My gosh, it’s hard to begin again after a long silence …
I’ll start by saying I’m utterly relieved that autumn is upon us. It’s not only that September feels far more fresh-startish to me than January —
(unoriginal, I know; this feeling only applies to me and 87% of the rest of the internet)
— it’s the fact that after the blisteringly hot and humid summer we’ve had, the cooler weather is not merely nice, but rather is welcome in an OH-THANK-GOODNESS-you’re-finally-here!!! kind of way.
(If Cool Weather were a prospective houseguest, she’d be slowing backing away from my so-effusive-it-borders-on-scary greeting and muttering something about an appointment elsewhere.)
It was a not-altogether-fun summer. Against the backdrop of the stifling heat were two things:
First off, our daughter, who had just finished her second year of university, didn’t “come home” for the summer. We saw her, sure; but on visits. Having your child home to visit — even when you know she’s in the best place she can be — can be a poignant and bittersweet and disquieting thing to have to wrap your head and emotions around.
Secondly, there was the looming departure of our second-born — our 17-year-old son — to university this fall. He “eased” us into this, by being out nearly ALL the time and by begging off a family camping trip. (The trip did happen — just my husband and me and our youngest son — but it felt six ways from Sunday WRONG to be camping without our older two children. Truthfully, we all felt it, and were all relieved to get back home.)
I spent much of July and August feeling weighed down, unable to generate even the slightest interest in anything other than reading Harry Potter to my 11-year-old son. It was too hot to bake, I left my sewing in an existentialistic pique of this-isn’t-working-and-what-the-hell-am-I-even-doing-this-for, and I couldn’t even muster the energy to weed the vegetable garden that I had “planted”. (“Planted”, in quotation marks, because I literally threw the seeds onto the non-prepared soil, two weeks later than I was “supposed to”.)
And then, right around the time that Rita was shedding tears in her grocery store because it struck her that when her daughter went off to college she would have to buy fewer apples, I was coming to a parallel realization: with the departure of my 17-year-old
bottomless pit son, I would have to bake fewer cookies.
And oh. my. gosh., that thought literally made me stop in my tracks. I stood there in the kitchen, eyes closed, mouth gaping, breath held, as the realization set in.
You see, dear reader, baking cookies* is not only what I DO, it’s tied inextricably with who I AM.
Several months ago, I joked — prophetically — in the comments of my freezing food post, that if “I [didn’t] have a chest freezer … I would spiral down into existential crisis mode [because] … so much of what I do during my “working hours” involves filling that freezer!”
Clearly, if I was making light of a dark and cold cookie-less future, if I considered the ramifications of not having a freezer, but utterly failed to see that my very REASONS for filling that freezer would soon be leaving me, I had blinders on. The fact is, once 2/3rds of my kiddos were out of the house (although admittedly, with baking for the absent majority not completely non-existent but just severely limited to care packages (perhaps) every few weeks), I was going to find myself teetering on the cusp of becoming an underutilized, not-working-to-my-potential, verging-dangerously-on-redundant housewife/homemaker/SAHM** …
This has just now occurred to me: what if my 11-year-old-son simply picks up the slack and eats his siblings’ cookies as well as his own? He won’t mind, will he?
/ PUT DOWN THE SPATULA AND STEP AWAY FROM THE OVEN, MA’AM! YOUR COOKIE BAKING DAYS ARE OVER! /
Okay. Deep calming breath. Let’s not overreact. My cookie baking days aren’t actually OVER. But I do have to face the fact that they are numbered.
Serendipitously, just when I was
quietly weeping mulling all of this over, I happened across this book in the library:
Now, I’ve mentioned before that although I don’t have a heckuva lot of patience for self-help books, I do have a weakness for books that deal with “stuff”. However, SHED, I’ve since learned, is not just about getting rid of your excess stuff; SHED is Morgenstern’s acronym for Separate the treasures, Heave the trash, Embrace your identity, Drive yourself forward. And as much as I hate to admit it (see first sentence above), it’s a book that makes quite a lot of sense. You see, when Morgenstern talks about treasures and trash, she’s not just talking about physical objects and how they can affect a person’s psyche; she’s also talking about time and habits. She advises her feeling-rather-stuck-ish readers to examine their endeavours, their pastimes, their hobbies, and their habits, and encourages them to tease out those which equate to time well spent, and those which are inadvertently damaging or derailing goals and dreams.
Time, and how best to spend it, has been a concept I’ve thought deeply about my entire life, ever since I was a child. And it was the very concept of “time well-spent” that led to me tossing my sewing aside this summer.
You see, I wasn’t just working on something from a pattern, something with “fresh” material, something that I absolutely knewknewknew would turn out well. No. I was trying to upcycle a shrunken t-shirt into a wearable top. And it just wasn’t working, no matter what I tried. But I had to keep going. You see, I had The True Cost documentary on my brain; I was thinking about the mountains and mountains of cast-off clothing that gets sent to developing nations; I was thinking about the fact that not only is it an environmental nightmare, but that it’s also putting local tailors and seamstresses out of work; I was thinking that I don’t want to contribute to that and so I MUST take responsibility for the things that are in my closet.
Now I know I said in my last post that I LOVE making things … but here’s the problem:
I love doing other things too. And if I have to rescue every bit of clothing I’ve ever bought, I will NEVER be done. And if I’ve put the weight of the world on my shoulders and feel a personal responsibility to fix this problem — and the myriad of other problems currently facing the world (for which I’ve watched every damn documentary and TED Talk) — I will be overwhelmed.
I say that like it’s a remote possibility.
The fact is, I AM overwhelmed.
I have fallen into a very dark and hopeless place, a place constructed of idealism and perfectionism and inhabited by grief and fear, frustration and anger. I’m pretty sure it’s existential depression. And I need to find a way to re-surface, to rekindle hope and positivity.
I’m not entirely sure how to do this.
I know that I need to figure out who I am if I’m not a cookie baker.
I’m hoping writing will help. But if I’m going to “allow” myself time for writing then I need to stop conflating “making things” with “being productive”, and “being productive” with “working hard”, and “working hard” with self-worth.
I’m also hoping — jokes about Sorting Hat quizzes and Myers-Briggs’ tests aside (“who needs self-awareness when there’s work to be done?” said I, in the comments of my last post) — that a little bit of self-awareness will uncover some coping strategies. I’ve been reading a bit about highly sensitive people and have just finished Paula Prober’s Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being Of Gifted Adults and Youth. (Although I would never claim to be gifted, many puzzle pieces do seem to be sliding into place.)
I’m going to keep knitting. (Because making warm and useful things for my children could never be a bad thing.)
I’m going to keep sewing, but only when needed and when I’m certain of success. (I whipped up a last-minute housecoat for my 17-year-old son at the end of the summer, as well as a pencil case. He was very appreciative and at no point along the way did I wonder wtf am I doing this for?)
I’m also going to keep up with my volunteer work at the school library. (We just wrapped up another crap-free book fair; the children were SO excited to see all those books and it made me feel like a superhero.)
And, to get back to Morgenstern’s book, I’m hoping that a good dose of mundane clearing-out and cleaning-up will work wonders: I’ve purged my spilling-out-of-its-designated-box fabric stash. (Because I’ve realized that the weight of all those potential projects and all that fabric that “I must not let go to waste” is not only paralyzing, it’s a never-ending make-work project and life is too short for that.) I’ve also managed to clear out some more baby/toddler/pre-school clothing, which was also spilling-out-of-its-dedicated-box. (Because keeping the amount that I’ve been keeping — for future grandchildren, to use for upcycling, because my kid(s) looked so cute in it I-just-can’t-let-go, because the world will fall apart tomorrow and there will be no sleepers left on the planet — is
bordering on crazylady.)
I’m going to leave you with this song by Lord Huron. I’ve had their album Strange Trails on repeat ever since my 17-year-old son went off to school. Unlike my daughter, who played around with the radio dial whenever we went somewhere in the car, my son liked to put on his “own” music, and although I would never be so foolish as to tell him that his pushing-50-year-old mother liked his music, she/I really did. This is my favourite on the album, and although its lyrics are perhaps a bit dark, it’s also making me feel less alone somehow.
*I bake more than just cookies. I also do more than just bake. The cookies are both literal and metaphorical.
**Housewife/homemaker/SAHM … I loathe the first term, and very-nearly loathe the last. If I were forced to pick one, I’d choose homemaker.
***There isn’t a place in the post with three asterisks. I just want to apologize for this slog of a dark and depressing post. And to thank you if you’ve read all the way through. I’ll do my best to be cheerier next time.