An End to Rationing Joy

An End to Rationing Joy

A few people reported that they found my last blog post depressing. “Is it just the end of hope??” one asked, but that wasn’t what I meant, not exactly, and I’m sorry if you, too, found depressing the idea that normalcy is a fallacy. I hoped that by calling out our lives for what they are?unpredictable?that maybe we could make peace with it. I know that when I hold too tightly onto the idea of something being a certain way, when I hold too tightly onto joy, I feel that much more bummed out when it goes awry. A little lightness can help. Witness: when that flood happened, and Ben and I were both minorly freaking out, I noticed that when we had a quick conversation about it, accepted the fact that our house was going to be in chaos for a few days (ha! Try weeks), and hatched a clear plan for what to do next, we both felt a lot calmer.

If life is short, why do I constantly ration happiness and joy?

But the comments I got on my last post made me see how a mantra of “life is unpredictable” could quickly become something like “life is unpredictable…so you should live each day like it’s your last.” And, you’re right?I do find that depressing. That carpe diem thing always makes me feel panicky. Am I living my best life? It makes me wonder. Could I be doing a better job? Answers: a) probably not, and b) yes, of course I could be doing something better. And then what happens? I take up skydiving because I think I should, because I might get hit by a bus tomorrow? What bugs me about the carpe diem mentality is it seems steeped in, among other things, white privilege. And class privilege. Uh, how are you supposed to live every day like it’s your last when you’re poor? Or, in my case, when you have two annoying but adorable kids, plus a very adorable gecko with very specific temperature needs that are stressful to meet?!

But hear me out. Because I’ve had a revelation.

I’m not going to take up skydiving, but I DO think that if life is so unpredictable…I should try a little harder to chase joy. In January, while I was on school break but things were in minor chaos at my house, I found myself feeling like I was wasting every day, not eeking enough enjoyment out of things and not having enough, well, fun. Part of this is the reality that mothers are never really “on vacation,” because even though I wasn’t working I had to rally the kids and make lunches and whatnot and whatnot and whatnot. But when I teased Ben that if he had an entire month off he’d be going on ski trips and day drinking and riding his bike and meeting me for lunch?and he eagerly agreed, and this is one of the things I love about my husband?I realized that I kind of have a hard time relaxing, being on vacation, even just accepting the abundance of my life and the many wonderful things about it.

I have a hard time accepting joy.

I know how that sounds, sort of Marie Kondo-esque, kind of woo-woo, very first-world problem-y, but it’s true: I am constantly rationing pleasure. If I wake up on a rainy Saturday and decide, you know what, I’m going to spend all three hours of Sammy’s nap time watching Project Runway re-runs, because I’m an adult, dammit, and I can make that kind of decision, partway through, I feel intensely guilty and go do some laundry. If I plan to do something frivolous of a Wednesday?say, meet a friend for some day shopping?I temper it by admonishing myself that I’ll have to get up early to write. If I’m sick and decide to read trashy novels for days on end, I get so depressed at not being up and productive I can’t even enjoy them.

And it carries into my work life and makes me worse at what I do. For example, right now I’m really, really trying to make a big mess of things with the poetry collection I’m writing, but every other day a stern voice urges me to stop playing, to stop creating, to start tightening the language and putting it together. Get serious, Suz, the voice urges. Work harder. Even though I know, in some other rational part of my brain, that I haven’t finished the writing/ideation phase yet, that it might be another six months or even a year before I’ve really worked out the kinks, and that NOT approaching it with too much seriousness is exactly what I should be doing.

Why do I do this? As penance? Because I’m so driven by guilt that I just can’t allow myself any reprieve? Because I don’t believe that I deserve the creative process, deserve joy? I’m not sure, but I know that day after day, I’m consumed by guilt. I’m constantly putting myself on cleanses or rationing my wine, curtailing my spending, feeling tight.

There’s a lot of joy in my life. A lot of space. A lot of stuff to be grateful for. And I am.

But I sometimes squander the good things in the name of some kind of Puritanical belief that happiness is for the weak. Share on X

So. I’m trying to change this. I’m trying to allow myself some space. Some joy in the lovely process of writing poem after poem in the early morning dark, and not pausing to ask whether they’re any good. To take breaks. To drink a fancy cocktail after a tough day without guilt. Because like is short, and I might get hit by a bus tomorrow.

I’ll let you know how I do. And I’d love to know: do YOU ration joy, in your work, in your life? Comment it up, friends.


p.s. You might also find joy in one of these:

What ‘Carpe Diem’ Means to Me

Spring Break is For Lovers, OR: What I Learned About Wisdom When I Had a Few Days Off 

p.p.s. Know someone who would enjoy this post? Please forward! 

Short Shorts

I have a sleeping child. I’m so much calmer when L takes his nap. He didn’t, yesterday; instead, he took off his diaper, peed all over his crib, and then drove me crazy all afternoon. Around 5:30 I was heard to mutter sotto voce, “you’re a real pain in the ass, you know that?” I’m not sure he heard. Let’s hope he didn’t.

***

Funny story: we have a bad habit of leaving a wine glass out on the kitchen table or coffee table and the next morning our long tall drink of an L discovers it, drinks a sip, and then comes gleefully in to tell us all about it. “I drinking wine!” he said once, with a purple mustache. Oops. You think we’d learn, but no: this morning there was a (luckily-almost-totally-empty) glass on the table. L comes into the bathroom where I was just getting out of the shower.

L: “I drank some wine, Mumma.”
Me: “You did? Sweetie, wine is for grownups.”
L, cheerfully: “Oh, it was just a little bit. Don’t worry ’bout it.”

This is not L.

In moments like those–and like this afternoon, in the car on the way home from daycare, when L told me “I need a snack and I can’t hold my horse”–he is an utter and complete joy to me.

***

This morning I had coffee with MB, the husband of a dear friend from college. They live out in the sticks in Colorado, where they have a farm, and he’s in town doing some music gigs at local open-mic nights and the like. Some of you remember that lately I have been lusting after the “simple life,” and I found myself peppering MB with questions. I hope he didn’t mind. It was pretty wonderful to hear about their plans (to support themselves, and when they need a little more money, sell some wool/mutton/chickens/garlic/eggs); their sheep (five of them!); and their childcare woes (1+ hour drive to school every day). Lately I’ve been really interested in farm stories. Two books recently have been rocking my world: The Urban Homestead, which is a how-to guide for turning your small urban rental into a miniature farm and canning, harvesting, and eating your way to the good life; and The Dirty Life, which is a memoir by a woman who falls in love with a farmer, moves to upstate New York, and starts a full-service farm, which is to say, a farm that supports up to 30 or 40 local families with everything they need: organic vegetables, meat, eggs, beans and grains, dairy, and maple syrup.

I think farming and urban homesteading are hip right now, and I can get into what’s hip, so maybe that’s the reason for my interest. More, though, I think I have been so in my head lately I’m likely to topple over. I think I’m really craving more manual labor and physicality and less cerebral work. I’m no couch potato–I have to exercise fairly compulsively or else I explode, and I’m back into running again–but when MB sat down across from me at a very urban coffee shop and told me being in the city was freaking him out, and I could see how much time that man spent outdoors working hard, I felt a little jealous.

***

I’ve decided to take a yoga workshop this weekend! I’m so delighted. It’s called “Yoga & Creativity: Building a Practice as a Writer or Artist” and I saw a flyer for it when I went to a Pilates class this morning. It’s a short one (essential, when you have a 2-year-old and your husband thinks he has to spend some time at the office) and I thought it might be a really good way of moving the energy down from my head and into my body a bit. I have this sense that if I can feel my book more than think my book, I’ll have some success in moving from a very stuck place to a more open one.

I know, I know, I sound so California.

***

Speaking of which: L was hamming it up at the produce market yesterday (un-napped, the kid turns into a madman). He was dancing and twirling and frenetically being crazy and this very eccentric woman came up to us and said, “Oh! What’s his name?” I told her. “Is he a Leo?” she asked. I confirmed that in fact he is a Leo. “But what’s his moon sign?” she asked. I told her I didn’t know. She put her hand on my arm and said in this very conspiratorial voice, “You have to get his charts done. There’s something else in there besides Leo. God, he’s just darling!” (L was dismantling the juice machine at that point. This was about 15 minutes before the pain-in-the-ass business.) She couldn’t take her eyes off him and gave me her card. Now, cynical B told me that of course she was just drumming up business, but I have to say that this is the third or fourth time a total stranger has come up to me and told me how…X…my kid is. One dude, who also put his hand on my arm and stared into my eyes, said, “I just have to tell YOU about the intelligence simply exuding from that child.” Not sure why he needed to emphasize “you.” Maybe he thought I didn’t already know?

***
Yesterday morning I had a little crying jag, and called B, as I always do (what did I do before he came along?). Last night he brought flowers and I promptly started to cry again.

B: “Whoa, it must be a long time since I brought you flowers, if they made you cry!”

Yeah, well. Tears of joy, I guess.