuses me enough that I can accomplish all the “obligations” and find some time to just chill and breathe.
And to your last question - should you quit reading for the poetry journal? Based on your letter, I’m leaning strongly towards yes. I don’t think it’s out of line for you to tell your contacts at the journal some version of exactly what you told me. Life is unpredictable and even commitments made with the best of intentions can not work out. It doesn’t make you flaky or irresponsible or bad at time management to realize “this is a thing that I like, but it is not a thing that I can/want to/am able to do right now.” I would send them an email saying something like, “Dear Journal People, I’ve really enjoyed my time reading for Journal and am grateful to be a part of this effort to publish such talented new poets. As I’ve settled in to my role here, I’ve realized that the schedule really doesn’t make sense with my life right now. I’ve had several new projects pop up at work/I recently got a cat/I have familial obligations that are now taking a significant portion of the time I thought I could devote to Journal. While I regret that I will have to step down so soon, I would rather that Journal have a reader who is able to give this role the time that it deserves.” You can also add in something about how you would like to come back on when your schedule calms down, but only add that part in if you REALLY mean it.
Hope all/any of this helps! Wishing you all the very best and a few moments to yourself each day.
Those of you who follow us on Instagram (@amazedandbemused) may have seen the quilt I photographed at the Art Institute in Chicago, along with the Art Institute’s analysis that “quilt making… mirrors the construction of memory, which is pieced together from diverse experiences and often edited or embellished.” So true! Not that I’ve ever made a quilt…
What I did not post was that the quilt I photographed is a friendship quilt. It was made for Ella Maria Deacon in the 1800s, perhaps as a farewell gift of the eve of her marriage and ensuing move. It’s hard to see in the picture, but some squares even have embroidered messages such as “Remember Me.” I find these messages simultaneously heartbreaking and beautiful. To have friends love you enough to make such a gift, and yet to move so far away from them – I can definitely relate to this. Though communication over distances is infinitely easier in today's world, we are also a lot more mobile. This leads to a double-edged sword: more goodbyes, and more reunions.
This week I not only went to the Art Institute, but I also reflected on the fact that a reunion doesn’t have to happen in person. One thing you can do is pick up the phone and call a friend, even - gasp! - without texting first. I did that three times, with three different friends, this weekend, just because I felt like it. It’s kind of liberating and, as cheesy as this sounds, truly nourishing for the soul. I definitely don’t throw that phrase around lightly; I’ve tried to follow so much advice, including keeping a daily list of things I’m grateful for, and a lot of it I wouldn’t call soul-nourishing. (But if gratitude lists are your thing, by all means, you do you!)
For me, though, there’s something about the nuance of a phone conversation that really fills me up. I get a good sense of what’s going on in my friend’s life, on both a situational level (day-to-day activities) and a more emotional level, and hopefully they get the same from me. This connection helps bridge the distance between us, even if we only talk every few months. So if you have friends, long-distance or not, that you feel like calling, I definitely encourage you to do it. That’s my advice for the week. :)
Two more notes: 1) Another great way to connect with people and avoid texting is to send a handwritten letter. 2) But as soul-nourishing as phone calls and letters can be for me, I have to keep in mind the fact that if I think too much about them in advance, they become chores; burdensome lines on my to-do list. As my mother always says, if you worry about something too much before you do it, you’re doing it twice. So if you decide to take up the task of a making a phone call or writing a letter, my last advice is to bring joy and spontaneity into it. To paraphrase self-help guru Geneen Roth, whom I’ve mentioned before on this blog: I cannot meditate every morning (to use one example) if my main goal is to be a person who meditates every day. But if my main goal is to feel peace and joy, the motivation is easier to find.
Now it’s your turn; go find your joy!
I’ve recently started a new full time job, a huge blessing for my professional life (and my finances) but much larger drain on my time and energy than I was prepared for. Obviously yes, I knew that 40 hours a week would be a huge change from the 25-30 odd hours that I had been working previously. And learning to be an adult that works a significant portion of my life out of my house has been a huge transition. I thought I had fully come into my own as an adult, taking care of all responsibilities and feeding my own creative and intellectual pursuits. I thought I had this whole work-life balance thing down. Oh boy, does that all take on a whole new dimension now.
I’ve been feeling harried lately, not by the demands of my actual job, but simply by the way I felt like the time I had to do literally anything other than work had compressed. Folding laundry, which used to be a leisurely three hour task for me, now became this huge stupid thing that I had to finish in 5 minutes or I would have NO TIME to do VERY IMPORTANT things like scroll on pinterest. I’ve also been keeping my work phone on me constantly, determined to prove that I am a committed employee who understands that work comes first.
To a certain extent, this is a good thing. Really, no one needs to spend hours of their life scrolling pinterest or Instagram, or what have you. And I do appreciate the way that having less time has made me prioritize what is truly important to me and forced me to do those important things first. But the general effect was that I felt like all of my time was spent on things that I care about deeply, and that I had to appreciate the heck out of. And that, in my strange little brain, is a direct recipe for feeling very, very stressed.
I’ve always been a huge proponent of self-care, especially when friends come to me feeling drained. Somehow, as seems to be the case time and time again, I wasn’t so good at taking that advice myself. The past month since taking the new job has been filled with some steep learning curves, exciting challenges, and wonderful opportunities. But it was also filled with things that I fe like I couldn’t say no to, which left a lot less time for the things that really made me want to say yes.
Today, Presidents’ Day if you live in the United States, was an amazing gift for me. I was thankfully not scheduled to work, and took full advantage of the morning. After some lazy time with coffee, reading an entire book (written for young adults, so not as amazing as it seems), and watching Planet Earth, I decided to take my pup up for a hike to the local dog park. It happens to have an amazing view of the lake and I sat and soaked in the sun glinting off the water.
The moment was nice enough that I wanted to take a picture. Reaching into my pocket, I noticed that I had let my phone battery get down to about one percent. Normally, this would cause me to rush home so I could be sure that I wouldn’t miss anything crucial that might come up. But today, after staying close to my phone for most of the weekend even though I was supposed to be “off the clock,” I decided that my phone could die and the world probably wouldn’t end. After snapping a quick photo of the lake, I slipped my phone into my pocket and forgot about it. Pupper and I went home when we got tired, rather than sticking to some arbitrary time table that I forced on myself.
When I got back to my house, I found that there were a few work messages. But I dealt with them all quickly and felt far less panicked about it all than I probably would have if I had been receiving the updates in real time. Yes, I was lucky that a true emergency hadn’t happened, but overall I think it was a good lesson. I’ve heard so many times about self-care, recharging one’s batteries, and filling the cup so you have more to give, and all of those lovely metaphors. The poet in me is tickled that my “recharging” experience involves a dying phone, though the rational part of my brain is muttering that this is a saccharine, overplayed image.
But the larger point is that I was choosing to feel like I had to keep my work phone on at all times. But the reality is that keeping my phone with me was a choice I was making. And I will be a better, more committed employee if I don’t feel like the rest of my life is suffering to make all that oh so important work stuff happen. I guess it took this gorgeous lake view to really make it real for me. I’m going to try protecting my weekend time much more, building in a specific hour for work and then turning my phone OFF. We’ll see how it goes.
What are your preferred self-care practices? How are you building a work life balance? Tell us in the comments!