by Maya Dexter
This spring, my whole world shifted.
I settled down. Not that I knew I was unsettled; not that I realized what an effect my unconscious unsettlement had on my entire way of living. But once I settled down, I knew I had done it. Not only that, I needed it -- and liked it.
This spring, I moved into a wonderful 75-year-old house with my S.O. Basement, attic, hardwood floors, pink-and-black tiled bathroom, big, green yard with a tree house and rosebushes, and a sense of peaceful grounding that comes with old homes and makes me feel like I'm still living in simpler times. Suddenly, I want to make pickles and can tomatoes. Suddenly, homemaking is appealing to me. Me!
Living in a house is new to me. My mom and I lived in rented duplexes and apartments; she didn't get her first house until after I left the nest. My dad had a house he built with his own hands. I spent summers there but it wasn't where I lived - it was where I visited. As an adult, I've always rented. I rented a house for a year once, but we barely unpacked and I was too busy figuring out how to be a mother to a newborn to even remember where I was most of the time.
Owning a house is different. Aside from the fact that you know you're staying there, so taking care of it seems worthwhile, there are so many little stressors that come with renting that I had always taken for granted as part of life. Doing laundry is so easy now -- just go down to the basement every once in awhile, rather than lugging heavy baskets to the laundromat for a wasted afternoon, week after week. No smoke coming up from the apartment downstairs. No music thudding through from the apartment next door. No wondering who can hear me having sex. Just our little island, surrounded by green.
Settling down has had a noticeable effect on the whole household. As we dig our way out of the cardboard canyons, we are forced to consider whether our possessions serve us, or whether they possess us. Are we committed enough to them to make them part of our home?
Commitment. That's the crux of it, really. Settling into this house has brought us all around, in one way or another, to the concept of commitment, from the smallest what-does-this-go-to screw to the way we spend our time and money.
My daughter considers more carefully what she wants to do with her time. The S.O. is deciding whether the freedom of consulting is worth the financial rollercoaster, or whether it might be worth it to take a desk job in order to support this new life on a more predictable, even keel.
I suddenly see, in my longing to settle in, to keep up with the garden and housework that I have been like a politician all my life, with a false grin and a firm handshake, making promises I couldn't keep to avoid disappointing anyone, to avoid saying no. Lately I have howled with frustration at doing everything in my life late or half-assed because I'm too over-committed to take the time to do anything well.
"Jack of all trades, master of none" -- so that's what that means. Once upon a time, that was a badge of honor. Now, at thirty, it is the scarlet letter of my flightiness. Once, I collected information with a quick mind that could retain endless factoids. These days, my memory is not as sharp as it once was. I have more to keep track of, and I find that I long for depth.
I am coming to terms with my mere humanity, or at least admitting I can only do so much, and not everything I ever longed to do. I always thought, "If I only try hard enough, I can do it. There's plenty of time." But there isn't. There just isn't.
Which is depressing.
Slogging through the mire of hopelessness is the hardest part of coming to terms. It's devastating to feel so limited, sad to think of all the dreams that will fade and come to nothing. It's easy to stay stuck there, mourning the unrequited possibilities.
But beyond that sticky pit, I am just beginning to make out the depth I have sought. My thoughts go something like this: "If I can't commit well to everything, then I must pare down…which means I have to choose carefully what is important to me…if I choose what's important to me, rather than those things I feel obligated to do, then life is my own creation…and the things I do will have meaning. Hey, wait, that's not so bad!"
So, okay, what is important to me?
Yeah, see that's where I start to get stuck again. Everything seems important!
Certainly, my family is important. I want to make time with them to play games and ride bikes and go to the beach and read.
My home is important. I want it to be well-kept and nice, with energy that moves through it unfettered by clutter and dust and weeds.
My massage practice is important. I want a full schedule of clients who value me and come back regularly.
My finances are important. I am tired of running from the specter of an empty bank account and late bills. I want a life where there is enough money that we can thrive, rather than survive.
My freedom is important. I want to be able to travel and have adventures and visit old friends.
The trouble is, I could go on like this for pages and pages. Life is complicated; it's a juggling act with a thousand Jello-handled knives. Yet when I look around at everyone else, they seem to be on top of things. Why do I seem to be the only one not getting it down? The tightrope between self-examination and self-flagellation is wobbly and strung over quicksand. The mire is hard to avoid.
It occurs to me as I write that maybe I'm getting the equation backward. Maybe I should ask myself what isn't important? Or, at least, what isn't as important as the things above? How much of my time do I waste aimlessly surfing the Internet, or the channels, or jumping through someone else's hoops? Do those things serve what I proclaim to want?
I never realized to what extent commitment is the currency of life. Where you place your commitment is where you focus your energy. The depth of that commitment is often in direct proportion to the effectiveness of the endeavor. Lots of times we say we want something, but then do little more than hold out our hand so that the universe might drop it gently into it, without any effort on our part. When nothing falls, or doesn't fall close enough, we pout, shrug, and move on. To live life with intent is to throw the weight of our commitment behind something, to decide to do it with all of our being, not just the wishful part. That takes focus, which scares me because focus has never been my forte.
But then, maybe I just wasn't ready to focus.
This theory opens up a new world of possibility for me. The dead ends aren't so dead after all; they just need a little investment review. How much does this matter to me? What am I willing to do to make it come about? Is it worth the effort of sustained focus?
Which leaves me looking around at my cluttered life, wondering how it got so far out of hand, and how to rein it back in. I suppose you handle it the same way you do a mountain of cardboard boxes -- bit by bit, and by letting go of whatever you can live without. If dumping books and knickknacks make me feel a thousand pounds lighter, how would dumping a bunch of worn-out obligations feel?
I'm ready to find out.