I wanted this all year: time by myself. Not an hour. Days. Gratuitous, excessive amounts of time by myself. Peace, quiet, and being directed by only my needs.
Spouse combined birthday, Solstice, Christmas, and Hanukkah presents and sent me to a cabin by myself.
I almost didn’t go. I had an intensely difficult time saying goodbye to my boys, the wonderful, funny, loving little creatures whose needs and moods dictate my every single second. The amazing humans whose care is more important to me than my career. My tiny little gobs of love, running around all day and waking me all night.
How could I leave them? For three whole days?
Part of that resistance was Newtownian. We’re all still rocked, and as I said before, I’m not going to talk about it. I can’t. Part of my resistance was Puritanical. And part of it was the chorus of critics in my head, telling me I wasn’t worth a special thing. A just-me thing. I shouldn’t because it’s unseemly. It’s gratuitous. I have a job to do, every day for 24 hours a day and how dare I shirk that responsibility?
“”Who needs a whole weekend alone,” my chorus berated. “There are people without homes, without food, without basic security. There are people cold without respite and people sick and dying.
I know that. I really, really, really do.
I tried several times to cancel. Spouse wouldn’t let me. He knows I’m fed by solitude, by quiet, and by following my own rhythms. He knows I need, desperately, to create. To write, to read, to hike, to eat. And he knows that for seven years I’ve subsumed those needs to other people. Lovely people whose well-being I take incredibly seriously. Too seriously, maybe.
Since having children I have experienced more frequent and intense joy than ever before. I’ve also been haunted by a daily thought that I’m really meant to live alone and am living the wrong life.
I know that sounds awful, but it’s true. Or it was true. Since I hadn’t had solitude for more than a couple of hours at a time in almost a year, I was running on empty. I needed my own personal fuel. I can’t do my multiple jobs without energy, and I had absolutely none left. Before this trip I couldn’t figure out why I was resistant to write, to read, to exercise, to explore, to try new things.
The simple answer is that I wasn’t myself. I was a shell.
Being a shell isn’t good for anyone. It isn’t good for our families, it isn’t good for our art, it isn’t good for our individual and collective moods, and it isn’t good for our brains.
This is my seventh trip away since my first darling boy was born. Most have been short: a day or two. A conference here, a loved one’s new babies there. Two visits to a treasured friend to talk and watch movies and read books. And two solitary, see-nobody-and-speak-to-nobody-and-do-whatever-I-choose trips including this one.
A farmyard cabin. Clear air, lowing cows, croaking frogs. Nighttime fears of the sinister things that movies and novels make seem normal but are really intensely rare, ridiculous wastes of my worry energy.
I haven’t slept much. I haven’t exercised much. But I’ve worked almost non-stop on my book and on a client project that’s bringing me intellectual joy. I’ve eaten only healthful food because that’s all I brought. Despite my cravings for candy and wine, I’ve had salads and tea and barbeque field roast sandwiches. In fact, everything I brought was good for me. Two awesome books (and a chapter of a book that I’ve been meaning to read, found in the cabin’s library). A computer on which to create and learn.
I’m intensely lucky. I know that.
Good heavens, I cannot articulate how good I feel. There are now in front of me, beyond the enclosed porch on which I now sit typing, nine different tree species. Clear skies, sunshine, picturesque fluffy clouds. A chilling breeze kept somewhat at bay by a wool throw and a rumbling wood stove. Sunshine.
There’s copious sunshine at home. And blue skies and fluffy clouds and trees. But here nobody asks me for anything. No fights. No stress, no frustrations. No ups and downs. Just being. Centered, listening to my own body and brain existing.
I have to go now. I have to make the most of this time. But I wanted to say this: I wish you this. I hope you find your version of this.
When you’re making New Year’s Resolutions, if you do such things, find what makes you tick. What centers you to who you are and what you need and what makes you the most you can be. Writing down the things most important to how you fuel yourself to make it through the days and weeks is immeasurably useful.
Because I hope you find a way in 2013 to get what you need. Not every day, not in a way that overwhelms your responsibilities or finances. But push just a little beyond what you think you should do or get and bring yourself back to center. Take time off work or away from family, visit family or sleep or paint. Take a class or explore new movies and music. Once you take care of yourself you will have more to offer others. Play with your children, invest in your employer, build your company. Volunteer until you feel you’ve made more than a difference—you’ve made a mark. Write letters to your elected representatives until your hand cramps. Give others what they need.
Whatever you most value, invest in it. More than you otherwise would. Do a little too much so that you can push past the limits you’ve hit. To restore the core of who you are and what you want. This weekend cost me too much time from my family and too much money. And I know that for most people anything that costs money will be too much. But whatever “that’s all we can afford is,” do a little more. Because this weekend hasn’t cost too much, really. Throwing the money in the trash would have cost too much. Buying solitude on my own terms has been so immeasurably good for me that it exceeds the monetary and absent-mother cost by about one-thousand-fold.
I’m glad I was led outside what I felt was too much. I will not forget how this feels. I will bring to my every endeavor for the next few months the energy and passion that had dwindled as I pushed through each day, driving on fumes.
I have more to give because I was given. Because I gave myself what I actually, really needed. Tired isn’t just about sleep. Sad isn’t just about sorrow. Hungry isn’t just about food. Angry isn’t just about being wronged. All needs are about not getting enough.
It’s not enough until the little battery indicator on your soul blinks full that you’ve had enough.
I’m getting there. And soon I will share my recharged self with two little guys and a big guy and a community and a nation and a planet who all really deserve the best I can give. Something I can now offer.
I wish you more than enough now, next year, and always.