What a strange year this has been. The highs have been very high, indeed – heady, even. New jobs, new friends, Obama’s election, dinner at Lola, recognition for working hard to make my City a better place to live, and recognition that I am actually a writer in my old age. On the other hand, the lows have been terribly low. My mother falling down the stairs and spending months in the hospital and a rehab facility, the emptiness after working hard on a campaign and losing not only the election but the intense personal connections that went with it, the reappearance of a painful (but not dangerous) medical condition, and the loss of friends to death, relocation and irreconcilable differences. I have often felt, this year, that I am repeatedly shot from a rocket into space, surviving the return trips south only because I am cushioned by the tremendous love and goodwill of my family, my friends, and the constant comforts of cooking, reading, writing and snuggling with dogs and cats.
I am not given to making resolutions. I have in the past, only to inflate them, break them, and lament them. I am not any more likely to lose 20 pounds, plant a garden, floss twice a day, learn Spanish, medidate daily, or keep the kitchen floor clean in 2009 than I was in 2008, 2007, or (Lord help me) 1997.
So I am making one, sweeping, over-arching resolution which may or may not be kept, but which should at least give me a point of reference when I slip or struggle. I am going to BALANCE. I have always believed that only the hard things in life had any value, and operated on a byzantine system of internal points. I get points if I write something for work that does not interest me, because it’s difficult. I get no points if I write something that does interest me (even if it is longer, more complex and objectively better) because the work is enjoyable. I get points if I clean the bathroom, which I hate, but I get no points if I cook something highly complex and it turns out well, because I like to cook. I get points for listening to a difficult acquaintance who calls periodically to dump extraordinarily long tales of woe, because it’s exhausting, but I get no points if I have several conversations with a beloved friend who is having a difficult time with a parent, spouse, job or child because that feels rewarding to me, and leaves me happy. Helping Sam with a report on the time line of Colombia gets me a bevvy of points because there are tears and there is yelling, but lying in bed with him and reading a book is “pointless” because it is, well, delightful.
This perpetual weighing, measuring and judging makes it difficult, if not impossible, to pass a day talking to friends, enjoying my family, cooking, working and writing a blog post without feeling that I have done “nothing.” I have failed to clean the grout, return the call to the cranky neighbor, push back my cuticles, clean out the dog crates, find the lost mitten, paint the porch, etc.. I get a sense of elation bordering on psychosis when I “skip” something I don’t want to do, like a social engagement that I agreed to out of guilt, or a meeting (I hate all meetings with a passion), although the elation is inevitably replaced with guilt. I have come to believe that my factory settings are askew; that the “Duty” triggers are in place, but that those for “Relaxation” and “Acceptance” were left on the conveyor belt by a worker who was…relaxing. See what happens when you relax?!
So, if I can do it, this is the year I stop the point system and see the value in the things that bring me peace and pleasure. I am not planning (or advocating) the abandonment of duty, or the beginning of a life of selfish dissolution (as if…), I am going to try to give myself credit when I “do good” and love it, just as I have always done when I “did good” and hated it. Maybe, if I keep re-focusing, I can come to believe that a delicious dinner served to my family or friends, a conversation with someone that is punctuated with hysterical laughter, a blog post well written, or volunteer work that makes me smile the rest of the day is GOOD. I still need to keep the bathrooms clean, go to PTA meetings and research icky legal stuff, but maybe, just maybe, if I have allowed myself to enjoy the things and people that I love, the hard parts will come easier.
There is an argument to be made, if one is a religious type (which I am), that the things that come easily are gifts from God, and that to fight them, avoid them, or otherwise contravert them is really just as morally wrong as, well, living a life of selfish enjoyment without helping anyone else. Hmmmm. I’m also guessing that this is not an issue unique to me, and that many of my fellow sufferers are women, although I will gladly accept correction on that point.
It might be sad if I never had a really big “high” in 2009, or ever again, but often, the price of the 2008 rocket rides was time with my family, sleep, peace of mind and the inevitable crash. I’m resolving to even my keel in 2009, and to view my value in the universe based not only how often I “do the needful,” or accomplish the Big Stuff, but on how often I do what is natural and lovely and pleasing, even if I enjoy it too much (damn it). I’ll be back to food and cooking next time you see me; thanks for indulging me as I stick my toe into the water of the balanced life. Of course, if you have the secret key to this balance thing (as long as it doesn’t involve grain alcohol, self-help books or moving to Sedona) I would love for you to share.