The Problem of Saturday

Even before I was old enough to have a job in the traditional sense, working on the weekends, particularly Saturdays, was a concept I knew well. Many a Saturday morning, I woke up at a decent time (not by my own accord), perused the “to-do list” written by my mother, and with my sisters we decided who would do which chore by putting our initials next to said household job. And thus every Saturday, or thereabouts, we would go about the business of keeping house – we learned how to do laundry, clean bathrooms, meal prep, weed flower pots, sweep and scrub the kitchen floor (on our knees, the purported “right” way), clean litter boxes, clean our rooms (gasp!!!!). There’s no doubt that I’m thankful for learning how to complete these very necessary tasks, but it’s partially for this reason that up until recently, I could not relax on a Saturday.

I learned at an early age to tie my self-worth to how productive I was.

Dr. Devon Price, Laziness Does Not Exist

Since childhood, I’ve had my share of jobs that aren’t your typical nine-to-five – working customer service at a grocery store, teaching music lessons, helping manage a private tutoring center, teaching night classes. All those positions demanded either odd hours that usually also occurred on the weekends.

For about a decade, I trained for races. Generally these plans indicated that a weekend morning would be a “long run” day, and with church responsibilities on Sunday, that meant that my long run fell on Saturday mornings. And not only that, but I felt to get the most out of my one day completely off from responsibility, I’d get up really early to take advantage of those morning twilight hours and get my run in. It became a ritual.

Now as a mid-30-something adult, for the first time in my life I have had a job whose responsibilities are contained within the weekdays. Well, at least those are the boundaries I’ve set for myself. Millions of teachers across America work the weekends. I don’t. I can’t if I want to stay in this profession for life. And I do.

And then in addition to having only one job that I worked Monday through Friday, a couple things happened that began to open up my Saturday to really being a day to do whatever, whenever: a running sabbatical and lockdowns due to COVID-19.

The year of 2020, I decided to not run, at least not train for any big races. I say that like it was really my decision, but my body was actually screaming for a break. So I took a break. And then COVID hit, and suddenly we went from being busy with something most weekends, especially on Sundays, to having wide open free time on the weekends. It was (is?) awesome. It was something I did not realize I needed, and it was also something I realize I could have done for myself without the help of a global pandemic.

I would say to no minor degree that I have reclaimed my Saturdays. Without the frenzy of church activities on Sunday plus grocery shopping and meal prep that has to happen, things can be spread out over the entire weekend. I can relish in the early morning hours of Saturday (like I am right now) without feeling guilty about not doing chores, or going for a long run.

Reclaiming a true Sabbath day (which can look different for everyone, and does not have to be a traditional weekend day) was not easy. For a long time I dealt with guilt of not doing the things I’d grown so accustomed to for years. It was like muscle memory was taking over my body, and unless I was getting things done around the house or running, my body just didn’t know what to do.

So I rode out the discomfort and began doing, actually, the things I wanted to do on a Saturday in order to usher in the weekend. This includes, generally, having coffee at home (not running out to get it, although sometimes this happens), taking the quiet morning to finish a book (I finished The Invisible Life of Addie Larue and A Court of Wings and Ruin this way), reading the paper, or now that the weather is getting warmer, sitting outside to watch the sun rise over the Susquehanna River.

These activities are different, and there are a number you could substitute in, but they are all similar in that I am present for them. In the book Laziness Does Not Exist, Dr. Devon Price draws on current research to describe how to “savor,” defined as “the process of deeply and presently enjoying a positive experience.” This is in contrast to “dampening,” which makes an activity seemed rushed or only valued because of what it produces.

…being achievement-obsessed actually makes life less rewarding and enjoyable, because we never get to truly savor or appreciate what we’ve done or where we’ve been.

Dr. Devon Price, Laziness Does Not Exist

I think that’s what had happened to me – I became “achievement-obsessed.” I grew up in a family that had to hustle to put food on the table. My mom went to school full time, my dad worked on cars for extra money – and it wasn’t for fun money, either. It was our ethos, our identity, to be a family who knew how to do lots of things, do them well, and do them efficiently. That is a skill valued in our culture, and it served me for a period of time, but it doesn’t have to extend to all areas and years of my life going forward. Price says that “…weeks, months, or even years can all blend together in a haze of anxiety and obligation” – do I want to spend the next 40+ years of my life in this state? Surely not.

I think (and hope) that a global pandemic has taught us all a few things we can learn from. For me, it was how to rest, relax, and recharge without guilt. Of course, this requires saying no, something I’ve been thinking about and practicing for several years now. I’m happy to say that saying no is almost my default mode.

I, for one, will never go back to filling my calendar to the brim with no room to breathe. Of course, there will be busy times – life and work are not static. But “wow, this week was busy” will not be what I say on my way home from work every Friday. I don’t want to “work for the weekend,” as American as that is. I want to see a new American cultural norm – one where yes, people work hard and efficiently, but also set boundaries that are respected so that they can rest and do the other things they enjoy – spend time with family, cook good food, go boating, go fishing, go shopping, camping, whatever – and do those things without guilt or getting work email notifications in the meantime.

One sign to me that I’ve been successful at reclaiming my Saturdays is that not only do I have time and mental energy to read, but to actually analyze and evaluate what I read. For some books, I pause to take notes. I think about what I read, and change my perspective and add new knowledge that will really stick. When I’m reading fiction or fantasy, I can savor the story and immerse myself with the characters. It’s enjoyable.

The time to reclaim our Saturdays is now, folks. If we don’t choose to do it and find our own ways of working in some relaxation and reprieve, other things will do it for us; namely, sickness, injury, and burnout.

March wrap-up + the need for silence

Here we are in the beginning of April. Sure, spring technically comes in March, but April really shows the sun coming up earlier and going to bed later, like it’s too excited for the day to sleep any longer than necessary. Like it’s coming out of hibernation. I share the sentiment.

In March, we hit milestone: a year since COVID-19 joined our lexicon as an everyday word, since debates and discussions of the CDC and mask-wearing protocols and virtual school inserted themselves as dinner-table talk. Maybe also as breakfast- and lunch-table talk. Coupled with that milestone and the end of winter, my mind has been busy lately. And when my mind is busy, I need more silence.

Sometimes that looks paradoxical – it looks like more TV watching, less thinking. Or more thinking and less ambient noise. Or just working around the house without any music on (super unlike me). A result of needing more headspace has been reading fewer books.

This month I read a mix of a space opera, magical realism/kind-of fantasy, and meditation/poetry. While my attitude towards reading (or the books I read?) was kind of slump-y, I’m happy that I mixed up my genres.

Reading mountains of pages has seemed like a luxury throughout The Time of the Global Pandemic and the winter therein. It was easy to cozy up to books when it was cold outside. When more clothes and blankets and pillows were needed. When hot coffee or tea is protection from After a long day of virtual learning and working from home, it was easy to transition into a different headspace.

However, with the world (or at least Northern Hemisphere) opening up both seasonally and physically, it seems I should be doing something different than hibernating. Let me change that: could, not should. I could be doing something different.

Obviously books have a place. It’s a hobby I have really enjoyed and actually have found quite necessary. But tending the lawn and spring cleaning the house and purging the unnecessary also has a place that sometimes is just as important.

To be honest, I have dreaded this moment I’ve arrived at. The end of quarantine (or relative end… the end of strict quarantine), the end of a forced hibernation and hunkering-down. The beginning of more socialization and activities and meetings and…. well, there it is. The end of un-busy-ness.

The time and space created by a global health crisis is beginning to fly away, and I’m grasping on to it desperately, pleading with the world to not let it go. There is a place for shorter commutes and more time at home. There is a place for less aimless socializing and more intentional relationships. There is a place for less multitasking and more focused, high-quality work ethic.

While I’m navigating this difficult transition, I’ve allowed myself some space. For me, that looks like getting up earlier and going to bed later. That means letting go of control of some household tasks that I’ve held in my heart of pride for too long. That looks like ambivalence for committing to new activities, or restarting old ones. That means drinking in the stories I read, and taking time to curate the words I write. That looks like letting my brain rest, either with more running or sitting on the patio watching the birds or playing Nintendo or simply watching TV, accompanied by no other activities. Productivity is no longer my end goal.

I wasn’t quite sure how I would get here, but as they say, Necessity is the mother of invention, and where does invention start but in our own lives?

You are not your calendar

It’s okay to step away from something, even if you’ve been doing it for years. Especially if you’ve been doing it for years. It’s something I’ve been trying to tell myself. Unfortunately, some of my time that I’ve rediscovered as I’ve stepped away from commitments is steeped in guilt, kind of like the half-drunk mug of tea I left sitting on the end table last night.

I look at it, realize that it’s very uncharacteristic of me to just leave things like that around the house, undone, but then it only takes a minute to clean it up and get on with my day.

There’s always a new day, and a fresh pot of coffee.

That’s what it feels like to strip away the patina of the calendar – like that first sip of coffee. Though I’ve been looking at clocks and calendars my whole life, it feels new to look at a clock and not be rushing to the next commitment. To take that first sip of the morning and not be immediately pouring it into a travel mug.

Fresh starts were good; that separateness was where you could feel yourself, where you could learn who you were apart from everyone else.

Akwaeke Emezi in The Death of Vivek Oji

Don’t be deceived that this is easy. Lots of people go around telling people that all you have to do it say, “No.” Emphatically. Like you really mean it. If it were that easy, we wouldn’t have scores and scores of people in this country tired, beat down, exhausted, and fatigued from every day life.

I get that we’re in a pandemic right now, almost a year on, however this state of affairs only serves as a magnifying glass for this huge dare-I-say ridiculous and out-of-hand societal problem of “yes.”

I sit here, sipping my coffee, and this is the morning when my work-from-home dream ends. Never again in my career will I experience schools shutting down for a global health crisis (at least I don’t anticipate another pandemic…. but we’ll see what the Universe has in store). Never again as a public school teacher will I commute from my kitchen to my office, never having started the car or stopped for gas or even put on makeup like I used to.

The pandemic has helped me say no when I felt like I couldn’t. When I really, really, wanted to, but felt like guilt was holding me down. I was forced to just… stop. And breathe.

As my sister and I reminisced in a conversation recently (podcast episode to be posted this week), 2020 was a year. But it was also a good year. Which feels weird to admit. BUt one of self-reflection and growth and learning to say “no” and damn the consequences.

My whole life my identity has been wrapped around my activities and accomplishments. While it may look great on paper, my propensity for filling up my calendar is actually an attempt to fill a large gaping hole that is hungry for Guilt. And Self-Sacrifice. The only way for me to feed Guilt is to sacrifice my own self-worth and sanity. And I did it, for years.

And did you see the verb tense I just used? “And I did it.” Past tense. Not present perfect, not past progressive. But past. Because I’m done feeding that monster. I’m beginning to fill up that hole with reading and walking and pondering and conversations and relationships. Soon there won’t be any room at all for Guilt and its companions.

I am a worthy, capable, loving, generous, compassionate human being with or without filling up my calendar and saying yes to all the things. You are a worthy, capable, loving, generous, compassionate human being with or without filling up your calendar and saying yes to all the things. Let’s make our default “no” and carefully and cheerfully say “yes” to a few things that we can do well, and with that we will snuff out Guilt.

Simple life in 2021

If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that we humans make life so much more complicated and difficult than it needs to be. Is there anything more basic to life than waking up with the sun, eating, and observing life around us?

As I write this, I’m taking advantage of (probably) seasonal spring-ish weather in the Mid-Atlantic – 50* on a random day between Christmas and New Year’s. Just a week ago we were anticipating a torrential rainstorm followed by a hefty shift in the temperature. The result of this warmer weather is that I’m on my porch with a hot cup of coffee, noticing that the sun’s angle is behind me (I’m facing east) and maybe just a little bit higher than it was only a week ago on the Solstice. I can see the Susquehanna River, its waters a little lower than a few days ago. No speed boats, no tug boats – just a wide swath of blue.

Peaceful. Just sitting and observing is peaceful. And simple. But necessary. Do we really need to sit with a screen in front of us upwards of 8, or maybe 12, hours a day? I know the science is out there – that can’t be good for our brains. It certainly isn’t for me.

To take a wider view, my week-to-week activities BC (before corona) were busy. So busy. So many activities, driving here and there, so many long-term commitments that I didn’t sleep on before agreeing to. Sure, my mind says, Oh, that will only take an hour each week… without adding up the time driving to and from, prepping for said activity, and alllll the mental space that said activity would take up.

I’ve realized a lot about myself this year, and one huge realization is that I really can’t focus on so many things at once. When I’m involved in so many “people-y” activities, I not only spend time doing all the things I mentioned previously, but then add on replaying many interpersonal interactions in my head later… while brushing my teeth, while getting ready for bed, while laying awake in the middle of the night.

At the core of its economy, being so busy and so committed is inefficient. I don’t get the return on investment most of the time. I end up being tired, worn out, and on the brink of throwing in the towel. That’s not good for getting returns on other things that really matter: the work I do every day for a living, close relationships with family and friends, things that keep my life moving forward like cooking and cleaning and maintaining our house.

I want a simpler life in 2021. This does include keeping so much off of my calendar… and actually, it would be nice to not be involved in so many things that I actually don’t need to reference my calendar that often. I have to make transition time in my day – time to grocery shop, time to eat, time to cook, time to clean up, time to relax and unwind…. really relax and unwind, preferably without a screen.

This means that I might fully give myself over to books. My mind, a fragrant offering, if you will. Reading is something I love to do, and more than that, I love the conversations and new ideas that transpire as a result. I love transporting myself to new worlds and new lands, meet characters I never knew existed. And understand myself and my fellow humans more than I did than when I initially opened the cover.

Twilight as liminal space

We are approaching the longest night and shortest day of the year. I always focus on the night part.

https://www.goodfon.com/wallpaper/laplandiya-finlyandiya-zima-sneg-5978.html

Winter twilight produces some of the weirdest light. Night comes on fast, especially if it’s a day like today where skies have been gray and heavy with frozen precipitation. At one point, there is still some light, and it gradually wanes until it’s completely dark. So dark, so quickly, that it doesn’t even let you remember when exactly became dark. But at the same time you know the exact moment.

Twilight, and more specifically winter twilight, is a liminal space. It’s a no-man’s-land, and in-between, maybe even an upside-down. There have been many times in my life that I would characterize as liminal spaces, where the edges and boundaries are blurred and it’s just me trying to find my way.

It makes sense that one would feel uncomfortable in such a space. Some would call it a time when you’re on the edge of a new beginning, but not quite there. Some religions might call it purgatory.

For the majority of my life, I’ve seen these spaces as purgatory, or even at times a special place in hell. Times where I was completely unsure of myself, questioning all of my life decisions and circumstances that have brought me to this singular point.

As humans, we wait very poorly. We are magnificently impatient. We want to hear the chord at the end of the song that resolves the melody. We think that somehow that will bring us peace.

But the growth happens in the liminal space. I think it’s probably near impossible as a well-adjusted human to become completely comfortable in the liminal space… though some can be very efficient and even enjoy long-term experiences in the liminal space.

Is it possible to see the liminal space extend before you and not be afraid of it? To not be rushing for the door on the other side of the room? To actually look at the things in the Room of Liminal Space and appreciate them? I think it is, but you have to get past the itching and biting of the discomfort.

I think after awhile in that Room, the fog lifts and the eyes adjust to a different kind of light. There still exists an awareness of an escape, the door that will release us across the threshold into the destination we have craved for so long.

That is to say, I think these times of uncertainty and perhaps purgatory may not be as bad as we think they will be. Take winter, for instance. In just a few days, the Northern Hemisphere will experience the shortest amount of daylight for the entire year. Where I am that amounts to 9 hours and 22 minutes of daylight. That is actually much more than other locations which may experience next to no daylight. If we look at this phenomenon through an asset-based lens, we see that there are then 15-some-odd hours of darkness.

Can we embrace the darkness? The lack of light that encourages us to hibernate and see inside ourselves? Twilight offers a road back into the cave of our inner selves. Of books and ideas and time without screens and technological distractions. Of cups of coffee over heart-to-hearts and journal entries and just thinking while falling asleep. Of prayer and contemplation and meditation. I think after this year, we could all use some of that no matter our place on the spectrum of intro/extroversion.

Fear and guilt and why I read

As we near the end of 2020, this is the time I can look back and catalog in my mind my experience with reading this year. Without a doubt, a pandemic will naturally give some more time to read, and that’s what happened to me. We are not super extroverted social people in the first place, and generally do spend a lot of time at home, but a pandemic helped us solidify that more as we opted to stay inside. In addition, for the majority of the past 9.5 months, I have not had a commute, which saves not only the 50 minutes driving to and from work, but the time I spend packing a lunch, getting my bags (yes, multiple) together, et cetera.

I really went balls-to-the-wall with Sarah J. Maas’s books.

I could have chosen to do many other things with my extra time. I could have done more yoga, gone to the gym (when it was open), I could have made lavish breakfasts, learned new makeup application techniques, spent more time in my craft room. But instead, I decided to read.

When I was younger and looked at the way other members of my family devoured books, I remember thinking about how they would just spend so much time with… themselves. In a world that may or may not really exist with a story that is not true. In my mind, that was a waste of time. Why would you keep your nose in a book so often when you could do other things?

Yep, more Sarah J. Maas, and a super cozy fantasy read: Forgotten Beasts of Eld. Also see: This is the part where The Pandemic and Quarantine Began.

I think some of my motivation to not read was from guilt and fear. I felt guilty, sitting on my butt reading for hours on end. Surely there were chores to do! Things to cook! And then when I became old enough for a job, there were hours I could work. So work I did, and for probably at least 8 years of my formative years, I did not spend them reading in my spare time.

I also felt fear. The good ole FOMO existed before social media, and already I had some tenuous relationships with friends. If I didn’t pounce on an invitation to hang out, would I have said friends for long? (My tenuous relationships mainly resulted from my own actions… I was part drama queen, part Stage 5 clinger).

I could go on about how these two states of being – fear and guilt – have dominated my life since I can remember.

Blindness was a mindfuck in the best way.

So here we are. It’s the end of 2020 and I’m almost 35. I’ve read or DNF’d 62 books. My goal was 40. What happened, besides having more time?

I challenged myself with a few books from our retiring pastor’s library – Black Theology of Liberation was eye-opening.

I became motivated to read more because of a few things:

1. Numbers. I like crunching data and seeing progress. Goodreads provides a perfect place to track my reading and even get more recommendations. I forget things easily (maybe adult ADD? Who knows…) so Goodreads helps me remember a good book I saw or heard about.

2. Booktube. Yes, this year I finally bought a one-way ticket for a ride down the worm hole to Booktube. Some of my favorites are Peruse Project, Jen Campbell, Reading With Moe, and Elliot Brooks. One of the motivations for any activity that we humans have is community – not feeling left out. I love watching these women talk about the books they love, don’t love, and even about books they’ve written.

3. Conversations I have can have with others. I mentioned in an earlier post about how when you read, you have so much to talk about with other people! Even if you’re just talking about a genre that the other person doesn’t like, there’s bound to be something to connect about. Aaron and I have even opened up new conversations between us because now that I read fantasy, I know more of his “language” when it comes to books. Book clubs are fun, too!

4. Personal insight. Usually in every therapy session, my therapist asks what I’ve been reading. We talk about it, she gives me recommendations, and I’m left to think about a particular book’s influence on my life. Sometimes I surprise myself with the things that annoy me in a character, but then realize that those are also the same traits I dislike about myself. Or, I see a type of character in a new light, like a villain who had some sort of trauma that made them the way they are, and it sparks compassion. When we practice compassion or understanding with fictional characters, we can then transfer those attributes to real people in the real world.

5. Exposure to new ideas. A world where there is a magic system based on metals? (Allomancy in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn) A world where the guy who is hired to kill monsters is actually the most well-adjusted character? (The Witcher) A space suit made by and for humans? (Jack Glass) A memoir that discussed the possibilities of cultivating an urban garden? (Farm City) An epic love story where a woman travels through strange stones? (Outlander) These are all new ideas that are worth pondering and exploring more, at least for me. My world is expanded, even from sitting on my couch under x blankets, wishing for a pandemic to end.

Magic Lessons.. one of the best books of 2020. I also loved Jack Glass.

I have no idea what 2021 will look like as far as reading is concerned. As demonstrated in my November reading posts, I am awful at planning what I will read besides the book club I’m in. I don’t want to the emotions of fear or guilt to spur me to read any book. I will be bringing in the new year with our local library’s winter reading challenge, which this year is accompanied by my other favorite activity – running. What’s better than that? Reading and then a run to either listen to a book or think about what I read? You decide.

Really delved into fantasy here.

November Reads & December TBR

Knowing that I did not stick with my planned to-be-read list for November, I’m giving myself some leeway for December. Here are my TBRs:

In November, I read 5 books, almost 6 if you count the overlap of my first foray into the Cosmere of Brandon Sanderson: Mistborn: The Final Empire. One book that I did not plan on reading but was actually perfect for last month was An Everlasting Meal by chef and restauranteur Tara Adler. I happened to find it in a Little Free Library stop on a walk with our dog downtown.

For a book club that reads award-winning sci-fi and fantasy, I’m going to be reading Greenglass House, pictured above. It’s about an orphan who has been adopted by innkeepers and must figure out secrets of the inn. It’s set during winter, which is a perfect pick. I anticipate that it will be a fun read: it’s a seasonal one, and considered a middle grades book.

Now, about Sanderson. WOW. I finished Mistborn last night and tried to process some of it… but wow. I can’t wait to read Well of Ascension, for which I bit the bullet and ordered the hardcover. (I may or may not have already also ordered hard copies of The Final Empire and Hero of Ages.) I actually read most of this book via audiobook from my local library. I’ve been trying to get into audiobooks more. I generally was never a podcast or talk radio person, but being someone who likes to multitask (and do more crafting because of the season), I thought it was no skin off my back to listen. I also have taken to listening to books while I walk, and even while I run. The narrator of the Mistborn book, Michael Kramer, is fantastic. He does a great job of giving slightly different voices to the characters without going overboard. I usually speed it up… mostly it was at 1.25x, and last night when shit was REALLY hitting the fan, I sped it up to 1.5x.

Besides Greenglass House and the Well of Ascension, another series I want to get back into is Outlander. I’m due to read the fourth book, Drums of Autumn, which has been on my TBR for honestly months now. Part of me is terrified of the length of the book – some 900 pages – and part of me is terrified of getting my heart broken. But this is why we come back to the series we love, right? Because we have a stake in the characters’ fate. Because we see ourselves. That’s why I come back, at least.

As for the rest of my December reading, well, we’ll have to see. I have winter break at the end of the month, and obviously hope to spend much of that time reading in addition to dog cuddling, cooking, and crafting. Who knows… I may be into Stormlight Archive by 2021…

November TBR Update

Looks at calendar. Um, what? It’s the middle of November already? A little unbelievable if you ask me.

So far this month, I’ve read three books, two of which I had planned on reading and one that I kind of planned on reading, but then actually did, thanks to the library’s grab-and-go curbside service. And another shout-out to now teaching virtually again, at least for a few weeks. This means I have at least an extra hour in my day, which consequently lends itself to more coffee and reading time in the morning.

If you remember from my November TBR post a couple weeks ago, I mentioned The Dragon Waiting. I tackled that one first because next week I will be discussing it in the award-winning fantasy/sci-fi book club and I wanted to be sure I read it. This coming weekend or early next week I will probably review it a bit and write down some notes.

It was a tough but enjoyable read. The first thing I thought of when it opened to one of the main characters, Hywel, is that 1) I don’t know much about Welsh language and culture and 2) Beowulf. Since we’re discussing it in book club next week, I don’t want to say too much here. But overall I really liked the writing style and flow of the book. The dialog was tough to follow.

My second read was Season of Storms, one of the installments of the Witcher books. I loved this one. It was actually perfect coming right after a heavier, denser fantasy book. I have already had a good introduction to the world of the Witcher through first the TV show and then a few of the books. Geralt and Dandelion are true-to-form and I found myself actually laughing out loud. Mostly it felt like I was riding alongside Geralt as he went from here to there, but there were a couple plot arcs (is that a phrase?) through the book. It’s not billed as a novel, but with the way the stories resolve themselves, I would personally say that it is. Next in that series is Blood of Elves.

The book I just finished tonight was not on my original November TBR. Because the weather is getting cold here and I was already in Europe in The Dragon Waiting, it made me think of a book I loved as a tween called And Both Were Young by one of my all-time favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle. Last year or the year before I did a re-read of some of her books – A Wrinkle in Time, Many Waters, A Wind in the Door.

And Both Were Young is a really good coming-of-age story set in a boarding school in the Swiss Mountains. There’s all the vibes of a cozy winter story – snowfall, talk of skiing, wool, fireplaces, hot cocoa. Beyond that though, I remember why I loved the story so much. The main character Philippa, or “Flip,” comes to a boarding school as a tall, gangly, slightly socially awkward girl who through about the course of a semester learns to make friends, let things go, and also creates a relationship with what I’m assuming as her first boyfriend, Paul. She’s also very introverted and contemplative, which besides being tall, I can relate to.

The book is set right after World War II, so there is a lot of discussion of other students losing parents and family members, and dealing with the after effects of war. In fact, the book discusses a lot of perspectives of grief, and it’s a way that the characters, both students and faculty, bond with each other. While it’s a very fast and digestible read, it was just as great as I remember.

Today I received on request from the library An Ember in the Ashes, which is a YA fantasy book that’s been on my TBR for quite awhile. I might go ahead and dig into that. All in all, I’d say it’s been a successful month.

Boundaries

I don’t normally write for this blog on my work laptop and I usually have my Sunday post done by now, but my personal laptop seems to be dead. At least for now. Quite a bummer, too, because I was working on a very cozy vibe for a mid-autumn Sunday morning – complete quiet, a drowsy and cloudy sunrise, French press coffee. A few years ago something like my laptop completely kicking the bucket would have really thrown me off, but here I am writing about it.

I think we can all agree that in this time of the pandemic, having boundaries is good and helpful. Obviously we have the concrete example of a face mask, a literal boundary that we wear every day. We have “social distancing” as another concrete physical boundary. I hope that people also are beginning to understand the importance of work/life boundaries.

Fortunately, I’m no stranger to this practice of creating and enforcing boundaries. Long before infertility, long before moving to the East Coast, tunneling through time to when Aaron and I were first married, I had to set a boundary with work and life. He had been laid off and was in the process of joining the military, active duty. I was in my first year of teaching – which many teachers say that no matter what, is like this year for everyone.

In February of that year, Aaron took his last paycheck at the job that laid him off, and he was set to leave for basic training in April. Only two months away. I knew that it would be at least ten weeks from the time he left for Missouri to the time I’d see him again, and who knows after that. So I created a boundary with work, that I would get what I needed to get done at work, and come home at a decent hour so we could take advantage of the time we had together.

My memories of my first year of teaching are becoming fuzzier as I make room for more memories of teaching high school, but I do remember that not everything got done every day. My to-do list was long and never-ending, but I had to draw a line in the sand and say, “Done. I’m done for the day.” Because spending time with my new husband was more important. Because enjoying time we had together before an enormous change in our life was important. I was fortunate to have to learn about boundaries so young.

As the years went on throughout our experience as a military family, many boundaries were created, especially with time. When he would come home for a visit, such as Christmas break during Advanced Individual Training (AIT) or on leave from his tour in Korea, I would drop everything so we could 100% focus on being together – just the two of us and also with family. Yes, work was important, but our time and health of our marriage was more so.

As it turns out, this practice with concrete situations has really served me well throughout our time of attempting to add to our family, failing in the “natural” way, making decisions about which treatments to pursue if any, and then finally deciding to live without children.

It has not been easy, and for most of it I’ve been afraid of pissing other people off or at the very least, making them uncomfortable. However, at some point when you are so desperate for some peace and quiet in your mind, you stop caring about what people think and you just do what you need to do to feel safe.

I had not really considered that avenue before, as growing up I was taught to just deal with the feelings, push through, get over it… whatever phrases there were circulating from parents to children born in the 1980’s or early 1990’s, I heard it. I was taught to make people feel welcome and comfortable. I think that’s a good thing to teach your children, but it crosses a line when that becomes a detriment to the emotional safety of the individual.

Over the last six and a half years, since we officially started “trying” (those of you in the “actively trying” camp, please revise the list of jargon…), I and my husband both have had to lay down some boundaries.

Consequently, they have come in quite handy over the past few weeks. I’ve written a lot about church and the pressure on anyone who is not married with children to become married with children, be it single people, young married people thinking about becoming parents, or older people who have been widowed (minus the children part). I have a lot to say about the culture of the church, but I will leave that there for now.

There are many activities at church that just aren’t comfortable or welcoming for us. They weren’t even as young married people who weren’t ready for children yet. Trunk or Treats… small groups that are demographically alike… certain children’s ministries… They are all difficult, we have had to put our foot down about it. Sometimes we give a reason, sometimes we don’t. Mostly whether we give a reason or not depends on the apparent willingness to empathize of the intended party.

It had been awhile since I waved my infertility flag at church, probably since a Mother’s Day where I wrote in to the person who works on the service order and request that a single carnation be placed on the altar in honor of all mothers who could not become mothers for whatever reason. But I was asked to help out with a virtual “children’s/family ministry moment” and I had to decline, and in addition I have many feelings about the use of the word “family” in church vernacular.

Immediately when in my head I decided “Nope, can’t do it” all the justifications were running through my mind… Things like: ,Don’t get me wrong, I like kids but… or I just don’t have time right now…

But I didn’t use those to justify saying no. Instead, after reviewing the situation and the person asking, I decided to be honest and speak my peace. Having not done that in awhile, I was nervous… and this was over email! So I told the person something to the effect of, “Thank you for inviting me, but after our struggle with infertility, some things involving children are difficult and I cannot participate.” And guess what, my faith in humanity rose even the slightest bit with receiving a very empathetic and caring response.

So that happened shortly before Halloween.

Then Halloween arrived, and we were ready with costumes we bought from Walmart and full size candy bars. Yes, friends, we want to be those neighbors. Just like the folks who lived on Washington Street in our hometown gave out full size candy bars.

I really anticipated that I would be okay. The first few Halloweens of our infertility journey found me grocery shopping – all the kids would be out and about, so it was pretty peaceful to run my errands. For the past couple years, I sat on the fence, one foot in the tradition and one foot out – I would sit on my porch with candy, but have a drink in my hand. Alcohol does wonders for numbing feelings, let me tell you.

This year, I haven’t been drinking, so I’ve been having to deal with my feelings as they come up. It sucks when the feelings are in the “bad” category. And on Halloween, instead of participating like a “normal” human being (I’ve been lied to and tricked into thinking that alllllll Americans participate… and they don’t), I sat in my house, front porch light off, not dressed in my Halloween best, because at the last minute I had to draw a boundary. I didn’t anticipate it, but I whipped out that skill like a pumpkin pie out of the oven on Thanksgiving. (You can see where my mind is…)

So not only have I been running interference on boundaries, but my husband has as well on our behalf. It was pretty clear to him that I was struggling with some things and so when a situation arose with a family member, he shut it down. He didn’t even consult me first, and that felt really nice. Like he had my back. And that comes from me continuing to communicate about the boundaries I need and how I use them, and from his confidence in shutting down certain situations. We’re still a team, children or not, and that is worth its weight in….. candy bars? No, gold. It’s worth its weight in gold.

154 days

I spared a moment of generosity this week and placed my leftover candy in the main office at work. I’d been stealing “fun size” candy for days now, weeks. I had originally bought it for a meeting I had this month, thinking, “Yeah, Elizabeth, you can control yourself with candy in the room. Just three pieces a day. That’s it.”

I was wrong, and I knew I was setting myself up for failure, if eating more than three pieces of candy was considered failure.

The truth is, my body doesn’t tolerate dairy products well, but it’s mostly when they’re raw. When milk is really overprocessed into milk chocolate candy, I can handle it in small(ish) doses. So that’s why I gave myself the green light to essentially binge candy every day.

Now, do I have an unhealthy relationship with food, that is, bingeing? Maybe that’s for my therapist to say. But I know that sometimes I do, especially when it comes to sugar or junk food.

As a rule, we generally don’t keep it in the house. If we do bring junk food into the house, we know that it’s for a special treat and we don’t expect it to survive more than a couple days. This includes Oreos, pints of ice cream, a cake or pie I bake, et cetera.

But I don’t forbid myself to eat sweets. I think that could backfire pretty badly. I also am not prediabetic (according to recent-ish bloodwork). I’m at a healthy weight, I have good blood pressure (albeit kind of low) and I, in general, am a healthy person.

I know that sugar can mess with a host of body processes, including menstrual cycles and metabolism. However, right now it’s been kind of an outlet. An indulgence.

I think at this point in 2020 (almost to the end but who knows what 2021 will bring…) we’ve all found our vices. Maybe we’ve rediscovered them. Maybe we hate them; maybe we embrace them. Maybe like mine, sugar, I say hi, how are you, and move on, neither fixating nor ignoring.

However, one thing I have forbid is drinking alcohol. It’s been about five months since I’ve had an alcoholic drink. I know I’ve passed the 150 day mark.

Before May 2020, I had another dry spell around 2012-2013, when as part of youth leadership at a church we were encouraged not to drink, even in the privacy at our own home. (I have a lot of feels about that that I’m sure I’ll write about… at some point.)

I am genetically predisposed to an addiction to alcohol. I’ve known this for a very long time, but continued to play with fire. It’s very difficult for me to moderate. First, I have one glass of wine. Then, I start to feel a little uninhibitied and want to get to a good buzzed state, so I have another. Cue more intoxicated decision-making and I could polish off a bottle by myself over the course of a weekend afternoon and evening.

Same goes for holidays, though I completely viewed them as a free pass to day drink. Add on trips to wineries, one of my favorite pastimes. There’s something so cozy and “adult” about sitting on a stone patio overlooking rolling hills with a glass of wine in hand on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Late in May, after a particularly active evening of drinking whatever was available, I puked. Thankfully, not in someone’s house or someone’s car (both have happened, unfortunately), but it was enough to jar my brain into rethinking my relationship with alcohol.

I felt like absolute warmed-up death the next day. Missy, our dog, must have known how guilty and physically awful I felt, because she cuddled on the couch with me all day. I don’t have “normal” hangovers, I guess – my stomach feels bad and I have no appetite, not even for that sugary or fried junk food I mentioned earlier.

It was then I decided to see how long I could go without drinking. A long COVID summer lay ahead. First I got through Memorial Day. And then vacation, my first vacation in years that I had been 100% sober. And then a camping trip. Finally, I had made it through a sober summer and stared down the barrel of the beginning of everyone’s favorite shitshow of a school year. Well, now, that wasn’t too bad, was it? Now we’re on the verge of the holidays, and this will be my first holiday season in probably my entire life (since I was a teenasger) where I’ve been completely sober.

The first couple weeks, I felt like I was on Cloud Nine. I felt like all my ducks were in a row, as it were, and that I was in control. Slowly, the elated feeling faded away into monotony. Every day felt the same. Friday? Ok, great. Maybe we’ll order pizza. (No wine.) Saturday afternoon grilling on the patio? Nice, grab a sparkling water. (No tequila mixed drink.) Sunday afternoon, how about the winery? Oh, nevermind, I’m going to do ____ instead.

Throughout this experiment with sobriety, I’ve discovered a lot about myself. For one, I knew I had a poor relationship to alcohol. I’ve used it as a balm for pretty much everything – happiness, grief, weddings, funerals, regular ole days, Superbowl. No longer can I ignore my feelings, though. Friday nights can be particularly difficult as I anticipate the weekend ahead while considering the week behind me. Having a few glasses of wine or cocktails on a Friday night delineated my teacher-ness and my Elizabeth-ness. And now I don’t have that.

I have learned to work through my feelings day by day, which frankly, really sucks. It really sucks to have an intense moment of grief and no way to assuage it besides the meditative coping mechanisms in my mind. There’s no crutch anymore; just me.

I was very worried about appearing socially sans alcohol. I really thought it made me funnier, more charming, more witty. Turns out, I’m alright without it. Now, we also have COVID to thank for not having to navigate the social world in all its glory right now. That I am very thankful for.

I have to find other ways of sorting through feelings and having special moments. My “thing” right now is coffee + reading in the mornings before work. I’ve been making myself a French press every morning that I enjoy with whatever dairy-free creamer of my choice. On weekdays, I don’t have much time, maybe 20 minutes, to sit and read and contemplate the day. But on the weekends, I find I get out of bed with even more gusto than on a regular morning. I have found that I love enjoying my coffee with a book or some writing before the dog and husband are awake for the day. In the summers, I can sit in my chair in the living room and watch the sun rise in the east.

Waking up not hungover is probably the best feeling there is. No regret, no wondering if I say or did anything stupid. No guilt about Aaron having to take care of my drunk ass. And no waking up in the middle of the night, heart racing, sweating, worrying. That’s it, just worrying.

So you see, the sugar consumption is not the biggest deal in the world. Maybe I’m replacing my habit, but there are many reasons why not drinking is the right choice for me right now. And it has nothing to do with an external religious force that makes me feel guilty for imbibing. It has everything to do with my relationship to myself.

This week I felt a really intense craving for a glass of wine, the bottle of Chianti I have in the other room. I could see myself picking out my glass, opening the bottle to let it breathe, take a sip and savor it in my mouth. And then the daydream faded like it was a balloon being popped, and my rose colored glasses were simply just glasses again.

All I can say is that I’ve picked a hell of a year to stop drinking, and it’s not over yet.