Posts tagged: work/life balance
March 1, 2013

Forgetting and Remembering

I wouldn’t call it a health kick, because I ate three and a half slices of pizza last Tuesday night, even if it was with a side of kale. But I do find myself on the yoga mat more nights than not or watching my breath rise and fall even as I sit at my desk. I bought a cheap bottle of lavender essential oil on ebay and pour it into a hot bath with epsom salts a few times a week. And I find myself sinking into novels that take me out of myself. (World War II will put just about any set of travails into perspective.) I think what I would call it is a self-care groove. I am trying to make my home, my weekends, and the hours that bookend work as supportive and replenishing as possible.

“When there is a crisis,” a friend told me Tuesday night (before the pizza), “there’s enormous potential for change.” I find that true for myself in the past couple months as I’ve been met with emotional upheaval and stress, the specifics of which I’ll save for another day. But we all know what that feels like, in whatever form it’s taken in your own life, to be rocked to your core.

What I find so perverse about my own situation is how much I love its thick silver lining. A crisis can put everything into relief. What I care about, what’s important, what truly matters–those things stay. Connecting in meaningful ways. Cooking good, simple food. Taking thoughtful care of myself, my life, and the people in it. But whatever is toxic, draining, and inconsequential I just don’t have the energy or patience for. There’s no room for it right now. Even those words don’t quite capture the black and white sense that drives my life right now. Let me try again: life’s been edited down to my own version of the essentials. All that matters is what matters.

So what does that look like? I try a little harder to keep the house tidy so that in the evenings, when I light the taper candles in the windows and on the coffee table, there’s a real sense of calm in our home, a needed foil to whatever the day has served. I say no to social things sometimes, when I know what I need is to not spend $70 on a night out, but to make a big pot of grains for the week and climb into bed a little early. I wonder with one breath if my friends think I’ve gone boring, and with the next breath I let it go. There’s no room right now for that kind of worrying.  “It’s extremely clarifying,” my mom said to me one sunny morning on the phone. It was the word I’d been looking for.

There are times in my life when I’ve successfully done what’s best for me. As I get older, it seems a little easier (at times!) to not be quite so self-defeating. I find myself struggling a little less with the question that’s long plagued me: why is it so hard to do what’s good for you? But there’s something a little deeper going on right now. The choices I’m making feel important. I think what I’m talking about is life at its most nourishing. A walk in the park on a cold afternoon isn’t just me, squinting in the sun and navigating around slicks of mud. It feels like something more, like embodying my best self, or stepping into the flow, or doing what some part deep within me, beneath the shoe choice and the hair style and stretchy jeans, wants to be doing.

Sometimes I feel like this blog tracks my journeys as an Odysseus-like traveler, out into the world of distractions and proving oneself, and then home again to something more meaningful. I circle back to the same ideas over and over and declare “aha!” each time. But maybe that’s just the nature of navigating through this world looking for meaning. We remember what’s important, have moments of clarity, and then over time, forget again. Tara Brach said recently that there are moments of extreme clarity in life: when a baby is born, when someone is dying, when we say our wedding vows. But there are smaller moments too, like when we are chopping vegetables for a meal with friends, or when we allow ourselves a few moments before we launch into the day to sit quietly with our breath, or when we are riding the bus and look out the window and can hardly fathom the brightness of the blue sky. We remember.

There have been quite a few moments recently when standing at the cutting board in our poorly-lit kitchen I had such a contented feeling. One of those times was a couple weeks ago, when I had Monday off and spent the morning baking a cake for old friends coming over who we hadn’t seen in much too long. Peeling the apples, chopping them, listening to the low hum of the mixer beating eggs, oil, and sugar into a rich, sweet batter kissed with cinnamon–there was a sweet, steadying rhythm to it, not unlike how I felt on that walk in the bright and muddy park. Something inside our body knows, even before our heads do, when we’re on the right track.

Continue reading “Forgetting and Remembering” »

November 22, 2012

This Too

Monday I peeled sweet potatoes for dinner. It is, for the record, my second most loathed kitchen task, right after peeling butternut squash. But the other night at the grocery store I scooped them up from a cardboard box wondering whether the squat, rounded ones or the long, slim ones would be less bothersome. I bought both, carrying two pounds of tubers home in the dark after work. I scrubbed them in the sink under cold water, and stood over the trash can, my foot pressed on the pedal that raises the lid and scraped the skins off. I especially hate that part. But the dark brown gave way to the briefest flash of a pale color, and beneath that, orange. Just between skin and flesh, there was that little sliver of something light.

It caught my eye because of Tara Brach, who I’ve been listening to a lot of these days. If you don’t know her and have any curiosity about moving through life with more peace, she’s a gem. In her steady, calming voice, she talks about forgiveness. She talks about presence. She talks about kindness and love, and she talks about it it all so beautifully, that lately, whether I am on my way to work or crossing the street or pretending to climb a mountain while I’m really on the treadmill, I find my eyes wide open with a kind of wonder over something at once so simple, yet so deeply taken for granted, I can hardly believe it’s been hanging around me, right in my midst, all along. And then, embarrassingly, tears usually spring to my eyes, wherever I am. And she tells amazing jokes. So basically, that weepy woman with the headphones laughing to herself? That’s me.

So recently, she talked about trigger and response and the hair’s breadth of a moment we have between the two. And that is why the potatoes so struck me. They were the perfect illustration of such an idea: a pause.

And I needed the reminder. Because before the potatoes, I had been sitting at my desk, hours longer than usual, feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. There were 47 things to do but, as usual, I could only do one at a time. One foot slowly in front of the other. But there wasn’t enough time! It was maddening! And this is one of the reasons the time of year that should ostensibly be the most joyful causes meltdowns. We have the same work to accomplish in less time, plus invitations we feel can’t be refused, a host of expectations about what the holidays should be like and look like and feel like and taste like and the need to create all of that perfectly, as if happiness could really be found in a succulent turkey and rich, golden gravy. I love a turkey dinner as much as the next person, but come on.

I think that is why I wanted to peel potatoes on Monday, and why I found myself really wondering about that little unnoticeable pale bit. When my body is one place, my head is usually somewhere else. I am making a grocery list, I am checking my email, I am googling The Watcher in the Woods. I’m never just here. I’m either trying to outrun what I don’t like or busy hoping the next moment brings another one just like the one before. Since Monday, as each unpleasantness has popped up, as they inevitably do––the internet that crashes, the to do list as long as my arm, the unbearably steep incline on the treadmill––I have just tried to stay here. There’s a moment just long enough, barely, to say, “this too.”

Who wouldn’t want to escape unpleasantness and cling to sweetness? That’s natural. But as the stress, joy, and busyness of the holidays roar to life, my practice is to try to be present in what’s here instead of always on to the next thing. This long, slow department store line, this hanging around until the turkey’s done, this mountain of work, this traffic jam, this quiet moment under a dark sky, this cup of coffee, this cold walk. This too, this too, this too.

Would you believe that once the peeling was done, I shredded those potatoes on the little silver box grater set on our wooden cutting board? I knew the food processor would be faster, and kept thinking of hauling it onto the counter so it could tear through those potatoes in a flash. But there was a kind of enjoyment in the slow, rhythmic tedium of that task. One potato, two potato, three potato, four. What had felt like a sliver stretched into an expanse, right here.

Wishing you all an indulgently delicious, cozy, meaningful Thanksgiving filled with gratitude and grace.

Continue reading “This Too” »

August 21, 2012

The Power of Place

Well. I’m glad we got that out of the way. I don’t have much more to say about any of it now except thank you: for explaing the ways in which you feel the same way, for offering solutions, and for laying the support on thick. I am so grateful for the community here. A few of you have written to ask if I’m quitting. I’m so not quitting. I’m just trying to figure out the new world order that feels right and fun and creative and awesome. That’s why I’m calling them growing pains. But now that the slate’s been wiped clean to some extent, let’s try for it. As cheerleaders say: Ready? OK!

I’ve moved two states north for the last half of August to be near my sister and new niece. It’s an entirely different pace here in a valley of rural Massachusetts. This is the view from my desk.

All day a very busy squirrel hauls crab apples to and fro across the side yard. A neighborhood cat, whose name we learned is Walter, purrs past the french doors in the mornings in hopes of a saucer of cream or a dish of cat food or a kind, unhurried person who will let him lean into your legs and wind his way around you in a figure eight. There is a small ornamental pond on the patio with lily pads and tiny little frogs (trite but true!). The first night we were here, I mistook the loud rhythmic cricket sounds for the alarm on my iPhone (sad but true!). We leave the windows open at night to hear all those summer bugs and birds and wake to an apartment that’s turned cool overnight. In bare feet, I walk yesterday’s coffee grounds out to the compost pile over wet grass. The air, if this makes sense, is humectant but not humid. It smells green, like dirt and thriving plants. I have seen more butterflies in the past week than I’ve seen in the past thirty years.

It’s all quite a departure from Brooklyn life, where trucks and traffic rumble beneath my second floor apartment windows. There, after work, I head to the spin bike at the gym or out for a cocktail with a friend. Here, after work, I head to a bike path.

I like it better in some ways. It’s no easy task to shrug off the work day and connect with who we are outside of emails and conference calls. But when I ride down a side street that dead-ends at a bike path traveling through two little villages under a canopy of trees, it’s easier to see the line between work and all the rest of life. Last night I pumped hard uphill. An older woman with her dog grinned at me, like my-isn’t-she-having-fun. And I was. Am. This evening I plan to ride to the Tuesday farmer’s market where there might be a jug band and will certainly be flowers to replace last week’s wilting bouquets, tomatoes for sandwiches, and basil for everything. Zoom I’m at the farmer’s market. Zoom I’m on the bike path cutting through the woods. Zoom I’m at my sister’s holding my new niece, touching her tiny little feet and burying my nose in her fat belly. It’s easy.

I’ve always been interested in the ways place can inform lifestyle. How much a culture values community, leisure, food, or health seeps into the day-to-day. I feel it here especially, where the shifts in the hours that book-end work feel profound (see: natural world rhapsody above.)

How do you transition from the work day to your evenings? Is there a ritual or routine you especially love? Are those rituals at all dependent on place? Do you ever think about how you might change those routines if you were somewhere else?

February 29, 2012

Making Time

Random question: How much non-work stuff do you guys get done at home at night? My commute sucks, yes, but I just have a hard time doing anything beyond eating and watching tv most nights. Every once in a while I get inspired and get shit done, but I just hate that about myself? Any tips?

When a friend sent me this email recently, her plight felt all too familiar. Between the bookends of work and sleep, it seems there are only two sweet hours of freedom (on a good day!) each night. We eat, we watch a tv show and then poof: they’re gone. So what of bigger projects like writing, painting, filing insurance claims? When are we supposed to get to that? I knew that it was the perfect question to bring here. Because I know what my friend feels frustrated by is not at all a unique problem.

I have long been obsessed with the quotidian details of people’s days. And I love when people lay out on their blogs what a day in their lives looks like, not only because it usually shatters any oh-I-bet-all-she-does-is-drink-lattes-and-feel-inspired jealousy with its authenticity, but because there’s likely a lesson in there for all of us: There is a lot of email. We are taking care of business, and taking care of business takes time.

So in a way, this question is in two parts: How do you take care of the business in your life? When do you tidy up, schedule doctor’s appointments, go to kickboxing? And the second part is about what makes you feel inspired and alive:  When do you make time for your creative work? What do your evenings end up looking like?

Continue reading “Making Time” »