If it’s true that everyone has a path in life, then I have to say that lately mine is giving me motion sickness. There are U-turns galore, dead ends and ragged hairpin corners. At one point, I thought I had a map, but it must have blown right out the window.
I’m stumbling over words again, saying “dog food” when I mean “yogurt”. I forget where I’m driving, and head to Boston instead of Gardner. I can’t remember which toothbrush is mine, the blue one or the green one. These are not good signs. They make me worry that I’m doomed for early Alzheimer’s or that, in the nearer future, I will someday leave the house with a banana on my head.
This Thanksgiving week, I’m grateful for the life that’s mine, for the chance to juggle passions. I love schooling my kids. I love writing. It’s just that, lately, I’m dropping more balls than I juggle. They roll across the floor, crack against the ceiling, knock my skull, split the seams. I am grateful, yes, but I’m also stumbling over my own tired feet, tripping on the mess.
When Rainbow Girl was two or three, she decided to give up her pacifiers. She was proud of herself, of her “big girl” choice, but her pride was framed in heartbreak. Sometimes, we’re both at once — joyous and mournful, bereft and grateful. Sometimes, we live the contradiction until it smooths out or until we have something else to grieve or celebrate. Or both.
Mostly, I know, stumbling over my own feet means that I’m getting in the way, tripping over myself. A wise woman once told me that we navigate the roughest places by focusing on the smallest steps. Drink a glass of water. Eat a healthy meal. Get enough sleep. Exercise. Small steps, big rewards.
For me, reading fits that category. Reading is and always has been my enduring, vital comfort. A book can center me like nothing else. It can focus my haywire circuits, stop the shooting sparks. After a good story, I’m less likely to say “pineapple” when I mean “napkin.” During the last few months, my book-a-week challenge has been one of the best ways I’ve found to keep myself from gibbering like a loon.
Some weeks I’ve cut it close. I set myself the goal of finishing each book on Tuesday, ready to post on Wednesday morning. One Tuesday night, I woke my husband at five past midnight for a judgment on whether or not that should count. He mumbled a sleepy “yes”. I’m pretty sure he dreamed of having a saner wife.
Still, while it is sometimes tough, the book-a-week challenge is a manageable goal for me right now. I can’t say the same for the rest of my life. I can’t control whether or not a magazine accepts the story I send, or how an agent will respond to my query letter. I can’t make Boo Monkey remember the sound that “ch” makes, or Rainbow Girl memorize the multiplication facts for four. Some days I can’t fit in all the pieces. Some days, the path I’m on makes me want to screech the brakes or floor the gas pedal and squeal straight towards the border.
But I can read a book. I can go to bed on time instead of playing Solitaire for hours on the iPad. (Just sayin’.) I can skip sugar, which makes me crazy, even though stress gives me chocolate mirages. (That doesn’t happen to you?) I can drink more water than coffee (insert expletive here). I can walk the dog. I can shelve history and spelling for a day and just play with my kids. I can write for the sheer joy of it, and try, just try to set publication worries aside.
I don’t know where this path is taking me, so I might as well pack light, in spirit if nothing else. A bottle of water. My kids, my husband, and the dog. A good book. The stories in my head. In that light, the day is not so messy. In that light, I don’t really need a map. Let the windows stay wide open. The wild breeze will blow away the crazy. Maybe it will even knock the banana from my head. And that is certainly something to be grateful for.
I’d love to hear how you simplify your days. What small, essential choices get you through the crazy? And, if you’re still struggling with the path you’re on, feel free to vent about it here. If nothing else, I can offer you sympathy. And maybe a banana.