Tuesday, January 22, 2019

milestones and other rocks

1. the middle will write itself (unfortunately not literally)

Some small but important things happened since my last post, and it feels necessary to mark them here, because subtle milestones, like subtle angst, have a way of getting lost in the churn of everyday. I mean, they are the churn of everyday, which is why they’re so easy to not see.

I’ve been thinking a lot about units of time. I know what I want in the big picture—love, creativity, and whatever makes those things possible on Maslow’s pyramid. I sort of know what it takes to translate those things into a single good day. Read. Write. Connect with people I care about. Clean some small square of my house and take a walk. (I often don’t do any of these things because work, because life, because phone.) But when I think about the middle range, I tend to panic: What is my five-year career plan? Do I have a five-year career plan? Is it utter hubris to assume I’ll be alive in five years?

One solution—and I’m not being facetious here—is to not think about the middle range. Trust that it will write itself if you work on having good days and moving in the general direction of love and creativity.

The other thing that has been a beautiful balm for the What if I’m doing it all wrong? voice in my head is the IKEA Writers Collective. Toward the end of 2018, a writer named Shea posted in a Facebook group for writer parents that she wanted to finish a draft of her book, and she needed some accountability partners. A group text grew out of it—Shea, Aubrey, Debbie, Jennifer, Hannah, and me. They’ve been, essentially, an antidote to the image of Writer as white man who locks himself in his office at a beautiful wooden desk for four hours a day—and even to my more contemporary image of Writer as multi-platform Millennial who crafts zingy Tweets against old white men and gets an instant book deal as a result.

We cheer every time Shea puts a star for writing five hundred words on the sticker chart she made herself. We weigh the pros and cons of having a second or third kid. We share pictures of messy houses in solidarity or admit, as Hannah did, “I think it’s still too early in our relationship to show you all a picture of my sink.”

It is early, and I’m in the throes of infatuation, but bear with me.

This isn't any of our living rooms. This is IKEA.
Aubrey texted about a dreamy solo trip to IKEA, and we all extolled the joys of childcare and veggie dogs, and wasn’t there like a wholeTV show shot in secret in IKEA’s staged rooms? That’s when we began dreaming of a writing retreat at IKEA, or anywhere really—any place that would understand and cater to the needs of trying to write in the midst of everything else. The churny intersection of the spiritual and the banal would have to look like IKEA, I think.

These five women, all of them really good writers, have given me the gift of not making it look easy. And the paradoxical result is that writing has gotten a tiny bit easier. For the past few weeks, I’ve been writing for twenty or thirty minutes before Dash wakes up. Dash, for his part, has given me the gift of sleeping till 7 or 7:30, which could change at any minute. But I’ll do this while I can, when I can. I’ll take these gifts and run with them and try to trust that when they depart, there will be others.

TFW when your memoir is flowing.
Almost exactly a year ago, I finally admitted that I needed to write the first section of my memoir—all the anger and longing and heartbreak and semi-psychosis that predated cancer. I didn’t want to, but Dan (of our late great writing group that never quite got off the ground) encouraged me to do it. Thank you, Dan. That section exists now. It’s messy and full of holes, but it exists. It’s 112 pages. I have two big sections to go, which exist in the form of journal entries. But they exist too. So I could call that a…draft? For the first time in forever (picture Kristen Bell’s voice singing it, Frozen fans) my memoir feels like a project, not just a weight I’m carrying around.

2. next stop, flip-flop station

I also feel like I pushed through something in my relationship to my job, although that is as much of a work-in-progress as the memoir.

Something is shifting with Dash, too. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but this has happened since he was a baby, where I’ll periodically look at him and see a new person and feel a little shy and shaken, like I need to reintroduce myself.

For the past six months or so, I’ve appreciated that he’s getting more independent, and I think I over-celebrated my ability to do other things while he’s in the room. I became a little bit obsessed with what I could clean or cook while he played with his cars, and I was always jumping into the addictive blue glow of games and socials on my phone. It wasn’t good for me or him, and in small fussy ways, he’s let me know.

I’m trying to listen to him, and to think of this as a chapter in our attachment, where he’s voicing his needs and I’m adjusting because I am attuned, vs. a failure to take care of my kid, vs. choosing a dumb fashion game over my child.

Just this past week or so, I’ve focused on giving him my undivided attention for ten or twenty minutes at a stretch. Those bites—like writing for twenty minutes—are doable, and they add up. As Dash becomes more engaged with his surroundings, he’s also more sensitive to them, and he seems more likely to need a break from the stream of activities AK and I drag him to. He needs to sit under a blanket with me and read picture books, or build a roller coaster, or pretend our kitchen chairs are a bus (passengers include Mama, Mommy, and a lone flip-flop; our stops are Mama Station, Mommy Station, and Flip-Flop Station).

He needs space and breath, and it turns out I do too.

Photo by Roopak Ravi on Unsplash
You’ve probably heard that management parable, about how you have a big jar that represents your time, and you have to put the big rocks in first, followed by pebbles, followed by sand. These geological objects represent your priorities, in descending order. If you fill the jar with sand, you’ll have no room for the big rocks. Homeboy’s head baker once performed a live demo of this at Morning Meeting, using tennis balls and marbles.

I don’t disagree with the metaphor, but I’ve been thinking about how the type of sand makes a difference. Maybe not all the grains of sand can be a returned email or a scrubbed sink. Maybe they shouldn’t all be a stroll through Instagram’s suggested videos, either. And maybe some of the space in the jar needs to remain unoccupied. Just air.