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Hi, loves. 🌿
What holds you together?
There aren’t that many opportunities in life for resets. We, of course, have markers peppered through the year — January 1, the start of school, the high holidays for Jews, Easter (?); then there are the big ones: moves, divorces, deaths, which rock our worlds completely, those tectonic shifts that move the plates forever — but mostly it’s a big tangled mess, isn’t it? We just proceed and somewhere along the way wonder why on earth we never started that new habit, that new routine, why we never, you know, decided to walk instead of drive to school, why we never committed to that weekly coffee date with that new friend we really, really like but just can’t find the time for.
Since I am constitutionally against optimisation and self-improvement, I’m not particularly interested in new habits or goals (even as I do occasionally try, and fail, to implement them) — but I am endlessly interested in the things that make our lives workable, our lives liveable. What, in other words, makes us capable of getting up every morning without the fear that our bodies (or minds) (or schedules) will quickly fall to pieces?
(Quick side note: my aversion to self-improvement has nothing to do with the fact that I don’t think I need to improve whole swaths of myself — talk to my family! God knows I’ve been in therapy for 20+ years and have done basically every kind of healing modality under the sun. I just don’t like to think of myself as needing to be improved, like some sort of endlessly upgrading iPhone. I don’t believe any of us do. End of Ted Talk, thank you for coming.)
This is all a long way of saying that coming back from England and being dumped back into our old lives in LA has given us all a chance to glimpse whether any of this is actually working — finally! a reset! — and I realized very quickly that very little of it was. Add to this my very real fear that I’d land where I did last fall: in bed with my back in spasm, overstressed, overworked, miserable and afraid that the pain would never dissipate. I thought of that old self-care adage I’ve tried (and apparently failed) to commit to for years: build a life you don’t feel the need to escape from. Or, in my case, build a life that your body can handle.
The question that kept circling was: What will hold me together?
These were the words that came to me. I wanted to live in a way that didn’t feel like I was always on the verge of collapse, which feels like a worthy, if not sort of ludicrous, goal. Is this what our middle-age lives have come to? Just a hope that we don’t fall apart at some point in the day/week/month/season? It seems like a small ask and yet everywhere I look, most of my friends are living, quite precariously, on that edge, talking about margins and burnout, the never-ending to-dos, bodies in varying states of pain.
This was perhaps the great joy of Cambridge, and what I’m trying desperately to hold onto here: the understanding that one can live a day that doesn’t feel like it is pushing at every single edge; a life in which my body (and thus everything else) can feel good. Perhaps some people get off on that kind of stress, on that kind of productivity; I do not. I’d rather do less, I’d rather build in rest, and end the season in one piece. That feels like a win: the admission that I am, that we all are, human; that our health is impermanent and fragile and should be safeguarded above all else. That without it, we can forget and forgo the rest.
It is hard to pull off here — I am not on sabbatical, I need to teach many times a day or week, I need to cook and shop and the school day is shorter, etc. etc. And yet. It is the essence of the thing I want to hold onto: What were the elements that allowed for that kind of space, for that kind of day-in, day-out livability?
Obviously these are the elements that work differently for all of us but I realized that what holds me together are remarkably simple and also squarely non-negotiable: a lot of walking (no more driving to school); almost daily (!!) pelvic floor Pilates (!); as many naps a week as I can pull off; bi-monthly acupuncture; nightly baths. Throw in there fewer interactions that suck my energy and attention, and toss in deeper, closer friendships that truly feed me, and that seems to be my recipe. I get to the weekend and I don’t feel like murdering someone, which feels like a low bar but maybe it is a good bar? Maybe not wanting to kill someone or being on the verge of breakdown is actually something to aspire to?
Time will tell how this plays out; I’m only rounding the corner on the first week of a full teaching load. Have I made note of the fact that novel-writing has not yet been woven back into the schedule? That I’m just trying to make sure I can handle my job-jobs first? Perhaps a bad strategy, but as with muscles, I’m trying to build up my strength, to not overtax a system that has no problem revolting when pushed beyond its comfort zone.
The point for me seems to be to remember what I need, not just what everyone else needs, and then to bake it into every single day; to know that it’s the only way the dough will rise.
A FEW BOOKS I’VE LOVED LATELY Oh God, Caitlin Shetterly’s Pete and Alice in Maine was just stunning. I am currently wolfing down Jennifer Wallace’s Never Enough and it is rocking my world. Also deep into Lisa Damour’s Untangled, which, if you have a tween/teenage girl in your life, is essential reading.
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