Sunday, February 13, 2011

OK, who's in charge around here??

You know how it feels so great to be in control of all that is feasibly within one's control? Things to do with oneself, that is. For me, some biggies at the moment are: how I make use of my time, what I choose to eat, and how I manage clutter. There's so much not in our control -- like, say, being barfed on by one's child -- but there are these things that definitely are. It is so pleasing to feel that I am in command of my own puppet strings. Because if I'm not, who is?

An excellent day for me is one when:

  • I've made great headway on a new scene
  • spent quality time with my family
  • eaten well (well in the sense of healthy, not delicious, though both would be nice :-)
  • maybe even gotten a little exercise 
  • the house is relatively tidy
  • there's not a bunch of work stuff or unanswered emails hanging over my head

  • Bonus point: chocolate somehow involved :-)

It's pretty simple really -- such attainable happiness! -- and it is so clearly up to me whether to do these things or not do them, and yet ... It's so easy sometimes to just surrender and not even try -- and nothing feels worse than the little trails of chaos that immediately spring up and start following me around.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has warring factions within. "Stern self" versus "overly indulgent self": grudge match! I still remember with great clarity a British girl named Alice I met on a night train to Portugal when I was seventeen. She was witty and pretty and self-possessed, with dark sleek hair and a self-satisfied smile, and she declared at some point, with relish -- in response to what, I don't recall -- "I deny myself nothing!"

It obviously made a strong impression of 17-year-old me, to remember lo these decades later, but while it sounds cute, it's not how I want to live. Oh, don't get me wrong. There is within me a powerful faction that does want to live just that way, and who often gets its wish -- in the form of donuts eaten, stacks of new hardcover books purchased (a splurge very easy to justify!), work time squandered, what have you. But these small temporary happinesses are nothing next to the sweeping well-being of feeling in control, feeling productive and efficient, and as if I'm steering my life and not sort of lying down and letting it roll over me.

This week has been a week that proves how not-in-control I am, in the form of Clementine being sick -- with "slapped cheek virus" of all things. Did you even know there was such a thing? And when a child is sick, you know, life becomes very pure. Simply, everything is distilled down to: sick child. Cuddle, comfort, medicine, cuddle, on and on. Thoughts of work and other worries just fall away, the other facets of one's identity -- writer, friend, etc -- step back and stop their yammering to just wait it out while you are entirely "mom" for a while. C was sleeping so fitfully that I couldn't even work after she went to bed. She needed pampering even while sleeping (which explains how I've read five trades of Scalped in two days, and wow. Much time cuddling the wee sickling while she slept). 

But I'm talking about the things I do have control of. Supposedly. Because sometimes it doesn't feel like I do! I mean, who is pouring that bowl of cereal at 10 pm? Surely that cannot be me, because I wouldn't do that. And yet.

Seriously, the disconnect between what we want, truly, and what we do in the moment.


Like the hours I'm at the cafe writing, on normal non-sick days. It's wholly in my power to not squander that time. And it's SO GREAT when I am focused and "on," and I wring every minute out of those hours and my manuscript grows, and I'm excited about the story and where it's going next. This is THE BEST. Maybe the best-best part of all is that after I leave the cafe, I don't have to worry about work any more that day. I've done it. I can switch to mom mode, play, make dinner, whatever, and maybe after C goes to sleep I can even sit down with Jim to watch a movie or something (gasp!).

Dave McKean, one of Jim's and my favorite illustrators, tweeted once:

"More unequivocal days, that is: WORK days and PLAY days,
not guilty play days and distracted work days."

Yes. That, please. And I know it is in my power and only in my power to make it so. So . . . make it so!

An area where I am not feeling control right now is in the clutter arena. Sigh. We are in transition, packing up one house while the other is taken apart and put back together by "guys." (Drywall guys, mud guys, sewer guys, radiator guys, etc.) Add toddler to the equation, and we have: CHAOS! I have been trying very very VERY hard to keep the living room relatively clear of boxes, but they just . . . happen. And stuff. Where did all the stuff come from? I get to this point where I want to just throw it all away, not sort it to Goodwill and garage sale piles, but just Throw It. Away.

I am craving organization, simplicity. I read this post with my mouth hanging open. Like: does anyone really live like that? *envy envy want want* I want tidiness! I want things in their places! A small, tidy wardrobe of clothes that all fit me and are neatly folded. Tax receipts in their place, sorted as the year goes by, not in a miserable marathon in early April. Baking pantry that I don't have to excavate every time I want to make something. Since we are moving, this feels like a good moment to make a clean effort at being organized, and I am hopeful! But in the now there is this chaos of packing up one house whilst the other is in half-gutted, and is so very disspiriting. I just have to keep thinking of the future, and imagining how it is going to be. Soon. Visualize, visualize.

Meanwhile, mess. You might have read a post I wrote a while back on "acceptable destruction" or "the calculus of mess"? That is, what are you willing to allow a toddler to get up to for two minutes to enable you to get something done -- like, say, get a couple of packages ready to take to the post office -- and is the resulting destruction worth it, or not worth it?

I submit, for your amusement, a clear case of "not worth it":

It sounds like the set-up for a joke: how long does it take a toddler to dismantle a room? Okay, so it looks worse than it is, and some of it is my packing mess, but oy. 

My kingdom for a tidy house!

Order. I want it. 

Which is why, clearly, I am cleaning right now instead of writing a blog post. Ha ha. But that's up next. Truly. Oh, and also: Jim and I had the small satisfaction today of this:

Byootiful byootiful doorknobs! We went back to Hippo and sifted through the boxes of period glass doorknobs for the best ones. Never mind that there are not currently doors (the wonderful Victorian-era four-panel doors were damaged beyond repair by the previous owners' dogs), we have knobs! We're ready for anything! Ha!

Bring it on.


tone almhjell said...

Uh... I sort of feel terrible about that muffin I just scarfed down now. But I'll get over it pretty quickly. I'm so forgiving when it comes to my own indulgence.

I understand your craving for order. This summer, our landlady was coming by to renew the contract, and Pan took Mags to his mother's while I stayed behind and cleaned the house. Not the usual wipe-the-surfaces sort, but REALLY cleaned, every wall, every door, every window, every cupboard front. And I looked around and thought 'Wow. I think this is what it usually looked like, before.' Ha.

Hope Clementine is all better, and that you'll have a great writing day today. Hugs.

Gondal-girl said...

Feel better wee Clementine - and I hope a Fairy Godmother comes to help with the organising - great post - I felt it in my marrow...

Anonymous said...

This sounds like another case of your being too hard on yourself, Laini. As a self-professed neat freak, our organization comes at the expense of having no lives. Is that what you want? I'd much rather have your life full of friends, laughter, and love than a neat house anyday. Ignore that smug and self-righteous tidy-poster. What you have is worth so much more.

All the best to little C. I hope she is feeling better.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate you sharing the conflict between the different priorities, desires, and duties - as the mother of a 19-month-old (and the daughter of a sickly 81-year old who lives on the opposite coast), I can SOOOO related. Often am thinking that everyone else must be doing a better job of the family/work/household/creativity balance than I am! Other times I just try to be present in whatever the moment is and give it my best. (and occasionally scarf down half a dozen Mexican Hot Chocolate cookies - the local farmer's market is such a mix of super-healthy food and decadent temptations!). Thank you for sharing, and also for including your friend's tweet message, to which I say YESYESYES.

Sending wishes for a fast recuperation to the adorable Clementine.


tone almhjell said...

Anonymous I: There's a big difference beteween cozy, lived-in clutter and the total mayhem that is moving houses. Anyone who has been in the pouring rain for three weeks straight is entitled to long for the Sahara, modified in real life to any sundrenched beach.

Katie said...

I feel this way almost all the time and I SO needed to read this today. So thanks :)

Laini Taylor said...

Thanks, Tone! And thanks too, Anon I, for sticking up for me, but really, it's not that I'm being hard on myself. it's that I just feel overwhelmed by the disorganization. I don't think I'm a failure for it or anything like that. I just crave some tidiness like a drink of cool water. The other day I had to mail some packages and I could NOT find my address book ANYWHERE, purely because of mess, and it was so frustrating! I still haven't found it, and had to call the recipients for addresses, and -- as evidenced by the photo above -- it's tricky enough getting things like that done with C in residence, but then the extra time needed because of disorganization, it breeds tiny tornadoes of fury and hair-pulling-outing. I just want order :-)

Stephanie Perkins said...

I will never get tired of that Dave McKean quote.

As far as order, you'll get back there soon. And it'll be better than ever, because you'll have a GORGEOUS new dream home, to boot! :) But I hope Miss Clementine is feeling better this week!

And I'm pretty sure Jarrod and I bought our house simply because it came with glass doorknobs.

Amber said...

I could do with less organized/clean house, and more creative balance, I think. But I know what you mean by this wanting-- I can't TAKE clutter, can't think in it at all! And love love LOVE the feeling of tossing things out and having a clean space. Just wish I could balance better! *sigh*

Have you had any time to watch any of the hording/organizing shows that are one these days?! Ooohh I can't look away. ha ha!

Hope C is better. It STINKS to have a sick babycakes, although I found a sort of loving peace in those times life becomes simply down to holding and loving on baby...


Kate said...

Laini Taylor, I love this post. Thanks for keeping it real. I have a 3 and 5 year old and am a part-time English teacher, huge reader, and wannabe writer. I know I need to harness my free hours and work on my writing--but it's just so hard! But, this post (and you in general) inspires me so much. Thank you, Laini. And, thank you, too, for Lips Touch. It is so good (I especially love the British India story--British India is a favorite of mine).
--Kate from Arizona

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