May 3, 2013

A Body as Full as a Canvas Sail

After my birthday, I spent a sunny weekend at my mom and step-dad’s that felt like a super dose of fun. I held my niece upside down, we buzzed our lips back and forth and played a game where I touched her on the nose and said, “boop!”, all of which made her break into a smile that revealed all seven of her tiny teeth. I had a birthday dinner with my family. My sister decorated the porch with branches of plum, magnolia, and forsythia blossoms cut from the yard. Pink, orange, and yellow tissue paper spheres hung from a string of red wooden beads pilfered from a box of Christmas decorations, and we ate barbecue catered by a charming pit master from the market nearby. It was the best potato salad I’d had in my life, and we sat outside drinking daiquiris until a thunderstorm rolled in long after it had gotten dark. On Saturday there was coffee, a long walk, and digging in the dirt with my mom. We made a new compost pile, and I carried the raised beds to their new home. When I lifted the short black walls out of the dirt, damp soil and worms clung to the sides, and I hoisted them over my shoulder. And while it sounds too convenient to be true, there are wild violets blooming in the yard and between the patio stones, and none of us remember them being there last year. I dug some up with a trowel and patted them down into the wet earth near the entrance of the vegetable garden, hoping they’ll spread. This is not an adventure tale, just the joy-filled details of a nine-month old, the world in bloom, being outside with people you love. But at the end of the weekend, as we rode the bus back into concrete midtown, I felt like sunshine was pouring out of my skin.

Sometimes I bemoan that my life in New York can feel like a Woody Allen movie, everyone sitting in restaurants talking about their feelings. But when I am able to really do––to be active and present in a fun physical process––it’s as replenishing as good night’s sleep or emerging back into the world after a spa afternoon. Moving raised beds, rearranging piles of squirmy worm-filled earth, and tucking demure, winking indigo blooms into a new spot of earth made me feel like my best self again.

What role does doing play in your life? It’s an interesting question for reflective, emotional people, and an especially tough one for anyone who battles the blues. Getting going can be the toughest part of any day. Spring seems to have breathed enough life into my bones so that my body feels full as a canvas sail. Doing feels natural and good, so that whether I’m pedaling my bike uphill, playing peek-a-boo, or sorting through bunches of spinach at the greenmarket, I feel alive, engaged, and happy. It could be considered like flow, possibly, but while flow can happen while writing or painting, mindful doing feels best to me when there’s some kind of movement.

One of my friends has a fear of not doing, and so adopted a challenge as a way to get over it. Every day, she has to do something she’s never done before. You can imagine how difficult this would be. When I last saw her she had a notebook open under the window with a list of numbers running down the left-hand column, one for each day of the month. There were more new daily doings next to numbers than not. It was not only impressive but inspiring.

I prize my usual Monday nights because I have no appointments. It’s my night to go to the gym and make a proper dinner without feeling harried and hurried. But this past Monday, I did something quite goofy and frivolous for the first time. I stepped off the F train at West 4th street after 7pm and it was still light outside. Walking west toward the water, the brightly-lit sex shops and karaoke bars gave way to narrow, leafier streets, with jewelry boutiques and darker, more den-like sex shops. The sidewalks were filled with women in their workout clothes and tiny little dogs, and under the marquee of a theater, people stood in small groups wrapped in dark wool coats and sweaters waiting for a performance. It was a part of New York at a time of day that is not part of my usual daily doings. It felt like village life in all those period BBC dramas I love, filled with characters and daily dramas in one small pocket of the world unlike any other. I felt curious and alive and nervous. I was on my way to my first tap dancing class.

I signed in on the second floor of a windowless studio on Christopher Street, and rifled through a tub of tap shoes marked “7-8 1/2” on the outside. I found a shoe that fit, and then couldn’t find its pair, so resorted to wearing two different shoes. I fit right in. We were a collection of oddballs, overly loud theater kids who had grown up into overly loud middle-aged women, an elderly woman, stooped and nervous, and a young girl in her twenties dressed for her first session of Absolute Beginners Tap like she was auditioning for Flashdance. I rather admired her chutzpah.

Inside our little studio, we stood in front of a mirror and tapped our toes and heels against a scuffed wood floor. Then, in time to the slowest jazz you’ve ever heard, tried for simple combinations of shuffles and ball changes the long way across the room. We wound up against the opposite wall a crowd of exasperation and laughter. It was pure delight.

Is this spring fever, this affection for doing? The longing to get out of our heads and homes and into your bodies? Whatever’s brought it on, it’s a  welcome antidote to the hours our modern life requires spent in front of a computer, typing out characters and numbers and rearranging widgets. This is real movement, and doing, to the time of slow jazz and birdsong on a stage of sun and damp, blooming earth.

What will be your bit of frivolity and delight and doing?

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  • Kristina Strain: “Is this spring fever, this affection for doing?” I think, YES. I spent most of the winter feeling so stuck and bored and just interest-less, but now those first few weeks of wonderful weather are upon us, and I am thrilling, too, in moving earth and shoveling compost and planting things. Though admittedly those things are not so novel for me as for you. 🙂 Doing is so wonderfully gratifying, though, especially outside in the sunlight, and watching things grow is just the little push I need to keep going, and going.5 years ago

  • Katie @ cakes, tea and dreams: I love this – the sunshine, the tap dancing, the walking through a new neighborhood, the delight in doing. I need a dose of this, stat. It can be life-changing.5 years ago

  • Melissa @ Hilltophausfrau: Love the description of your world. I feel I have been there, or am there with you. Thanks! Yes, the doing…my “doings” have to be distinct, and constant. As someone who has pressed “pause” on her career to be home with my littles for a while, I need to still have a proper report for the day. When my man and I sit down together at the end of the day, I never want to be at a loss – not remember what it is I did. I also never want to lose touch with who I am or with what my interests are. The daily things I accomplish are small and usually serve our household in some way, but they are items to report on. They make me happy!5 years ago

  • Crystal: I’m a voracious reader of blogs (a long time reader of yours), magazines and books and I work for a marketing company that publishes a small local magazine in the deep south. All day long I’m immersed and encompassed by words and writing and I have to tell you that this was one of that this was one of the loveliest pieces of prose I’ve read in a while. I’m feeling especially bouyant this year as well and hope to make it “year-round fever”! Thanks for sharing your perspectives so beautifully and I hope each and every one of your readers carries around a little bit of that sunshine that seeped out of your happy soul and into your words as I know I will.5 years ago

  • Good Things… | Coffee & Sunshine: […] Frivolity, delight, doing and a shot of happiness — just read everything Sarah writes, okay? […]5 years ago

  • Cath: Beautiful Sarah, just beautiful! Every single thing you wrote. Thank you.5 years ago

  • Lindsay @ fueled by diet coke: I’ve been unemployed (between jobs) for a week and I’m struggling with “doing” much of anything. My sails are droopy and lifeless, if anything.

    However, it was refreshing to hear about your full sails. Thanks. 🙂5 years ago

  • Femme Fraîche: Yet another beautiful and inspiring post! This was just what I needed to read after the long, hard winter we’ve had here in Minneapolis – not that Midwest winters are ever easy. The last 3 weeks have been so cruel, handing us a 60 or 70-degree day and then a series of days where we’re barely over freezing, or it’s flurrying again. It’s made the getting going hard, even though the desire to move, to open the windows, to stir up the ground, is there. I’m not quite sure yet what spring will bring, what new adventures or hobbies I will take up, as the possibility of venturing outside without an additional 10lbs of clothing becomes real. I do know that reading about the fullness of your days, though, and the pretty pictures of spring in bloom at your mom’s house, is inspiring to say the least! Thanks for that.

    On a separate note, I think your first book *must* be titled, “The Affection for Doing.” I’d buy it in a heartbeat!5 years ago

  • Lana: Tap! I love it! You are a brave soul, Sarah! We have wild violets and dandelions all over our yard right now. I love them, and when our neighbor, (he works at a gold course) came over the other day and asked me if I wanted him to spray some kind of weed killer on them I almost died. Did you know you can eat them? Violets AND dandelions.
    Also, the only difference between a weed and a flower is in the eye of the beholder. 🙂5 years ago

  • MJ @ unplannedlifeblog: I love this! Full of the energies of spring. I wish I was too, but recently I am finding my bit of frivolity in ‘un’ doing. After a stressful period at work, my indulgence at the moment comes from reading, writing, baking and hardly leaving my house! It won’t last forever, but hopefully just enough time to re-charge my batteries to start getting out there and ‘doing’ again 🙂 5 years ago

  • domestikate: This is so beautifully written, you brought some of that sunshine into my heart as I read it on the bus to work on another dreary morning. Thank you!5 years ago

  • Susan: ‘This is real movement …’ – yes, I love this reminder! It’s hard to remember that we are given bodies and senses to appreciate the seasons and the natural world and the act of creating and expressing ourselves physically, not just by moving things around on a computer. Thanks for another wonderful post, Sarah 🙂5 years ago

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