I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately, mostly because I’m in a place to observe how I spend it. That is probably true for most of us lately.
I’ve been asked a few times recently how I’m spending my days. It’s a tough question to answer. Last week was slightly derailed by the third semi-move we’ve made in the last year. Roughly half our belongings fit into our new apartment, which is roughly half the square footage of our old one. The rest were stored in my mother’s garage, which was attached to the house that she just sold. With a closing date looming, it came time to sort the remaining things. What a strange thing to decide the emotional value of physical belongings. And I’m not entirely sure I would have been able to conjure the energy to do so if it weren’t for my dear friend Sara, whose ability to make one laugh in the midst of a poo-storm is absolutely remarkable. She deserves a special shout out today, because she made the absolute worst task seem like a simple afternoon of girl-bonding time, just as delightful as getting pedicures on a sunny day.
Ultimately, we parted with the majority of what was left. It felt a bit like chucking food off a life raft to keep it from sinking. Maybe that’s a bad analogy. Food is life sustaining. Dressers and armoires are not. And truthfully, I didn’t harbor much sentimentality over the whole affair. We’ve simply created space.
Now that we are through the holidays and fully unpacked, our days are fairly orderly and calm. Internally they still feel chaotic and disordered, mostly because I have no clear directive at the start of each day. I try to create one the night before, mapping out how many hours I will spend job hunting (and in which city/town/state) and how many hours I will spend writing (and for which place/publication/topic). But because none of these endeavors currently garner an income nor carry a deadline, other than the imminent need to produce something, it all feels a bit jumbled by the end of the day.
I notice that I have a lot of ideas about how I should be spending my time. I notice too how bound I am to my need to feel productive. I’ve talked about this in the past. So much of my worth depends on my daily output. But even now, when there is literally no outside pressure on me, I end each day feeling as though I have somehow fallen short, as though I wasn’t as responsible with my time as I could or should have been. I always thought that pressure came from above, from deadlines and bosses and looming exam dates. I am only now beginning to understand how much of this narrative is self-imposed. Turns out, I put my own damn self on the hamster wheel. (Sidebar, I just learned there isn’t a P in hamster, which means I’ve been spelling it wrong my entire life).
I’ve been reading Sheryl Sandburg’s Option B, which is a great handbook on grief. She wrote it in the wake of her husband’s unexpected death. She talks about how she felt so unproductive in the weeks and months following and how she was tempted to feel like a failure in the midst of that unproductivity. She was certain she would never be like her old self again, never be able to give or do as much as she used to or in ways that were meaningful. In response, she took to writing down three things she accomplished each day. Brushing teeth, making dinner, folding a pair of socks. I’ve started doing the same, though I fear that sense of failure long predates my brother’s death. I welcome this change and the notion of ending my day focused on successes instead of tallying failures.
Still, it is a challenge. I’ve been trying to habituate myself to a new morning routine, one that I can keep in place once the busyness of life resumes. I seem to be perplexingly and impressively committed to the American work culture that I thought I vehemently abhorred. I’m surprisingly attached to the idea of a 9-5. And I value productivity… even in its most futile form… over caring for my body and mind. It’s kind of illogical. I am twice as productive when I visit the gym and meditate before starting my work day. And yet, it feels like a guilty pleasure. It feels like spending time doing a thing that won’t eventually yield an income.
Silly, right? But I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way.
I am trying to practice acceptance. I am trying to focus on what I am accomplishing. I am trying to look at the big picture and acknowledge that creating new habits is really difficult. It doesn’t happen overnight. But the payoff is there. In addition, I’m aware that my body is doing some deep healing. It is working to expel grief and trauma from the DNA of my being. And not just last year’s but a lifetime’s worth. The last year simply opened the door to things that have long been closed. I feel like I’m leaking rusty oil from my joints. And so, in the midst of trying to produce an income, my days are simultaneously geared toward allowing space for all these things to be processed and healed. That feels like an incredible gift.
As a part of that process, I’ve started doing acupuncture. There’s a beautiful community center in our city that offers it. Little life-saving luxuries suddenly accessible. For the past few Saturdays, I’ve walked into a peaceful, meditative space. I choose one of four foldable, zero-gravity chairs and remove my shoes. I tell the acupuncturist Sam about the way I feel stuck in my body, about the inexplicable anger that I cannot seem to shake, and how I worry that I will never move forward from this stuck place. In response, Sam sticks me full of needles. Most recently, he asked if I have the persistent feeling of a lump in the back of my throat. I look at him as though he has guessed my secret lucky number (of which I have none) and tell him, “Yes! For years!”
“That happens,” he says, “when we are angry.”
Apparently, I’ve been angry a lot longer than I thought, swallowing it down, keeping it tucked into the unseen place… or trying to. Sam wants to let it out. “You might feel a bit explosive over the next few days,” he warns. “Also, this will be a process. It won’t happen in just one week.” I wonder if I should call my friends, one by one, and tell them not to talk to me until the lump in my throat has safely disappeared. Or my daughter.
I consider all of this forward progress. With the holidays and moving behind us, perhaps I am finally finding my feet beneath me, shucking off pieces of baggage that I have clung to for far too long.
Next week marks the one-year anniversary of my brother. I’ve been writing a lot as I near that date. I hope to share a bit of it soon.
P.S… the cat is doing well. Daily, I laugh about the fact that my cat… my cat… is on anti-anxiety meds. I guess it makes me feel a little better about making it through the year.