jordanrosenfeld

Un-Doing Days

In Classes, Craft, General, Musings on July 12, 2011 at 4:54 am

It wasn’t long ago that I purposely set my alarm clock for5:30 a.m.every morning, slipped out of bed before the sun rose, and sank my toes into the slightly scratchy carpet of our then-apartment with a cup of coffee and readiness to write. The darkness, the slither of silence, the burnt chicory smell of good java—these things were my company as I took special time for myself before my “real work” several hours into daylight later.

Those were my “doing days” as I’m thinking of them now. I wrote so early because once my colleagues and clients awoke there’d be emails to exchange and the mounting pressure of “must-get-it-all-done” riding hard on my spine. In my doing days I was so proud of how much I did—writing freelance articles, a book, a novel, editing manuscripts, recording book reviews–in such quantities that I’d sometimes look at my “to-do” board with a feeling of terror, wonder at how I would get it all done, and if working for myself was folly or fortune. The higher and tighter my shoulders by the end of the day, the greater the sign that I’d somehow measured up, that I was capable of carrying a load so heavy without fail.

Once I became pregnant I was amused and annoyed by the most ethereal sense of distraction that came over me—my mind flitted wherever it pleased and could barely be reined in, a flying creature with barely any mass. I was tired, so so tired all the time, and could not roll out of bed so early, and if I did, I’d sit staring at the blank page wondering what I thought I had to say. At the time it was infuriating, but now I look back and see my body beginning to help me make a shift that would change the shape of my days forever. For a spacy mind was the least of the changes having my son would bring.

 Three years into my son’s life, the map of my working life looks like a seismograph. From doing almost nothing for the first three months of his life, to rallying back around to writing a novel in his nap hours, to putting him in nearly-full time daycare only to feel the familiar pains of a body that is doing too much…I have begun to circle around to this new place and time. These are un-doing days.

Today, I sat at the top of a man-made rainforest, where blue butterflies the size of my palm circulated with what looked like a brash certainty in their freedom. If I stood still long enough, they skimmed the top of my head, grazed a cheek, teased my eyelashes. The heat of the building, the chatter of tourists–none of it bothered me. I was completely enchanted by their flight. I realized, I could sit here for hours and do nothing but watch them fly. And in that seemed the crux of the lesson I am beginning to learn, and which I hope my readers will take to heart too: there is value in stillness, in rest, in observation.

I am undoing old habits of working too hard and too long. I am taking more time off, and spending more moments relishing my son’s short-lived youth. There are fewer achievements, shiny and hot with effort, to hold up on a platter over my head, and yet, there are deeper seams to tap now, both creatively and in my work, roads that I have refused to take out of fear of letting go, stopping.

And how does this play out here? Everything is going to change now. You’ll see a new website very soon, with this blog integrated in it.  I’m going to be teaching more–stay tuned for some new twists on my classes that will allow for more interaction–and doing less of other things. In a nutshell, my new goal and direction is to write, and to thus bring to all of you the lessons and experimentation and thoughts on craft that I, myself, am continually integrating into my own work.

 Come, un-do with me.

Strong Wind

In Mothers and Writing, Musings on June 13, 2011 at 4:19 am

This post keeps unfurling in my mind, I catch a glimpse of it, and then it’s gone, like the tail of a garden snake slithering away in tall grass. I think: I will start by telling the story of my brother’s graduation from college yesterday, about the many tiny little things that “went wrong” because I was in something of a rush–a rush to get there, a rush to make it to the ceremony on time, and a rush to get back to my husband and son who were not feeling well at home. I think: I will find a way to make it funny that the end result of that mad 24 hours–after dodging drunk grads (and being hit by one on skateboard) in the Animal House like neighborhood of his vicininty, and listening to wide-eyed speeches in which diem was carped and futures were full-wattage,  is a kink in my neck so bad I cannot turn my head fully to either side and a case of the hiccups…

And then I see a different tail and it is this: Me, standing at the sink, washing dishes. My wonderful husband, sensing my gloom, asking me how I am.  With a sensation in my chest as though a fist is trying to squeeze water out of my heart I say, “I’m tired of myself…of my own thoughts…my patterns.” I quickly reassure him that this doesn’ t mean anything dire–I have never been to a place so dark I wanted to end it. But I do want to end certain habits I have, and lately, more than ever, they are waking up like dragons at every turn, and I walk around in a cage of self-imposed limitations.

After spending 24 hours with the part of my family where I have always felt like a buoy bobbing in a strange sea, a sea I am both intimately part of, and alien to, I return home to the family I have carved out for myself–my husband and son–feeling weighted down. My body hurts. My heart is heavy…I am having the most profound urge to be a child again, to be mothered. For someone to gather me up in their arms, lay me down in a soft bed, tickle my back, smooth out the wrinkles of night, sing me sweet songs and tell me everything is okay. But of course, this is my job. There is a runny nose, and bumped knees to tend. A boy who misses his mama after she was gone overnight.

Then, the blog post splits, it’s a rare two-headed beast, staring at me with four beady eyes before it’s off into dark underbrush again. “Remember,” it says in a sibliant snaky voice, “the family friend/astrologer telling who told you years ago: ‘There are many addictions, including the addiction to doing too much. You have this tendency, be careful.’” At the time I thought, “No, all this ‘doing’ is just ambition, drive…it’s good, it means I get things done. I’m never idle.”  But tonight as my spine feels like an iron rod bending unerringly toward the ground beneath a freight train; after a day where I watched myself tap dance to make unnecessary things happen from afar; after trying so carefully to only do and say that which would not cause conflict, or the least amount, where I worried and fretted my spine into this knot (the kind that tethers Titanic-sized ships to their ports)…I wonder how wrong I am. I wonder what happens when the doing is undone. What comes up from that dark, quiet place? Am I brave enough to find out?

I wonder what it’s like to be a person who doesn’t rush. Who doesn’t try to please everyone in a 3 mile radius–even when the pleasing is really only a stop-gap for my own anxiety.

I wonder what it would be like not to bounce from thing to thing hourly, moment by moment, shifting, twisting, contorting.

I wonder what it’s like to simply say: I need this. I can’t do that. I feel this way about it.

And not worry that everything will fall apart.

My wise friend  Amy said to me: “Pick your lead horse, and let the others run astray.” She meant: let there be priorities, like health and children. Worry over those. Let the rest of them fall where they may.

My other wise friend Alegra said, and I am paraphrasing: “Let go of the illusion that you are always in control.”

I catch the original thought for this post in my hand. It’s no snake, not even a worm. It’s the cord I use to bind myself to these false ideas. It’s thin, and mauve-colored, its end trying to dance on the breeze. I’m just waiting on a strong wind.

The Thousand Things

In General, Mothers and Writing on June 2, 2011 at 3:52 am

On the phone with a writing client today I say, “It’s a crazy week,” and he laughs knowingly.

“It’s always a crazy week,” he says. I can’t read his tone. Is he chastising me?  It does seem that I say this to him each week during our standing appointment. Is this his impression of the person he’s hired to “coach” him through seeing his manuscript through to publication? “It’s always crazy, for everyone,” he amends, but somehow I still feel guilty.

The day spins out like a yo-yo flung too far and gone slack. I’ve finished several critiques and a book review on time and suddenly it’s time for the one truly luxurious part of this day, of the month: a trip to get lunch and pedicures with dear friends, if only I can get out the door–already thinking ahead to the after-pampering plans. The last time I let someone pamper me like this was the morning of my wedding, nearly 12 years ago. I am not in the habit of stopping, resting. Resting is the thing I do at night, when my body crashes against the waiting cup of my bed.

The pedicure is a blur of lovely sensations–warm water on my toes, strong hands on the tender points of my soles; a massaging chair that shimmies like I am crushing a small person, making us laugh; even the act of cutting away the calluses feels good, restorative, like dead hours shaved away. And the slick red paint that I never bother to apply myself reveals ten little shiny reminders that there are feet somewhere below my head, the tiny little fort of brain matter where I am tucked away most of the day, forgetting about the hard packed earth that holds me up.

 Then there is a rushed hurry to get my son on time from daycare, a burst of arms and bared teeth as he explodes toward me the moment I enter the room, and I remember that we parted this morning in frustration with each other over limit testing and not listening. I gather his towheaded sweaty boy sweetness into my arms and kiss him all over his face, and tuck him into the car, stop by the store, make it home to begin dinner early so I can make it to an evening exercise class.

And somewhere between the fresh gleaming raspberries gathering an inedible dusting of sand from his sandbox, and the lasagne noodles boiling into a mass of glutinous rectangles I can’t do anything with, and speaking for 15 minutes to my producer at the radio station where I have been slogging through a book commentary I hope to record while my son peppers me with questions about the baby who was temporarily kidnapped yesterday, and remembering to drain the spinach I set in the sink,  rescuing my son from the top of his play structure, making sure he doesn’t have an accident on the living room floor, calling the auto mechanic who never called me back, fielding a tantrum borne of disallowing television…a big rush of air leaves my lungs and I find myself slumping to the floor of my kitchen,  broom in hand, task abandoned.

Here, the cold of the linoleum pressed against my bare calves is jarring and enlivening, a cool, hard contrast to that watery womb I soaked in earlier. I never was very good at switching channels–a child who was forced to go back and forth between her parents’ houses weekly until I was 16–I hate this zig-zagging energy of moving from one thing to another. And yet…that is how my life moves, how children move,  how a freelancer’s business moves.  But sometimes, in the spaces between the thousands of things, thousands of harmless and normal activities of a day, I feel as though I am a creature made of steel being asked to bend like rubber. I feel as though I will crack under the strain of constant shifting.

I wiggle my red painted toes. In a few minutes I’ll be stuffing them into tennies and we’ll be heading out to an exercise class, an hour of another kind of motion, one that seems to help keep my disparate parts from turning into useless jelly, gives me fortitude to keep up the bustle. 

But in this moment I don’t want to put on my shoes, or move off the floor, or do anything but listen to the sound of my son talking to his toys in his sandbox outside, even though I know in a moment I’ll have to run out there and pluck stickers from his socks, or brush sand off his snacks.

Right now, I am still. Right now, stillness is perfect.

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