*Photo taken in Nelson, NH, with autumn colors still muted in the hills.
Life is messy. Day to day chores and work and errands soak up a lot of time, especially for us poor saps who have to report to a building for work every day. When you get sick, if you are in the US you don’t get the luxury of staying home to get better unless you have a very unusual employer. Our culture encourages us to work through illness, despite the fact that when we come to work sick, we share germs which expose everyone else to what we have. We push ourselves too hard in other ways, too, like saying yes to things we don’t want to do, driving ourselves crazy to keep our houses clean, working too many extra shifts, or taking on projects we can’t finish. Time is a precious commodity, but we give it away to people we don’t know and don’t even like, simply for a paycheck, an uncomfortable request, or to save face. Of course, many of us are in no position to avoid such trades. Bills will come whether you pay them or not, food will not grow itself in your kitchen, and relationships are complicated. So we work, we slog, we give even when we don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. But there are ways to live around that rat race. As Leonard Cohen wrote in his song, “Anthem”: “Ring the bells that still can ring/ Forget your perfect offering/ There is a crack, a crack in/ everything/ That’s how the light gets in.”
I have been sick for over a month. It’s been miserable. The moment I stepped into the preschool where I currently work, the germs saw me coming from a mile away. They knew I was fresh meat, and they were very overzealous about making my life hell. Fortunately, I didn’t end up in the hospital or come down with bronchitis like I might have a decade ago, but I’ve been down for the count. Mostly I’ve been battling a head cold and cough, but fatigue, headaches, a fever, and upset stomach have all been part of the mix. Meanwhile, I try to chase after toddlers who I believe are sneaking into a secret dimension where they dip into an endless fountain of energy, popping in and out whenever we adults turn our backs. When they finally crash for an afternoon nap, I want desperately to lie down and sleep, too. It’s hard to push myself to then drag out the broom, wash tables, and take out the trash. My diligent writing schedule has suffered somewhat, but I have refused to give up my intention to keep writing Monday through Friday. Some weeks I have to work on the weekends so I can give myself a much-needed break on Friday night, but I do my best to stick to my schedule. It’s not easy, especially when sick and tired. The other day I was moaning to Michael about how I can’t enjoy any of the things I came to New Hampshire to enjoy because all I do is work. This is not true, but it feels that way at times. Really, I am trying to be mindful of the fact that we’re doing a lot of things most people don’t have to do all the time. We just moved to a new state, which means we had to get new licenses, register our vehicles, register to vote, adjust to new jobs and new schedules, and deal with the minutia of things like finding new banks, learning where to go for things we need, and building networks of new friends. It’s a lot.
The book I had originally scheduled for release in August is still not finished. A poetry book I started is nowhere near done. The print version of my nonfiction is waiting for finishing touches. I need to make a cover for my sequel. A marketer would be nice, but only if I can get my shit together and finish my projects. Don’t even get me started about the lovely children’s book I started with my niece, which is now living in the ether until I can find time to go for a visit to work with her on drawings. If only I could monetize my books, but that’s not how it works. The only real measure of wealth is the actual work I put into my words, the care I give to my craft, the love which drives me to make the time, no matter what else happens. Ursula LeGuin famously talked about the importance of craft, because she knew that making her writing the best it could be was far more important than any prize, fame, wealth, or notoriety. Those rewards only come about because we give ourselves to the craft, knead into our paragraphs the emotions of our lives, coaxing our feeble, wimbling thoughts into full-grown novels. Because I am driven, I am a writer. It’s where I feel most myself. When words spin out of my head and into a narrative, I am most content. I know people who feel that way about adding columns of numbers, or arranging closets, or growing gardens. When we do what we love, a place of pure magic spirals away time, and even if we only have minutes to nurture that love, we breathe ourselves into it. No matter what else happens in my life now, my writing has taken the highest precedence of my time. Aside from taking care of my physical and emotional health, my writing is a pillar of keeping myself happy.
Speaking of happiness, I believe many of us overestimate how happiness is achieved or earned. I know I do. Those of us struggling with money and battling debt often have the sense that if only we had more money, everything in life would be better. Maybe. I mean, a million dollars would solve a lot of problems for me, but the parts of me that still need to grow, the aspects of my personality which still cling to unhealthy thinking or feeling, the habits to which I return so often when things get stressful are not going to stop simply because I have money. No matter how much money I have, my problems will travel with me. The only way I am truly going to be happy is if I stop beating myself down when life gets tough. Even rich people have problems. Even rich people are unhappy. Money helps alleviate some stress, but only if you manage it well. Money comes with its own problems, even if I still believe having more money would make my life easier, and it would. Don’t get me wrong, I would love a load of cash to pay off my debts, have the house of my dreams, and enjoy the second half of my life without having to break my back for it. If I could live in a hut in the woods writing books for the rest of my days, that would be a dream come true. However, what really has been the single most helpful thought for me lately is to remind myself to stop living in the future or the past—to be aware of right now, appreciate what I am doing in this moment. Here I am, typing on my computer, doing what I love. Words weave through my thoughts and into my fingers, like a trance. In this moment, I honor my true self. Such a majestic notion gives me chills, and I hope to do it more. Living in the moment takes practice for me, since my childhood was full of experiences I needed to escape, which I often did by imagining how wonderful the future would be when I could be doing something different. The future has come, and yet I still find myself dreaming about what can happen someday in the future. Wishing my life away, my father often used to say. Truth.
I have hope that I am finally getting healthier now; today’s plentiful sunshine helped immensely. It’s been so gloomy and rainy lately, I’m realizing I might need to go dig up the full-spectrum light bulb I stashed somewhere, though I don’t know if it really helps that much. My dogs are snoring while they lie snug in their kennel together, happy to have been walked and fed dinner. My tea is getting cold in my mug, and the darkness outside my window has blossomed into an inky black, impenetrable with human eyes. Now that the hours of daylight are waning toward the solstice, I’m glad that I took the time to visit my local library to get my card today—I learned from the librarian that the town hall in Nelson hosts the longest-running contra dance in the country (I think that’s correct, but I might have that wrong), and on the solstice it’s an extra-special holiday affair. It sounds like a delicious New England celebration, and I am looking forward to meeting people. Of course, I am extra delighted to now have a library card again, since that was an aspect of traveling which left me feeling deprived of one of my favorite things: going to the library for books to read.
All of my life I have been a book worm, and all of my life I have loved libraries. To me, they are the gems in the crown of any community. No matter what your interest, the library has a book for that. Libraries are hubs of incredibly interesting activities, like book clubs, quilting bees, coffee houses, movie nights, poetry readings, author talks, workshops on any topic…and these only touch the surface of all the fabulous offerings at any library. Even the tiniest of libraries have loads of activities, both strange and mundane and everything in between. If you ever find yourself bored, go find out what the library has planned on their schedule. I found out that tomorrow night the local library is showing the Mr. Rogers documentary, and I was thrilled to learn about it so I can go. Since I missed it in the theater, I now get to enjoy it at the library. I will probably need a box of tissues, but that’s okay—lately I need to be spoon-fed good stories about inspiring people. Too much bad news is bad for the spirit. The library will let the light in. I hate ending sentences with prepositions, but for Leonard Cohen, I will make an exception. As luck would have it, I found Leonard Cohen in a library while I combed through the shelves and sat down in the middle of an aisle. His poetry pressed itself into my soul like wildflowers in a book, a gift that gives fresh insight with every read. Some authors never get old, even if they die.
In the shorter days of the Northern Hemisphere, I hope we all find the light as it shines through the cracks of our imperfect and beautiful lives. Even though I have work to do on myself, I can appreciate my growth. You, reader, are perfectly imperfect, too. Where your armor is cracked, I see your light streaming out in a line, a guide to who you really are and what you have to contribute to the world. We all contribute, whether for good or ill. I do my best to make my contributions positive, but I know they aren’t all good. This morning I was cranky with my husband because I didn’t feel well and didn’t get enough sleep, and even though he cooked breakfast and made coffee, I didn’t thank him until later in the day in a text. No matter how grumpy I am, I could have remembered to say thank you. Luckily my husband is forgiving and patient. We do that for each other. No one is perfect. Let the cracks show. Let the light shine through. Let the bells ring. Be who you are. Apologize for mistakes, be present, and do what you love, even if the time for what you love is as slender as a slip of paper. Slip the paper through the cracks. It will fit.