On not having it together, for now

Have you noticed it? I know I have. It’s there, in the calmest moments of the day. It’s in the minutes of quiet and relaxation. It’s filtering into the space that’s reserved for pure enjoyment and nothingness.

It’s the pull to be doing.

It seems like everyone and their mom has some sort of new morning routine, a side hustle, or a deliberate plan to achieve their goals in 2018 and beyond. Congratulations to everyone and to their mothers on all of this.

But for any woman out there who’s like me, I’m here to say it’s ok to just… not. If this is you, or if you are me, listen up.

You don’t have to have a plan to tackle your goals. You don’t even need them, if you don’t want them. It’s okay to live life as it happens and see where it takes you. I’ve found the flexibility in this mindset has opened doors and paved paths to happiness that are far better than any plans I could have drawn.

You don’t have to have a morning routine to be a happier or successful person. It’s just not for everyone. And because people you admire for their success, power, or status might do it doesn’t mean that that’s what makes them successful, powerful, or accomplished. Please feel free to sleep in or do whatever if that’s what makes you your best you.

You don’t need to have a job on top of a job on top of life responsibilities and relationships and commitments. In most cases, women bear an unequal division of household labor (I should note that I am extremely lucky I don’t) and general life tasks, not to mention the weight of societal pressures and routines that simply take more of our free time from us. Add up all the time you spend on beauty routines, for example. You don’t have to monetize your hobbies. You don’t need to make the things you do for fun the things you do for work. This also ties into the generally bad advice to “do what you love” — often, taking that path can leave you with nothing but cold, pure hatred and disdain for things that used to bring you joy.

Ask me how I know.

I’m not writing this as a criticism of women who do or enjoy these things. If they enrich your life and truly bring you happiness, by all means, please continue on your personal path to greatness.

This is more of a note I’m writing to myself as a reminder that stillness is acceptable. (And maybe right now isn’t the time for these things, but another time in the future will be. I’m learning life has many rich and varied seasons.)

Creativity needs space to thrive.

There’s a time for work and discipline in life, and turns out it’s not every waking moment of your existence. It simply doesn’t have to be.

In the spaces between, life is allowed to be still, quiet, and empty. And that can be good.

The late eighties and early nineties

The cover of Judy Collins’ Wildflowers
The sounds of the harpsichord on “Both Sides Now”
Knowing that my mother studied the instrument but I’ve never heard her play it
I wish I could hear her play it

A rare evening with the lamp over the piano as the only light in the room
Mom at the bench, fingers rolling over keys through scales, her feet pushing the pedals to let the music pause, breathe
Bound books of piano music from the ‘60s with plastic covers that seem quilted; I still don’t understand what they were made of, or the notes someone had written in pencil on the pages
Stories about her piano teacher, Lois Gardell, Mrs. Gardell
The chords of “Feux Follets,” a song that doesn’t seem to exist in the outside world, only in our old living room with the fluffy brown carpet
For years I couldn’t find a recording of the piece, but I remember that room

Cassette tapes with songs that very much exist in the outside world
Michael Bolton, Milli Vanilli, a specific one labeled “Toto – Africa”
Records, too: Carly Simon, The Moody Blues, Diana Ross, boxes of them
The illustration on the cover of her copy of “Mahogany” is probably why I love design today
Tapes labeled in her perfect school-teacher print
Oh my God, blasting those tapes on giant speakers, all the speakers then were so giant
Dancing around the room with music at full blast, jumping on the bed
Not sure why she let us break that rule
I’ll ask her

Long plaid wool skirts with pleats
Bangs curled up and also down over her forehead
Curling irons coated with the crust of a thousand mists of Paul Mitchell hairspray
A tube of gel-like Revlon (?) liquid blush that smelled slightly floral
A compact Mary Kay eyeshadow palette, all blues that never worked with my green hazel eyes
Rows of heels I liked to try on that always caused me to sprain my ankles
How did she teach for all those years in heels?

Being so short, hugging her very tan legs as we stood by the pool
Feeling her warm skin in the Arizona sun
She has always been so, so tan
And yet, there’s a Dartmouth pennant with creases of being folded and stored for decades that reminds me she had a whole other life before Arizona
It was all lived in snow (I imagine)

The kitchen with square yellow tile, not a bright yellow but more like the Crayola crayon called Goldenrod
Seeing her tears one afternoon, I think it was the afternoon
Too young to grasp the weight of the news that my uncle had died
I have a better understanding now

Photos of her that look like me, photos of me that look like her, all in a three-ring album with a fluffy padded suede cover
Photos of her as Lockport Junior Miss
Unfortunately, the trophy and I think the crown were lost to fire
A small plastic briefcase perfect for toting Barbie to her next destination with Beautiful Hair, Breck, a label and slogan of a brand and time that will only ever be hers, not mine
It came from the Junior Miss pageant and it’s still here

Cream rinse, and how I hadn’t heard anyone call it that until just last week
A specific Jhirmack shampoo that smelled like creamsicle, which she let me use and I sometimes snuck without permission
Her very small gold hoop earrings I brought with me to college, definitely without permission
I can count on one hand the number of times I have worn them
I wonder where I can still buy that shampoo

Reading her the stories I’d woven from little words and big ideas
Hunting for “treasure” in the neighborhood and sharing my finds, exquisite pieces of gravel, foliage
She was mostly patient
But she always listened