“… I could only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto.” ~ Ray Bradbury in Zen in the Art of Writing
Lately, we’ve been talking about boredom and its funky bedfellow, the blahs.
If you’re in a rut, finding your days are too much but not enough, let’s look at a potential overdose of the word should.
I should go for drinks after work…
I should go to my neighbor’s essential oil/fondue pot/jewelry party—with my checkbook…
I should volunteer to head up the bake sale…
Maybe you should; maybe you shouldn’t.
We don’t always look before we leap. More is better, right? More networking leads to more success. More activities for our kids equals more chances for them to shine. More acquaintances, more toys, more choices…
We don’t measure the cost.
Maybe once in a while, (because somewhere we heard we should,) we say no—half-heartedly. What if we tried making no the default, not the exception? What if we valued relationships over experiences, for ourselves, our kids, our families? What would that look like?
What if we asked: Why should I?
It may seem counterintuitive, battling boredom with less. But less is the empty space that has to come before more—more fascination, more connection, more purpose.
The empty space sounds scary—it is scary—but it may end up being your lifeline. Before I grabbed on, I thrashed around in the water. Guess what? The earth still spins on its axis when I:
Procrastinate. More often than not, what presents like an emergency today doesn’t feel like one the next day. The crisis passes, kind of like the fleeting urge to try leggings or bangs.
Rethink. I try to remind myself to revamp, re-evaluate, rearrange. Sometimes what worked doesn’t anymore. When my twin daughters were in the sixth grade, they complained about what I packed in their lunches. The sun-dried tomato-spiked hummus that was all the rage one week was disgusting the next. Congratulations, kids: You get to prepare your own lunches. We (well, I) never looked back.
Outsource. I’m a fan. Just think, Aunt Ethel might like the nice Uber man who drives her to her weekly hairdo. Or maybe making your own laundry soap had a good run, but a honkin’ orange box of Tide is looking mighty fine these days.
Sleep. Have lunch with a long-lost friend—for two hours. Turn my ringer off. A dirty little secret: Self-care with a novel mid-afternoon on a Tuesday feels like even more of a treat than the two paragraphs I try to read at 10 p.m. before I doze off. There are a thousand gorgeous ways to play hooky, buck the system, commit victimless little crimes.
Not so long ago, I filled my days to the rim with have-tos. I was all ends, no means. I never gave a thought to what would happen if I simply didn’t. As I assigned myself task after task, I rarely considered whether I possessed the energy or the time or the proper inclination.
I do not feel inclined to vacuum behind the refrigerator.
But you could eat off the floor behind my fridge back when I was a mean, micro-managing boss. I abused my favorite employee, asking her to come in early and stay late and be on-call at all hours—and she never said a word.
Until she up and quit.
Late on Sunday afternoons, I sit at the kitchen table with my planner and sketch out the week. There are a few carefully considered commitments, hard and fast. These I honor unless I get pneumonia or break a limb. There’s the stuff I have to hold my nose and get through, like shopping for new sneaker shoelaces or phoning the insurance company. Best to squeeze these items in the cracks. If they aren’t time sensitive, they might get carried over to the following week. Or the one after that. In the meantime, I can tie my shoes with twine.
Shoelace shopping aside, I—loosely—plan the days with Big Picture—and balance—in mind. What am I supposed to be doing? How can I live a good story? What sparks my interest? How can I love? How will I recharge?
Except for appointments and meetings and lattes with ladies, I use a pencil. You never know what might come up, how my mind might change, who might need.
But in mean boss mode, I mapped out the schedule with a bold black pen—and without a modicum of prayer or searching or grace. One weekend, an old friend of the spouse’s from our college days came to visit. The kids look great, he said. The house looks great. You look great. Then, in the middle of our kitchen, he looked me in the eyes and said: Are you happy?
Who, me? Sure! I’m pretty happy. As much as can be expected. I mean, what is happy, anyway—nothing but selfishness in disguise. But, yes, of course. Happy. Utterly. Subtext: SOS! I’m dying inside. Get me out of here!
I wasn’t writing. Who had time for that? The hectic pace, I see now, provided convenient cover for other satisfaction-stealing culprits: fear, self-doubt, wanting to fit in. How could I address those sneaky bastards if I was so busy dotting every i and crossing every t?
Then life, as it does, knocked me around a bit and chiseled away at the perfectionism, forcing me to figure out what I’m about—and what I’m not.
Plus, I got super tired.
I doubt if, during the bold black pen days, I would have listened to my now 46-year-old self. As it was, my hasty and ill-advised marriage to controlling every detail was a love affair that probably had to play itself out.
We’re separated—but not divorced. I still struggle with certain labels and likely always will: OCD, high maintenance, picky, neat-freak, or, as my kids say: diva. Letting go doesn’t come easily, but I’m learning the price for just so is too steep. Saving the best for last meant, for me, that last never came. Last got swallowed up in next.
Have you ever tried to potty train a toddler? They don’t want to stop for a bathroom break—they’re too immersed in whatever interesting moment they’re in. I want to take a cue from the girl with the towering stack of blocks, her knees crossed. She’ll go pee when she really, really has to. If she piddles on the floor, well, that’s why God made paper towels.
I want to make messes—creative and crazy and, if I make a mistake, relatively easy to clean.