back to calm.

The whirlwind continues.

Lately things have been insanely busy.  This is not very different from usual, and I feel like I’ve been saying that for years in my blog posts.  “OMG I’m busy this week!”  Quelle surprise, Tess!  Shock us again!  Also for years, I’ve been talking about and thinking about ways to slow down and to keep my schedule from drowning me.  It seems like I’m always saying “As soon as such-and-such event is over, things will calm down”  or “oh after such-and-such date I’ll get a chance to rest,” but that time never really comes.  The grand date of calm, which is like a faraway beacon you’re striving for, never actually arrives.  It keeps getting pushed back farther and farther into the future as more “important” things usurp it.  And the ridiculous thing is that I’m not reaching for some goal of money or notoriety or safety or something.  Actually, instead of being the kind of person who measures self-worth in how busy I am and how long my to-do list is, I’m trying desperately to get to the end of that to-do list.  I just really, really want to lie around in my slip all evening and read books while the cats yawn next to me.

The over-scheduled life.

Finally, I’ve hit a wall.  Yes yes, I have magical powers and all, but we Morning People get tired too.  I think what finally drove me over the edge is that for a long while, I was working part time.  After the wedding planning was over (because that’s a full time job), I had free time on a daily basis.  And instead of working on my own projects or reading giant stacks of books, for this past year I got into a habit of just saying yes to everything.  Getting involved in every committee, organization, and event I was invited into.  Then I started working full time again, but didn’t do away with any of the committments I had entered into while working part time.   I’ve been feeling entirely overwhelmed, and I think it was the combination of a few things.

  • A crucial time for the temple, with Jewish High Holy Days happening super early this year which placed them at the same time as the beginning of the Religious School year…as well as the fact that I ramped up to about 45 hours per week, am now solely in charge of our entire web presence including social networking, and now have three bosses (“You see, we’re using these new cover sheets for our TPS reports”) with three styles of work, who all expect different deliverables on different timelines
  • A crucial time for Always Midnight, with several due dates approaching rapidly and so much hot-gluing to do
  • A crucial time for RVANews, with seasonal events being attended and written about, as well as a much-needed Capital! Style update, not to mention keeping up my regular Richmond Proper column
  • A crucial time for charitable and church-related pursuits, with SynerGeo planning its year and needing lots of solutions to lots of issues, and with City Church growing and changing and so much research to do and so many decisions to make and so many meetings to attend and committments to fulfill
  • A crucial time for festivities, with birthdays (including my own) happening constantly and requiring a ton of preparation and hanging out, and with so many weddings and all of their related events going on both in town and out of town, and with the time it takes to just sit down with friends we love and have a meal together
  • A crucial time for our living situation, with roommates going and coming, and with beginning the infinite time-suck that is house hunting
  • A crucial time for Richmond — summers here are always chock full of fun things going on, and that tends to crescendo right at the end of the summer

So maybe you can see how I’ve been kind of shell-shocked.  And this list doesn’t even count regular human activities like fitness, marking off the 20-ish chores on the chore chart each week, gardening, budgeting and paying bills, procuring food for the household, managing to get dinner on the table every night, grooming oneself, etc. etc.  Plus there are lots of other things I really like to do but rarely ever have time for, like more blogging, photography, yoga, and so on.

The results of an over-scheduled life.

I found myself hurtling through life at an almost painful speed. During the past few weeks it’s reached a fever pitch, with me getting up early to work out, and then rushing hurriedly from obligation to obligation until collapsing into bed.  Finally I got to the point where I was just not looking forward to the next day.When you have this much stuff going on, something’s going to suffer.  So some days you ignore way too many emails and texts, and some days you ignore fixing your hair, and things begin teetering into chaos.  I can hear Clueless in my head: “I felt impotent and out-of-control, which I really hate.”  Amen, sister.

Facing the obvious.

Friends and mentors and more recently, my husband, have all been saying the same thing for years: make a list of your committments and then simply cross some of them off the list.  I’ve known what must be done for some time, but I’ve put off doing it because I knew it would be difficult.  “I can make this work,” and “things will calm down ASAP, I’m sure of it” — these excuses don’t work forever.  In the space of the past week several things happened to make this list-making seem more urgent.

  • I had echoes of that same advice in conversations with friends, including Nicole, the Queen of the Successful Over-Schedulers
  • Someone said “so your schedule kind of rules you,” and it became a bit of a guilty mantra, sounding in my head like one of those Soviet Russia jokes: “Een Soviet Russia, schedule rules you!”
  • I proofread a sermon at work that talked about this kind of overscheduled lifestyle, and how living in the light of your own accomplishments dims the light of God
  • I told my hairdresser that all I really wanted to do was clear my schedule, go away somewhere for like three days and stare at a wall, and come back and never let my schedule get like this again
  • I forced myself to make time for reading and finished Marie Antoinette: The Journey, which is essentially about a woman who’s such a people-pleaser that she tries to be 100% devoted to everyone and everything, and eventually is devoured by those same people and things
  • I started a new book called Bittersweet (I’ll be reviewing it on this blog soon) in which the author describes her own struggle with this issue of doing everything: “It’s fundamental to my understanding of myself for me to be the strong one, the capable one, the busy one, the one who can bail you out, not make a fuss, bring a meal, add a few more things to the list.  For me, everything becomes a lifestyle.  Everything is an addiction.”
  • I realized that although I deeply desire to be like Isaiah — bursting with eagerness to serve others, always saying “Here am I, Lord.  Send me” — the quality of my serving goes down as the quantity goes up.  I’m probably not much use to God, family, friends, the homeless guys camped out behind my house, etc., if I don’t have time for them because I’m too busy rushing off to my next non-profit meeting.  I need to recognize my limits, make peace, and get back to the things that really matter (like lazy afternoons, stacks of books, and just being available when someone truly needs me).

Sacrifice for the sake of the greater good.

So although I knew what I had to do, it was incredibly painful.  Someone said “This should be a relief to you, getting rid of these obligations weighing you down.”  But it doesn’t feel like that at all, because these are not things I hate doing.  All of these pursuits, everything I’m involved in, are things I do because I love them.  They buoy me up rather than weighing me down.  I look forward to them.  I genuinely enjoy and believe in each one.  Instead of being asked to make a list and scratch some things off of it, I feel like I’m being asked to line up my own 37 children and choose 10 of them to drown in the river.  This is terrifying!  It just seems fundamentally wrong.

Anyway I cried a little, and then made the darn list and scratched just a few things off, and made a sub-list of things I think can be scratched off very soon (I will talk about this in greater detail elsewhere).  I wrote a few emails bowing out of various things and briefly explaining why, and each response back was completely understanding.  I made promises to myself about taking a step back from the things that I did keep on the list, and not feeling like I ALWAYS have to be the first one to respond to every question, and like I ALWAYS have to volunteer for every little related task.  I went to bed feeling mixed-up and unfinished somehow.

Getting back to calm.

I woke up the next morning feeling entirely different.  My usually energetic spirit (the one that got me into this mess in the first place) had begun to mend, and I felt creative again. And since I’ve been vigorously RSVP-ing “no” to things for what seems like ages, my schedule has finally cleared up a bit and I spent a couple of evenings resting and a couple of evenings chipping away at my Always Midnight work.

I talk all of the time about calm.  When I say that word I don’t just mean “the absence of chaos,” but rather a deep-seated peacefulness and levelness so rock-solid that there is no such thing as a bad day, because daily minutiae can never sway it.  Certainly you might feel some tiny bit more tragic or ecstatic in a given moment somewhere on the distance surface, but either way it doesn’t matter much because you don’t live on the surface — you live in the deep, calm, peaceful core.  It means not living a life of extremes, like a three-year-old.  It means not being a slave to schedules or moods, but instead having such a sure foundation that life’s hurricanes are just tiny fluctuations so minuscule they’re barely noticed.  It means that you experience pleasures and sorrows just as genuinely as others, but in a thoughtful and abiding way rather than a manic, dramatic way.  Calm is when you have your eyes on the big picture rather than the next five minutes.  It’s about depending on a Person who is unchanging.

Because this calmness is so important to me, I’ve built my life around it, always using it as a meter for self-examination.  I think it describes me and what I’m all about, and also describes what I’d like to be.  For the first time in years, the points plotted on this line I’ve been monitoring rose up ever-so-slightly, just enough for me to notice and be concerned.  Alert!  Errata in the data!  And then prompt attention was duly paid, the prescription carried out, and the line returned to status quo.  I am so thankful that this slight, barely perceptible readjustment is the most brow-furrowing thing to happen to me in like five years.  Undeservedly, I am the most blessed person on the planet, and now I’m going to go focus on enjoying that very fact.  More reading, home-cooked meals with friends, day trips, Skype dates, reading, sewing, video games, long walks, reading, enjoying a drink on the front porch with Dan, etc.  Did I mention more reading?

I would love to hear your comments and your own experiences in this arena.  Thank you to those of you who supported me and talked me through this stuff.  Also, a more fun-filled, less introspective update will follow shortly, and you will get to see the positive side of my over-filled schedule.  ❤

of affirmations and fresh air.

I like the idea of affirmations rather than resolutions. It seems like we’re so obsessed with whatever’s new and exciting and looks like it’s going to TOTALLY FIX US and blah blah blah, but we never take stock of what’s great in our lives and what really works, and what we should keep doing.  My friend Victoria posted a list of affirmations for 2010, so here’s my own version of affirmations in pictures and quotes…many taken from this blog during the past year.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

— Prayer of St. Francis

It is neither wealth nor splendor, but tranquility and occupation, which give happiness.
— Thomas Jefferson

Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
— David Sheff, Beautiful Boy

Always take hold of things by the smooth handle.
— Thomas Jefferson

Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.
— A.A. Milne

A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.
— Henry David Thoreau

Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people.
— Thomas Jefferson

I have appointed you Queen.
There are those more slender than you, more slender.
There are those purer than you, purer.
There are those fairer than you, fairer.

But you are Queen.

— from “The Queen” by Pablo Neruda

Love is like a friendship caught on fire: In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep- burning and unquenchable.
— Bruce Lee

why I don’t watch the news.

Sensationalist, yellow journalism.

  • Shock value, not substance.  It’s never actually news.
  • Focuses on some freak act rather than issues of national importance (or even more general importance)
  • They do it because they know that if they focus on what life is really like, they’ll lose ratings / sales
  • Not helpful to me because it never introduces a new topic, it only rehashes old, classically shocking topics: abuse, fighting, impropriety, some type of vice that’s supposedly exciting because it’s hidden.
  • Am I trying to be unaware of my surroundings?  No.  But I heard about kidnapping when I was little.  I don’t need to see every gruesome detail of it.  It’s enough to know it exists.
  • Will watching it improve the quality of my life or of others’?  The answer is invariably “no.”
  • We greedily try to steal the grief of the people involved.  Instead of acknowledging some wrongdoing, asking if there’s anything we can do, and moving on, we gobble up hours and hours of TV coverage, investigations, speculation until we feel that the burden is OURS because we (1) have nothing else to do and (2) have a sick need, as a society, to punish ourselves.  Why is it not enough to know that there is evil in the world and be thankful it rarely touches us?
  • And that’s why I don’t watch the news.

of goodness and girly things.

Things I’ve been thinking about…

  • Guerilla Goodness, fellow RVANews writer Patience Salgado’s great idea about practicing random acts of kindness.”There is no selfless good deed but it doesn’t really matter, the world needs it all… I have been on both ends of kindness and decided this was the work of my life. When I looked back, kindness had been calling me all along.”
  • Urban decay indeed.
  • Exercise doesn’t “make you thin,” apparently.  O RLY?!  Thanks for nothing, crazy workout schedule.  Seriously, this article is an interesting read.  While I’m not ready to drop my workout schedule (it still helps prevent heart disease, so that’s a good thing) I want to start focusing on more frequent exercise rather than more vigorous exercise.”After you work out hard enough to convert, say, 10 lb. of fat to muscle — a major achievement — you would be able to eat only an extra 40 calories per day, about the amount in a teaspoon of butter, before beginning to gain weight. Good luck with that.”
  • Neat woodcut prints from Tugboat Printshop, via Modish.
  • A “Christian” DVD lending library: Really?  Why do we need this?  Are non-Christians suddenly inept at handling DVDs?  Or are Christians unable to expend the energy necessary to filter their own Netflix choices?  Just another brick in the wall of certain factions sectioning themselves away from the rest of the world — which they were commanded to love and do a good work within.  Ugh, see this sermon for how I feel about that.
  • Adorable, doll-like, and fun.  See, kids can dress well too.
  • I love the 1700s, when marriage, maturity, and motherhood were revered — versus today, when being or looking like a 12-year-old is considered hot.  Check out Mrs. Georgiana Smyth here, being sweet and looking good doing it.  The best part is that this is her son on her lap, not her daughter.
  • Now, this is my idea of shelving.
  • Although I love to cook, I’m not completely brainwashed by the slow food movement and I know the value of a quick meal without a lot of fuss.  So these cans that heat themselves are exciting to me.
  • Quite possibly the best nerdy cross-stitch I’ve ever seen.
  • An interesting article about panhandling.  This is an issue that directly affects our neighborhood, and this article makes some good points.  I think it’s difficult to say what’s “right” and what’s “wrong” — giving money that goes straight to a sixer of Natty Ice isn’t getting to the root of the problem, it’s just making a person feel better for a minute.  And I hate the idea of not making progress.  But at the same time, do we have a right to tell them what they “need?”“Over the years, I have been approached by dozens of people asking for money. When I said I would buy them a burger or take them where they need to go, the answer was always the same: ‘I just want the money,’ Martin said.'”
  • TRUE.

    And the best part is that there are some attractive nerds out there.

love / hate.

pretty, pretty book

pretty, pretty book

Right now, I love:

  • Going into my backyard, finding the newest little rosebuds, and carrying them inside for bud vases all around the house.
  • The fact that Modern Chris is now calling me “Tessipedia” due to my propensity to remember amazing stuff.  The irony is that I have a horrible memory.  I’ve just happened to get lucky in conversation with Chris.
  • Listening to the Cantor in the office next to me, reciting passages from the Torah in her beautiful Hebrew.
  • The fact that this same lady has started calling me “Abby” after the character from NCIS, because I supposedly look exactly like her.  You’ll remember that my boss at my previous place of employment did the same thing.  I think it’s the she’s-the-only-goth-girl-I’ve-ever-seen-so-I’ll-call-you-her-name-even-though-you-look-nothing-like-her syndrome, because I really don’t look like her…but she’s lovely, and I gratefully accept the compliment.
  • RoBear, as they call him on certain Twilight fansites.  And also TayLaut.  I won’t go into details here.
  • Seeing my beautiful friends from out of town.
the lovely Jaime and I

the lovely Jaime and I

vintage labels!

vintage labels!

Right now I hate:

  • The question “So, how are the wedding plans going?”  Seriously I’m just going to start pretending like I don’t hear people when they ask me this.  Here’s why:
    • What happened to “how are YOU doing?”
    • A simple “Great!” doesn’t satisfy them; they will not take this for an answer (to the few who have, thank you).  They’ll continue to stare expectantly and if I don’t offer any more info, start grilling me with 45 different questions and get every mundane detail: what exact foods we’re having, every detail of my dress, full descriptions of jewelry, how many guests we’re having, and 1 million other things that are none of their business and that should be pleasant surprises on the wedding day rather than discussed and dissected beforehand.
    • I do not have my entire 80-some-item to-do list memorized, people.  Please stop with the “So what all is left to do?  Yeah?  And after that?  And after THAT?!”  If you are even just an acquaintance of mine, you should know I live in fear of having to recall long lists of things from memory.
    • I’m frankly disgusted with everybody’s expectation that I should be looking forward to this day with all of my might.  That would just be subscribing to the idea that happiness is contingent upon the Next Big Thing happening, a way of life I don’t understand and don’t buy into.  People are always like “oh, after such-and-such happens, then things will be perfect.”  No way!  You can’t live your life always waiting until after This or That happens to truly allow yourself to be happy, or grow up, or be content in a relationship, or whatever.  I want to be happy and helpful right now, where I am.  Not where I assume I’m going to be.  Because you never really do get there, do you?  It’s never enough, as the Cure says.  How very American of us.
    • I don’t think that on the wedding day some magical transformation overtakes you, I think that it’s a process that you set into motion a long time ago and will keep working on for the rest of your life.  The wedding is just a symbol; a celebration.  A time to commemorate the life that Dan and I already have together.
    • I hate that the focus of every conversation gets steered toward cake flavors and hairstyles, as if those things are actually what’s important.  The wedding as a whole is important, but it’s not the end product that everyone seems to think it is.  I’m looking for a good marriage much more than I’m looking for a good wedding.

But as always, I shall endeavor to keep calm and carry on.  Up with tranquility, down with playing 20 questions about party planning!