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Friday, October 06, 2006

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Back from the brink

The writer's life has several serious occupational hazards. Some are obvious to anyone casually familiar with literary biography: addiction, infidelity, maniacal self-centeredness, throbbing, gaping insecurity, are just a few that gaily spring to mind. Others are less well-charted, and it doesn't occur to you to be on the look-out for them until you run aground. One of these subtle-but-deadly perils is our tendency as writers to, well, put things in writing. We put our little mark in the concrete only to find our feet encased in it.

Those of you who have been with me for a while might remember my Dandelion Life post from earlier this year, where I talked about being at peace with with the weedy-ness and general disarray of my existence. And some of my local readers might have caught the cover story in our alternative weekly last month where Patrick and I shared with evangelical zeal the bliss of the freelance lifestyle; preaching the gospel of economic self-determination and voluntary simplicity.

Of which I say to you now, fooey.

Or I would have said it most any day this week, during which I have been suffering an emotional hangover from being beamed abruptly to Newfoundland for champagne and jazz and pounding surf and dropped just as abruptly back to Arkansas for past due bills and dirty diapers and sweltering humidity, all in the space of four days. The so-called simplicity of our lifestyle has felt more conscripted than voluntary, more complicated than simple. Screw the dandelions, I would have said to you Wednesday--if I could have lifted myself up out of my trough long enough--I want a life of astro-turf.

I have been restless, irritable and discontent.

There is a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous that there is no misery like a bellyful of whisky and a headful of AA. Meaning, you can't un-know what you know once you know it. This truism perfectly describes how my own misery was made more miserable this week by "knowing better". I knew I should be grateful I got to be whisked 3000 miles away for a weekend. I knew that my happiness shouldn't be predicated on the state of my checkbook. I knew that I was damn lucky to not spend my life Monday to Friday on autopilot in a cubicle or married to someone who does. I knew that I had choices that others do not. I knew all that, and knowing it only compounded the misery, because in addition to being financially insecure, jet-lagged, and emotionally drained, I was now ungrateful, unenlightened, and generally pathetic.

Before going to bed Wednesday night, I prayed for a dream that would give me some reassurance, a little beacon of hope and understanding. A sign. A wink. Anything. I fell asleep and promptly dreamt I was wading through shit as far as the eye can see. I woke up and looked at the clock. It was 12:14.

"Really," I said. "Is that the best you've got?"

Like it was news to me that I was up to my knees in it.

In the dream I did at least have a trowel and a bucket of lime (lime, for those of you with no experience of rural outhouses, is calcium oxide, and it is used in masking odor and breaking down organic matter). And whether that image suggested it, or I was just fed up with wallowing, the next morning I found myself rolling up my shirtsleeves and cleaning house.

As I have shared, housekeeping is not my forte. Or my husband's. Even before we had our little band of Vikings running from room to room ransacking and looting, we were pretty well hapless. Our decorating style could best be described as first-year college dorm: crappy old furniture and broken mini-blinds and pictures hung randomly over nails that happened already to be sticking out of the walls. While it would sound noble to chalk it all up to our preference for spending time with our kids and each other and our computers over earning two big salaries and having a maid and new furniture, that wouldn't be the whole truth. It's true that we are short on money and time and energy, but it is also true that we simply aren't on the ball.

I would like to be better at managing life on the physical plane. It bothers me when our habitat goes all to hell. And I feel bad for our kids. I also grew up with creative, right-brain parents who couldn't seem to get it together domestically. The other night I finally got around to replacing the bulbs in the track lighting fixture above the dining room table, days after the last one had finally gone out. My seven-year-old son, who has to do homework on this table, was openly amazed at the difference a little electric light made. "Wow," he said, without even a trace of sarcasm, "I wonder why it took so long to change the lights."

"I don't know," I told him. "I don't know why." I was still standing on the table and he looked so small and wondrous, I wanted to fall to my knees and hold him and tell him I'm sorry, I wanted to be better for you. I thought I might have it together by now, but I don't, and I don't think I will before you figure it out, and can see for yourself, that other people seem to have the secret to life and we, your parents, don't have a clue.

At times the household "chi" flows more smoothly than others. Like in the springtime when I wrote lovingly about dandelions and it didn't seem to matter if things were shabby and worn if they were scrubbed and sunlit. I don't know if the heat of late summer or the effort of getting the kids back to school has immobilized us or what, but things really have been in a sorry state the past couple of months. A couple of weeks ago, I walked into Patrick's office, sat down and told him in all seriousness that I thought we should just sell the place and move. Then I realized I would still have to clean it, and I wept.

After getting the xray of the crappy state of my psyche, I bottomed out and got to work shoveling my way out. Low sensate, high intuitives like me are prone to paralysis in the face of the big picture. It is difficult for me to focus on the the task directly in front, particulary if it involves engaging my body. I had to really work at staying in motion with the vacuum and the bucket because if I stopped for a nanosecond to consider all 2,200 square feet, I was going to put a "for sale as is" sign on the lawn and take our losses.

Somewhere in the middle of scrubbing unspeakable things from the wall behind the couch, I could feel my energy start to shift. Whether it was an endorphin rush or chemical fumes, I can't say, but my attitude began to brighten slightly around the edges. Things began to seem possible again. The raw stinking stew of contempt and self-pity started to compost, and I was less inclined to sell the house and use the proceeds to take out a full page ad advising people to keep their day jobs.

A long-married friend of mine told me once that in order to work through a particular time of crisis in her marriage she found she had to balance total comittment to staying in the relationship with total willingness to let it go. I am finding this is the very knife edge I have to walk in relation to writing; to hold my words with lightness in one hand and conviction in the other. To get moving. Dig it up, turn it under. To just keep going.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

i can remember sitting with my husband after we got settled into our flat here and saying "this is best, i wouldn't have it any other way' and then going to our new friends, new (old farmhouse) home while she paraded me through all three bedrooms with all three ensuites - her 4 year old has her own bathroom...

i got home and was so ashamed of myself because i was so dis-satisfied with my own words just hours earlier and my flat looked like such a step down now. i struggled with that for weeks. luckily (not luck, i know) i was close enough to see them struggling financially, hiding behind their big home to find their identities and living real, normal lives just like us.

i was angry with god for a bit, but i found that it is really better to know it all and then still be content in the long run. is it still hard, yes, and very humbling sometimes - but we truly have chosen the better way.

great post - it really struck a chord with me.

5:19 PM  
Blogger bluebird of paradise said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:54 PM  
Blogger bluebird of paradise said...

this is a wonderful piece. so honest and real. i hope your soul has caught up to you. perhaps it just wanted to linger a little longer in middle cove......

8:56 PM  
Blogger K. said...

bobbie, so glad you made it by....thanks for sharing your story. we who live across the grain need to bolster each other up. :)

9:07 PM  
Anonymous jenlemen said...

i laughed outloud in recognition! yay, i'm not alone! thanks for this lovely post.

2:58 PM  

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