The past two weeks have been challenging. The funeral of a friend’s mother, who died unexpectedly. Notifications of three lost writing contests. The death of Rachel Held Evans, whom I met once and whose work brought joy and laughter even as she wrestled with big questions and challenged people of faith to learn to rest in mystery. Twenty hours billed in one weekend, with the draft brief finally sent off at 3:30 last Monday morning. A rejection from a prestigious writing conference I’d hoped to attend.
Fortunately, two months ago I’d scheduled a spa day for Tuesday. After spending Monday following up on the weekend brief, checking email, and getting the news about the conference, I needed that break. The spa was unusually quiet, which meant a lovely and peaceful time. I came home Tuesday night feeling as if I was creeping back toward normalcy.
I should have taken the next day off, but deadlines loomed. Oddly, I awoke Wednesday with a sense of rebellion. And so, even though emails still arrived and the phone still rang and I still served my clients, I spent that day reclaiming my life, as the illustrious Rep. Maxine Waters might have said. Some of it was actively enjoyable; other bits were regular life, the kind of thing you forget to care about until you flat-out don’t have time or energy to address them.
In roughly chronological order, here’s how I spent the day I began reclaiming my life:
- Wrote a new section of my novel-in-progress
- Ate breakfast not at my desk
- Culled through emails
- Read articles, some as research for writing and others just because they were interesting
- Cleaned up cat puke
- Checked on the eggs in the finch nest on the front door
- Played laser tag with Charlotte
- Let myself feel bad about the conference rejection, including mentally drafting (but not sending) an email explaining why they need to revise their rejection email next year. (Hint: do not disclose statistics about how many applications you received and how many applicants got in; it does not help.)
- Stayed in the kitchen to oversee the cats’ breakfast so Danny wouldn’t steal everybody else’s food
- Allowed myself to feel sadness for RHE’s passing without trying to rush past it
- Emailed with my new writing critique partner about a meeting time
- Planned errands
- Scheduled car maintenance
- Took photos for this blog post
- Tried to go to sleep early, which didn’t work out, because that was when Ned decided it was appropriate to walk through the house yowling for unspecified reasons
- Gave up on sleep and read in bed instead, promptly joined by Ned, who slept by my feet for the next two hours
- Finished reading my book
Thursday morning found me waiting on the oil change I scheduled the day before. The shop is small, comfortable and clean and quiet. It’s overseen by Gus, the world’s most mellow golden retriever. Everyone who comes through is friendly, and we chat, mostly about Gus and other animals in our lives. In between customers, I wrote in my equivalent of a coffee shop.
From there, I checked in with a client and headed out on overdue errands: cat litter, a birthday card, a library book, and the last part of Mom’s Mother’s Day gift. I could do this, because I granted myself permission to limit my work hours as necessary to accommodate my life. Sometimes, that isn’t possible, but on this day, it was. I had work to do, but I also had non-work to do, and I needed balance.
Which is how I found myself at one of my favorite restaurants for a quick lunch. I reasoned—or maybe “rationalized” is more accurate—that it would take approximately as long to make and eat lunch at home as it would to have lunch here. Also, if I waited until I got home, I’d be ravenous, and so I’d eat more (and less healthily). So instead of a sandwich, chips, and a package of cookies at home, I savored sashimi, mushroom soup (clear broth, not creamy), salad, and a California roll while writing this post.
I knew that when I got home, the craziness would start again. I’d see the lawn that needs to be cleaned up and the housework that needs to be done. The phone calls and emails would flood in. The deadlines would rear their heads. The more subtle pressures of family obligations would lurk.
Perhaps this is why so many people insist on going away for vacations, even when time and funds seem to counsel in favor of a staycation. Being somewhere else lets us pretend that the real world with its chaos doesn’t exist, or at least that it won’t be there at the end of the week. We know this is a fantasy, but looking out at an unfamiliar sight—even if it’s just the view of a different parking lot—lets us engage with the fantasy.
But I did manage to juggle work and life for the next few days. On Friday, I participated in a conference call and worked on a joint trial memorandum while having my tires rotated. In the evening, I met with a new writing partner. Saturday, we celebrated Mother’s Day (albeit a potluck version instead of going out since Mom didn’t feel well), and I spent a peaceful afternoon chatting with my aging parents. Sunday was cold and rainy, devoted largely to exploring a new story idea and roasting a chicken. And then today, I wove together work, a doctor’s appointment, and a query submission, followed by a few minutes of creativity as I spun leftovers into something new. Now, the house is quiet—not in a lonely way, but in a way that says, “Don’t worry. Not tonight.” The only sounds are the cats, occasionally running or meowing, and a Mozart string quintet.
The pace will pick up again. I know this. The deadlines will descend, the demands will pile on, the stresses will build. This peaceful idyll will seem a distant memory. No one will offer me space; it will be up to me to guard this precious sense of rest, of non-rushing. It will be up to me to reclaim my life, over and over.