A few weeks ago I attended a retreat–Knitting and Fiber Arts–at a beautiful camp and retreat center in Mountain Home, Texas. UbarU is managed by a foundation established by Unitarian Universalist churches in Texas. I’ve attended several retreats there, including last year’s needle arts retreat, but this was the best–actually one of the best weekends I’ve ever spent.
The peaceful setting–amazing, creative women to talk to, time to knit, stitch, read, take long walks or just chill on the porch–were just what I needed after a tough few months of running a challenging household. One late afternoon, I sat on the porch with a glass of wine and a magazine as the sun was going down and thought, “This is paradise.”
I have walked different labyrinths over the years, always hoping for some new insight, spiritual experience or a bit of serenity. I know it’s best to enter a labyrinth with no expectations, and most times I’ve had no remarkable experiences.
It was a cool, damp, misty Sunday morning. After worship I headed out, since the previous day I gone with two other women, and we were so busy chatting we missed it, walking right past it and returning to the meeting-house by a different route!
My thoughts on the walk centered on how to maintain the incredible sense of peace and timelessness the weekend was providing. My main issue has been my constant struggle with time.
A voice in my head (although it almost seemed to come from outside my head) whispered: “Whatever you struggle with becomes your enemy.” Wow, ok, I thought. “Do I really want Time to be my enemy? That’s a fight Time will always win.”
As I process this epiphany, I am learning to becoming friends with, or at least respectful to, Time, rather than being ruled by it. I try not to look at the clock too often. Don’t overschedule. Get enough sleep.
Of course I’m not doing it perfectly. Punctuality has always been a high value for me, and I hate to be late (or for others to be late). Trying to reduce stress by being more relaxed about time may actually cause stress if it makes me late or hurried.
I hope the peace treaty will hold. One of my favorite expressions is that “You have to pick your battles,” so this is one I hope I’ve quit.
* It’s uncertain if there will be a Part 2. This experience of walking the labyrinth brought other deep, profound insights that I am still processing and have not shared, and may never share, with anyone.
We thought 2016 was bad.
I try not to whine and complain. I’m a grownup and I do what needs to be done. But this is ridiculous. The state of the world and the country is absolutely terrifying, and I feel obligated to call my representatives daily, and if asked what issue I’m calling about I’m like Marlon Brando in “The Wild Bunch”: “Wadda you got?” Today it’s the crazy immigration policy, last week it was the inauguration of the most unqualified, certifiably insane substitute-for-human ever to occupy the White House. Tomorrow it will be the Supreme Court nominee, and every day it’s women’s issues, education, the environment and climate change–and on and on.
But to add to the misery, I am stretched to the limit. Not to share too much, my husband and granddaughter both need a lot of care and attention right now. My therapist said I sound like a harried mom. I told her I am, except it didn’t seem this hard 40 years ago. Of course I was 40 years younger!
Everywhere I turn there is something that needs doing. Appointments to be made, prescriptions to refill, a messy yard, laundry, clutter, meals, errands. The garage door opener quit and needs replacing. I wanted a haircut two weeks ago, couldn’t get in so let it go, and now I kind of like it longer, except for the bangs. (I usually trim them myself but I keep thinking I’ll get an appointment soon.)
I consider a long pee to be a break. Meditation is when I walk the dog, except when I’m trying to call my Congresspeople. I have “Art Day” popups on my phone calendar on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and they mock me. My to-read pile beckons, as do all my unfinished knitting projects. I made a pink hat for the march, but didn’t quite finish in time to wear it. But I did march!
I can thank the drump for making me an activist! I’m more engaged than I was during the Viet Nam protests.
However, I will close with gratitude:
- clear starry skies when I walk the dog at 5:45 a.m., sunny afternoons and beautiful parks
- my relatively good health, and abatement of sinus headaches (partly, I believe, thanks to a month of acupuncture treatments)
- despite many challenges, granddaughter is mostly doing well in school
- my sweet soft dog curling up against me when I nap
- enough: we are not rich, but we have a comfortable home, enough to eat and a nice life
- health insurance and good medical care
- my being able to take care of those who need it right now
- pedicures: I took my husband along yesterday because his back prevents him from cutting his toenails. He’s a convert!
- friends and family to back me up if I need help, and a loving church community
- living in a city with liberal values that cares about immigrants and minorities (to quote former governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry, Austin is the “blueberry in the tomato soup.”)
I realize that I live a life of middle-class privilege. But I’m still exhausted.
Now, if you’ll excuse me I need to pee, walk the dog and try to call my senators and congressman.
More than one person is wondering, if not saying aloud, why did I wait so long to go to the doctor after two weeks of coughing?
The short and easy answer is I kept thinking it would be better the next day. Magical thinking. It was just a tickly drainage cough and I didn’t really feel bad, except for interrupted sleep.
It’s not about money. Medicare and our Humana Medicare Advantage Plan (thank you, Government, for working well) mean that’s not an issue.
The other reason, as I told someone in an apology email after twiddling around with an RSVP for much too long: Grandmas just soldier on. It’s not conscious self-sacrifice; it’s just what we do.
Mostly, it’s time. Every day seems to get eaten up with errands, appointments, meal prep, shopping, child care, and my one essential nap. If I have one activity in the morning, it breaks up the day sufficiently that I don’t get to my own things: art, writing, knitting, reading. It’s more efficient to use those broken-up moments do a load of laundry, unload the dishwasher or walk the dog.
I should have gone to the doctor late last week, after a week of coughing. My Friday was totally open, but I just couldn’t give up my only free day that week. So I enjoyed a day of painting and futzing around doing what I wanted.
A few days ago I wrote:
If I am not the shepherd of my hours,
the Wolf of Time will steal them like helpless lambs.
By Monday I decided I needed to see a doctor, and the earliest appointment with the ENT was Thursday. I could have tried my primary doc, but again that magical thinking had me believing I’d be better by then and I could cancel the appointment.I ended up seeing a P.A. She did a thorough exam and workup and prescribed a steroid, antibiotic and cough relief.
What started as a tickly drainage cough morphed into a respiratory infection. I skipped allergy shots for this week, which the P.A. agreed was probably a good idea.
After a year and a half of shots I’m wondering when this will get better in this sopping, humid, never-gets-cold-enough-to-kill-off-the-allergens environment. A move to the desert? But I’m English! I couldn’t live in the desert. Last time I was in New Mexico, the mountains outside Albuquerque were on fire, the humidity was in the single digits and I woke up every morning with a nosebleed.
Tuesday has turned out to be my day. A few months ago I noticed I rarely have appointments or obligations on Tuesday. I work out and do errands and other chores on Mondays. I go to the gym when the cleaning crew arrives every other Wednesday, and Thursdays and Fridays often fill up with social engagements or appointments.
So I decided to keep Tuesdays clear, with the only rule that I do whatever I damn well please. That may mean a chore I’ve postponed, like cleaning the refrigerator, but usually it’s something fun: art, knitting, taking a walk, reading or, when the weather allows, sitting by the pool reading. It’s kind of an all-day artist’s date as proposed by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way.
We had one or both grand-kids for much of last week’s spring break, so this is my first free full day in two weeks. Granddaughter had a cold and cough so we stayed in and made art. We used toilet-paper rolls and paper towel rolls for some of our creations.
With wet weather and Chloe being under the weather, we watched several movies and I knitted–so much that my hands were sore. After the kids were gone we watched “Birdman,” and in order to rest my hands I gave myself a manicure to keep from knitting.
Here are my current WIPs (i.e. works in progress).
This Untouchable Tuesday has been a catch-up day, but it was what I was damn well pleased to be doing. And there’s still a lot of day left.
All summer I have been compiling a list of things I wanted to do when school started and the grandchild schedule eased up.
I’m finishing up tasks that have dragged on for some time, one of which was scanning old photo albums. The photos are fantastic–many were taken when my dad was in the Royal Air Force in Karachi (then India) from 1928–but the scanning was tedious, and I still have to organize the scanned images to share with family.
The summer was fun with the kids, going to the beach and spending time at our condo pool. But having a kid (or two) every other week meant I spent the other week recovering. I’ll have Chloe some weekends, and I have to get used to the idea of having this week free, next week free…
… to fill up with appointments, to start with. Dentist, gynecologist, eye and so on. Lunches with neglected friends.
We closed out a bank safe deposit box, which contained only our wills, so we’re going to update the wills and powers of attorney, financial records etc. and provide to my older daughter. It’s so much easier to do it now, when we don’t actually need it. I’m also going to take pictures throughout the house for an inventory of our worldly goods.
Chloe hasn’t played in the sand area in the courtyard for many months, so when we get some cooler mornings I’m going to clean it up (again).
It’s way past time for a condo newsletter. There is lots of news and many new neighbors.
I’ve created a template for Christmas cards. This year I’m going to do a small piece of original art on each one, similar to my Jillybeans postcards.
I have several craft, knitting, sewing and other projects hanging.
I want to refinish my old desk, which I had as a child. It’s too precious to neglect, and Chloe has put permanent marker and wite-out marks on it.
I can work on poems, journals and book ideas(and read books) any time.
There is always postcard art, which feeds my soul. That’s my default, every day.
Workouts. Errands. Household chores.
A neighbor recently described me as “driven.” I know I am incredibly blessed. Soon after we moved into the condo and I was feeling overwhelmed, I told an elderly friend I had too much to do. She said, “Be glad you have too much to do.” She has since passed on. I am glad I have too much to do.
Since I mentioned I’d be posting less until the Mozart Undead project is over, I’m using a piece I wrote more than 20 years ago. A friend recently dug it up. My editing skills have improved enough that I’ve cut it by at least a third. I hesitated to post it because I didn’t have any images. This weekend, my granddaughter played “paper store” in my office, and when I tidied up afterwards I ran across a painting done around the same time–Terri’s Garden!
My friend Terri taught me that sometimes it’s better to do something half-assed than not do it at all.
Terri lived in a rural community outside Austin. To be nearer her friends and activities, she spent many weekends at our house.
I enjoyed having her around because she’s one of the sunniest people I’ve ever met. She made me laugh in a way I didn’t with my own children. She also cooked, cleaned up and did more than her share. I kept hoping her habits would rub off on my daughter.
Terri was an early riser with lots of energy, so she started messing around in the back yard. She weeded the flower beds and bought seed packages, six-for-a-dollar, planting sweet peas and zinnias, reminding me to water them.
I did little in our rented duplex’s yard other than hanging a couple of planters. I didn’t think I had time to take care of a garden. It loomed as a major commitment, eating up my evenings and weekends.
I even tried to discourage Terri. The landscaping timbers were rotting. The beds were a breeding ground for hackberry seedlings. I told Terri if I were going to put in a garden I’d want the timbers replaced and a load of topsoil brought in, neither of which I could afford.
She blithely ignored me. One April Saturday morning, as she checked to see if the seeds were sprouting, I paused in my housecleaning and said, “Come on Terri, let’s to go the nursery and get some tomatoes. I’ll buy ’em if you’ll plant ’em.”
We returned with eight tomato plants, one bell pepper, four jalapeños, Portulaca flowers and 40 lb. of potting soil. Not the truckload I’d envisioned, but considering the depth of my commitment, it was a start.
Terri planted everything, checking with me for placement and light needs.
Later that afternoon, when Terri had gone off with friends, I went out to get some fresh air. I noticed how weedy and ragged the yard looked beyond Terri’s little garden. So with gloves and my few tools I went out and hacked at the hackberries.
I also picked up trash and doggie-do, and after a sweaty hour the overgrown yard looked much better. I hosed down the patio and went in to take a shower.
Each time I looked out I was amazed at how nice it looked, with hanging begonias, geraniums, the tomatoes and peppers and promise of more flowers, and the neater lawn. I had invested about an hour-and-a-half of my weekend.
If I can’t do something just right I usually don’t do it at all. I’m intimidated by the big blank canvas, the recipe with too many ingredients. It’s false economy; the saved time isn’t necessarily put to better use.
Terri’s garden still had a few weeds. Twenty-two years later I don’t even remember if it thrived or shriveled. For a little while we had a garden.
Of course some activities do require precision, care and commitment: surgery, pilot-training, bridge-building come to mind. But if it’s a choice between a weed patch and a weedy garden, I’ll share the weeding, watering and (if we’re lucky) the harvesting with Terri.
We had a burning bowl ceremony the last church service of 2013, writing things to be rid of in the New Year on slips of paper and burning them. Afterwards I told the minister, “I think I wrote the same thing last year.”
My paper said “Struggling with time.”
Starting my fifth year of retirement, I’m finding a rhythm. Despite wanting to sleep late every day at first, now I find I’m more productive waking to soft classical music at a reasonable 7:30 (I rose at 5 when I was working). It’s nice to putter around making coffee, writing morning pages or meditating, rather than racing to make up for time spent in bed.
But there never will be enough hours in the day, and I’m still frustrated by my lack of focus. In addition to all I’m already doing—poetry, writing, knitting, time with grandchildren, household projects—there are other pursuits I want to try.
Quilting has long attracted me, but sitting at a sewing machine seems too much like work. I considered hand quilting, which has more appeal. But one day I was trying to figure a way to repurpose a pair of guest towels given to me years ago, and realized I want to try hand appliqué! Found one book at the library but have only flipped through it.
One day on a walk I was puzzling through this dilemma of too many interests and too little time. Encountering a dead bird—or its parts, the head being separated from the body—
I thought about an artist who paints dead animals, tiny bird bones and the like. That reminded me of a blogger who highlights cutting-edge embroiderers, one of whom stitches birds.
All this came together in my mind, saying “Go back to the beginning. Go back to drawing. Just draw for a while, and don’t plan what to do after that.” I took many drawing classes toward my art degree. The teachers said “Draw every day.”
When I cleaned up my studio/office in last month I joked that someone in this house ought to take up art, because we have supplies: pencil, charcoal, pastel, oil pastel, markers, water-color pencils, paint, ink, and appropriate paper. My husband gave me a book, “The Yoga of Drawing,” that I’ve barely cracked. That would be a start, maybe with the dead bird.
So that is my “plan.” But: there are knitting and sewing projects pending; always newspapers, books and magazines to read; a Netflix movie growing mold; poems needing revision, and I should be submitting poems for publication. A stack of old family albums to scan and return to my niece. Book ideas. Recipes to try. Most important, grand-kid time.
An elderly friend once said, when I told her I was overwhelmed during a move, “Be thankful you have too much to do.” She is gone now.