I’m cheating on my short story.
I made a promise to not write any more blog posts until I finished this story I’ve been working on. Well, not quite a promise- more like an agreement with some fine print. As I struggled with writing the story (I’ve never been great at fiction), I found my mind wandering to blog post ideas. Things I had already written about- body positivity, feminist politics, motherhood. I decided since I had already spent a lot of time covering those topics, I would not write another post- unless it was a REALLY good idea.
I know that raises the bar of expectation of this entry. I’m sorry, but this won’t be earth shattering stuff. Sometimes avoidance wins out.
If you have young children, you’ve probably found yourself reading a few books from the “Magic Treehouse” series. Last night, I finished reading “The Dragon of the Red Dawn” to the boys. In the story, Jack and Annie travel to Japan during the 1600s, with a mission to discover one of the four secrets of happiness.
Jack determines “A secret of happiness is paying really close attention to the small things in nature.”
The boys and I have been talking about how if they are ever feeling sad or anxious or angry, they can calm down by taking a few deep breaths- just a simple tool to give them time to think and make a choice instead of acting out of reflex. I remarked how paying close attention to the small things in nature sounded like a similar tool- being quiet and listening to sounds, noticing something small and intricate in a chaotic surrounding.
This morning, I went for a ride on my mountain bike. I’ve been in a bit of a biking rut lately. I’ve been taking the same trail because I know I can knock out a good workout in a short amount of time. I put my headphones on, relying on the music for sonic motivation.
Today, I decided that the focus of the bike ride would not be about the physical exertion. I would challenge myself to ride a new path. I would leave my headphones off and listen to my surroundings. I didn’t have the best ride of my life. In fact, I hopped off my bike more than once because I was too scared to try particularly sloped hills. But I also rode some things I didn’t think I could. I was reminded how the clear sky in Arizona seems more blue than anywhere else I’ve been. I closed my eyes and listened to insects, thinking how the sound perfectly illustrates the word fast.
I guess it really is a secret to happiness, because I found myself feeling joyous. I felt proud for challenging myself with new paths in the forms of bike riding and fiction writing. I was a bit astounded to think and realize I have been off of antidepressants for four months and seem to be doing just fine. I reflected on the choices that made this change possible- a healthier diet and less alcohol consumption. I marveled at how I actually seem to enjoy that lifestyle now.
This sounds like a series of gold stars and pats on the back, but I was reminded how just last week, I was beating myself up for drinking too much, overeating, and being in a bad mood. What had changed? Was it merely the magic of listening to bugs during time spent on the trail, or was there more to the story?
After the kids went to bed last night, I read some of Mark Vonnegut’s book “The Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity.” It chronicles his psychotic breakdown and eventual diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. As you might have guessed Mark Vonnegut is the son of Kurt Vonnegut, who wrote the foreward to the book. I was reminded of a post I wrote long ago after reading a biography of Kurt Vonnegut.
I hadn’t thought about that post probably since I wrote it. I couldn’t remember much about it other than talking about how Kurt Vonnegut, my favorite writer and a bit of an idol, was not a very good father and husband. He cheated on his wife, was distant from his children. But in his shortcomings as a parent and partner, he was a great teacher and mentor. He doted on his writing students, providing meaningful feedback and encouragement. At the time I wrote the post, I thought about how no single person can be all things to all people. Today, upon rereading it, I reflected on Newton’s third law of nature- everything has an equal and opposite reaction.
I had a stressful and exhausting week last week. It made me grumpy and irritable. It caused me to seek behaviors to cope with the stress- overeating, over drinking, being an asshole. But within that week, I recognized what was happening, and gave myself permission to ride it out. In the past, I might have damned myself for being weak, for lacking motivation to do better, for being a jerk to the people I loved. And I did some of that. But I also told myself to do what I needed to do that week. To pay attention to my body, and when it said it needed something else to listen. And sure enough, the day came where my body said it needed vegetables not ice cream, water not beer. I listened and obliged, and now the tide has turned. Sometimes we need the ice cream, sometimes we need the beer. Some people would say “everything in moderation” but I really hate that phrase.
The equal and opposite reaction thing is interesting to me because I tend to be a brightsider. It’s no coincidence that my nicknames have always been things like Strawberry Shortcake, Starburst, Lil’ Ray. But equal and opposite denotes a lot of negative force out there. My lack of drinking and use of antidepressants gives me a much shorter fuse. I’ve never been one who is great at masking emotions, but its become a lost cause. I can recall a recent example of sitting through a meeting. I get very annoyed when people get off topic and cause a meeting to run late, which is precisely what was happening. I thought I was doing a pretty good job hiding my frustration until the leader of the meeting remarked “Don’t worry, Kat. I know we’re running late, but we’ll get back on track.” D’oh!
I feel bad because I know my patience for friends is not always what it should be. Even when trying my hardest my face often reads “You are annoying the fuck out of me.”
Just this morning, I found myself thinking how I need to not sweat the small stuff with my kids. I worry that my constant advisement is not seen as helpful; it is seen as a judgment. I vowed to do better. But then one of my kids got syrup all over his hands. And then he didn’t wash them before going to pick out his school clothes. And I remembered how his school clothes had tooth paste on them yesterday because he got dressed before brushing his teeth. And I couldn’t help myself from saying, very calmly, very helpfully “Can you wash your hands before getting your clothes? They are really sticky with syrup.” I reminded myself that I was not the one who would be walking around with sticky hands and clothes all day. But I couldn’t help it just the same. I spent ten minutes contemplating if that was critical or helpful. Would my son develop a complex or form into a good human being? Clearly, it all hinged on this syrup episode.
Which brings me back to the point of writing this instead of working on the short story. I’ve already offered proof that this post is nothing that I haven’t written before.
But it can’t hurt. Each blog post is this permanent entry, no matter how fleeting from my mind- a reminder of concepts I want to keep present despite the challenges. It can be so easy to get caught up in sticky hands and stressful weeks and stories waiting to be written. Sometimes I need that equal and opposite reaction of taking a small moment to breathe, to close my eyes and listen to bugs being fast.
Ok. Enough with the distraction. I only have 30 minutes before picking up the kids, and this story is not going to write itself. Can’t squander all of my morning bug-listening juju on yet another blog post. Gotta waste some of it on a story that will remain securely hidden in my documents folder. Happy Wednesday!