04 July 2005

The Bookish Gardener

This blog, written by Chan Stroman, is one of my great favorites. Today's post on music, and yesterday's on colors in the garden give me a strong sense of having just shared a lovely cup of tea with a Renaissance woman. She shares interesting links as well as her own reflections ("...Beethoven's music is all him—joyful, stormy, playful, profound, and, yes, sometimes clumsy and intemperate, too—but I don't think it's all about him...") which sometimes reveal her artist's soul. ("Just before the sun sets, the duskglow of the garden takes on a sepia-toned cast from the sodden, humid air, like a historical flashback in an artsy movie, or a fugue state. Pinks, yellows, reds, grays and blues buzz through the haze like old neon light fixtures.")

That kind of whole life is very much what I aspire to, even as I know it's impossible. I'm nowhere near sufficiently disciplined. I also tend to flit from one subject to another in my studies, so I end up unable to hold all the pieces together in my head at one time. Finally, although I am so visually-oriented that I must store virtually everything out in sight unless it's in a place so familiar I can find it in the dark, I don't easily come up with beautiful, accurate descriptions like hers.

Yet. :)

My life has been about scurrying and scrambling so much of the time, reacting to emergency after emergency, stopping dead for a while to recoup my energies, then scurrying off again. It's not how I'm built; those kinds of rhythms tend to leave me upset and frazzled, which lead to exhaustion and migraine, which puts me out for a few days so that I have to scramble to catch up.

When I was a child, I was not taught to respect my own time. My life and activities and even thoughts were to be instantly submitted to those around me - my mother and grandmother, mostly, two very strong women with Ideas of How Things Should Be. The normal stage of growth and separation which most teens go through was thwarted by the loss of my dear one and my mother's alcoholism, which made me feel I needed to stay at home while my much younger sister got through school. I started working in the offices of a locally-based corporation. It was a good job, as office jobs go, but the kind of work was exactly wrong for my scrupulous nature. My work has always been extremely stressful to me, and it's not a career in the usual sense. I consider my main accomplishment to be staying employed, getting consistently good reviews, throughout epic family crises... and most of that just God's kindness in placing me in environments where people were supportive and forgiving.

So, when I read The Bookish Gardener's musings, I know that I am reading the output of a mind which has been disciplined and organized and allowed and encouraged to do the kind of work which was agreeable and meaningful, and all fitted into place to make a whole: family, garden, books, work, music. If you were to ask me what "wealth" is like, I would point exactly to that. It has nothing to do with bank accounts, or the size of one's house, and everything to do with the command of one's time.

My dear sister has been lovingly but firmly working on me for years now to get me to live in line with my artistic and intellectual passions. She is an artist who practices her craft constantly, even while helping her husband start a company, which is something you can only do if you're passionate about the product you're creating and putting out there for people, and he is. My sister wants me to re-form my life to honor my art, instead of snatching little wisps of time between other stuff. I've always imagined it involved leisure, but that's not true. Living a whole life is a challenge of the first order. It takes planning and organization and commitment. It has to be a project unto itself.

Before now, I've always imagined that retirement would be the time for me to cultivate my life like that. I realize now that not only do I not need to wait for retirement, I must not. There are no guarantees. I do not want to exit this mortal plane with my life and house and affairs as they are; that is not how I want people to remember me. It is humbling to think that, if I drop dead and people come into the house and it is clean and tidy, they will be unknowingly witnessing a triumph; my scattered approach to life shows up in my surroundings. Just learning to control the way I use and store my possessions is a complex and absorbing task.

My tendency to get down on myself is no help, either. No matter what I've done, I always look at what's not done. I must consciously recall my accomplishments: losing 30 pounds two years ago and keeping it off; slowly but permanently gaining control of areas of my house, starting with the kitchens and bathrooms; achieving order and a sense of purpose at work, instead of always reacting to emergencies each day. I used to hate project management at work; now I'm eagerly learning it, because I'll use those skills when I start to write in earnest. The process of writing down goals, making plans, and checking off milestones seems so incredibly obvious, but, believe me, it's a learned skill which requires lots and lots of practice to become automatic. To this day, when I sit down at my desk at the office, I'm overwhelmed with dread. If I have a straightforward to-do list and a reasonable expectation of no disruption, it feels very strange. I am used to having terrible things happen. I'm accustomed to emergencies. I'm habituated to it. I'm on edge and tense just opening my email. It's always been like that for me - well, except the part about the email. Fairly recent invention, that. ;)

It's been only in the last few years that I've consciously worked my way into jobs that fit my skills and enthusiasms. Of late I've been working on the documentation for a database system and managing a project of conversion and implementation for another database. Days spent focused on either of those tasks are days when I leave the office with a sense of real satisfaction. I've had to train myself carefully to accept that feeling and consciously enjoy it. My first impulse is to shame myself for thinking that way, when I make such stupid mistakes and so much else needs to be done.

So, obviously, the project I must first succeed at is that of rebuilding my life. For starters, I need to quit waiting and start doing. When I was in school I got used to the idea of waiting - waiting for the term to be over, waiting to graduate. I enjoyed some of my classes, but particularly in elementary school, for reasons unrelated to the subjects, it was a horrible ordeal just to get up and through each day. That's not a good way to feel when you're only in fifth grade.

As I grew older, the times when I could focus and enjoy my work and my life were fewer and farther between. At the time when most persons are settling into families, I was caring for my grandmother, mother and sister as best I could, in the mistaken idea that it was my duty and that I could make a difference. My mother and grandmother strongly encouraged me to live a life in line with my tastes and talents, performing and writing. When it came right down to it, however, I faced strenuous objections to any serious attempt to get out on my own. In particular, I remember one time when I wanted to move out and live with a friend of mine; I was subjected to an amazing barrage at home, of tears, terrible words, accusations, etc. At that time of my life, I had not yet learned the skills I have today; it simply never occurred to me to just laugh and pack and go. I caved in. Now I see it exactly for what it was; but it's 30 years later, now, and I've worn the twelve steps smooth over the years.

Last night I composed and sent an email to that friend. I've looked for her over the years, and finally found her through classmates.com and some other searches. Over the weekend, I had the clear thought that Now Was The Time; I was finally ready to offer my friendship again. I hunted down the church where she and her husband are active, and at the bottom of this month's publication, her email address is published. It'll be fun to see if she replies and where she's at in her walk of life. And, for me, it's yet another reclaiming.

All that was torn from me in those years - my dear, dear friends, my independence, my art - all of it God has, in His boundless mercy, allowed me to reclaim in some fashion. I am beginning to feel a bit superstitious about it, however. It's all happening in an orderly chain, backwards; with this last contact I'm back to the mid-70s. If the rewind is a literal count, that means I need to get cracking; I have only about 15 more years. Not that I'm worried. If the trend continues, my last few years will be spent in a cozy mediterranean style house with a lovely, sheltered garden, following an entirely enjoyable regimen of play, meals, baths and naps. I can hardly wait. :)

1 comment:

Chan S. said...

Thank you for such generous praise. I really can't claim to being all that disciplined or organized, but I am enthusiastic! Thank *you* for your inspiring writing on this blog.