November 3, 2010 § 1 Comment
There is a line from James Joyce’s The Dubliners which reads, “Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.” I know that place, because that is where I have been living for the last three weeks. I’ve left the place beside my heart and have been inhabiting another space, an overwhelming one where there is always too much to do and never enough time.
This is not a nice, comfortable space, and it’s not very safe here. Slowly, I am finding my way back home, but the trip back is always so much longer and harder than the journey into chaos and overwhelm. It reminds me that I am not yet there, I am not yet living in a true place of peace. I still have further to go just to achieve a somewhat balanced life. I have to work so hard to stay just a little bit centered. Like William Blake, I live as if opposite extremes will lead to moderation.
Three weeks ago my editor asked me to correct an error I made in an article about local food by writing another article, a longer, more in-depth article. I jumped at the chance to prove myself, to make my editor look good, to show him that I am a writer who can be trusted. Since I just started taking three writing classes and don’t have childcare for my young sons, I had no idea how I was going to write this 2000 word article.
I poured myself into this project not because I wanted to (I didn’t) or because I am a perfectionist (I am not) but because I am so afraid of failure. And failure to me always seems so immediate, the default option, that in order to manage my fear, I scramble like someone being evacuated during a disaster. It’s only now that I realize the emergency I was running from was my life.
For three weeks I haven’t gone to yoga, I haven’t meditated, I haven’t read books for pleasure. I haven’t been sleeping well or eating right and instead, have tried to compensate with multiple cups of coffee and Halloween candy, with midnight TV and a glass (or three!) of wine because the caffeine had given me insomnia. Pretty much the only thing I did right was to not take it out on my children. But still, if you asked them, they would probably tell you their mom hasn’t been a whole lot of fun lately.
During this time my son was turning five, so I also had to plan a party. I kept reminding myself that it should be fun and simple, so I decided to have it at home, the day before Halloween. We would serve coffee and bagels and fruit and cake. But still, one of my son’s friends doesn’t eat wheat, and I barely knew the parents of the other three boys who came. We have only been living in Alexandria since June and I don’t yet have any real friends. So what started as a simple and sweet party turned into another potential failure that just had to be avoided – the house needed to be super clean, or people wouldn’t feel comfortable, we needed to have our good china out so my potential new friends felt cherished. We needed to provide stimulating (but not too stimulating) entertainment and old-fashioned fun but still come off as hip parents. I didn’t want to screw up this chance for our family to make some real connections in Virginia.
My poor husband. As I made a birthday cake from scratch, as I drove to Target the day before the party for treats and giftbags (nothing with sugar or plastic), Scott raked the leaves and planned games. The day of the party, everything looked perfect. Coffee was brewing, Scott bought bagels (and then when out to get another dozen when the first 12 didn’t seem like enough). Even Oliver said he was going to have the best party ever. He grabbed my arm as I was putting juice on the table and said, “Mommy, did you see how much work Daddy did?” I rolled my eyes and then told myself that this wasn’t a competition.
After the party – which was great not because of my efforts but because of the five, five-year olds and their siblings who would make anything special – I was exhausted. One of the moms sent me a thank-you note and another sent me an email apologizing for being out of it because it was the first time she had left her new baby. A thank you note! I was floored. Who does that anymore? She was out of it? I hadn’t even noticed. We are all so very hard on ourselves, aren’t we? We all think that failure is just a step away.
There is a card I have on my nightstand that reads, ” Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”
I am so far from that place. Maybe I will never be there. But I don’t want to be here either, so afraid of failure and rejection that I lose touch with what is going on around me, that I forget we are each afraid of those very same things. That I forget how incredibly fragile and breakable all of us are.