Dispelling the Myth of “Back to Normal”

Dispelling the Myth of “Back to Normal”

January is one of my favorite months, even with the rain, even with the dreariness, even with the promise and delight of the holidays over. In January, I get four weeks off…when no one else in my family does. The deliciousness of having weeks on end of paid reprieve from teaching is, well, delicious. In January I schedule all the doctors’ appointments. In January I clean out the closets. In January, I finish entire manuscripts, read shelves full of books, blog like mad, and, sometimes, relax. In January, everything is back to normal.

In my mind, anyway.

Because it never quite works out like I’m hoping it will. One January I found out in the middle of the night, in the ER, that I needed emergency surgery for a ruptured fallopian tube and that I was no longer pregnant. It was the following January when I got salmonella. I had a Big Important Trip a January after that. This year,?I ended the holidays with the casual thought, “when things get back to normal, I’ll buckle down on the poetry project I’m working on.” I did, for a day or two?until the morning we went to get the kids up and stepped onto soaking wet carpet. The heavy rains had made it into the house, and I spent the next morning pulling up the carpet and moving furniture. That saga has stretched on; contractors tracking mud through the house for ten days now, heavy-duty fans whirring 24 hours a day, and everyone sleeping everywhere. The little one is in a portable crib in our room; the larger offspring is on a mattress on the living room floor, at least, after he gets moved from our bed when Ben goes to bed. Most nights I crawl in with a sweaty nine year old and a zillion stuffies.

How many furry creatures does one child need in order to fall asleep? After we get back to normal, I'll ask him. Share on X

We think, when things get back to normal, I'll get my manuscript finished, my closets cleaned out, my blog posts written. But there is no "back to normal."

I’ve had this thought so many times: I just need to get over this cold/depression/construction project and then things will be “back to normal.” I’m sure we all do this, search for this elusive normalcy that doesn’t actually exist. I’m sure my friend S thought things would be “back to normal” after she had her thyroid removed?until she plunged into three months of insomnia hell. I’m sure my mom thought things would be “back to normal” after she had her hip operation?until she learned she needed another operation later that year.

I’ve been thinking a lot about something my yoga teacher said at a retreat last fall, about how we make these excuses and concessions for the busy times in our lives, as though each time we feel strung out and overextended it’s somehow unusual. “It’s always like this,” she said, and I realized that she was right.

And it’s kiiiind of a depressing thought, I suppose. We humans like routine. We like to think we can do everything. But if we acknowledge that we never know what’s coming down the pike?particularly, frankly, when we have children?maybe we inhabit our time better. Maybe we make better routines, the kind that have some room to wiggle. Maybe we forgive ourselves when we don’t meet our goals and our deadlines. Maybe we approach each day with a little more grace. Maybe we stop putting so much pressure on…January.

I’ve still got two weeks to go of my glorious break. My house looks like a bomb hit it. What’s the point in cleaning? We’ve all had colds. Whenever I start to get some writing done, I’m interrupted by someone needing access to the house, by a phone call. (This blog post has been all kinds of fits and starts!) But it’s all just life. It’s always going to be like this. And in the larger scheme of things, this stuff is, as Pema Ch?dr?n would say, no. Big. Deal.

So, “back to normal,” off you go. For now, I’ll just take the promise of having my children down the hall again before February.


p.s. You might also like:

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The Writer’s To-Do List

Screenshot 2015-02-11 11.41.51

Gosh, it’s been a long time since I’ve written. While all you back-East readers are getting clobbered by snow, here in California?we’ve had?a mix of mold-inspiring rain and gorgeous sunny days. It feels so much like spring that I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been a little confused. Is it winter? Or spring? What’s going on here?

This time of year always feels so busy. I’m not sure why. The fall is busy, too, but with a kind of festive air: the start of a new year, soccer season, new friends, everything exciting and overwhelming. Then, the mad and fun rush of the holidays. By now, February, we’re well into the routine, which is both a blessing and a curse. L is happier at school and at aftercare, we’re onto indoor soccer, we never paused for reflection, and I’ve roared through the fall semester, over winter break, and have squarely landed in my spring teaching and writing routine.?Or what passes for a routine.

I spent the month of January a little confused by what to work on. This is not a familiar problem to me, or at least, in the past if I had too many choices it might have felt exciting. But I spent much of January thinking to myself, I should really get back to that novel?once I finish this essay, write a poem, start another essay, revise my memoir, apply to that fellowship thingy, prepare for the San Francisco Writers Conference, and submit my work all over the place. Yowsah! I never thought I’d long so much to just have one project on my desk. But I’ve been bombarded with ideas?and opportunities, and, feeling like I’m at a place in my career when I need to say yes to lots of things, I’ve kind of been going with the flow. So I’ve been making a lot of to-do lists.

I’m also at this point with my writing?specifically, with writing prose, since poetry never felt like this?where it feels possible to check things off a list. Some of the romance is gone, to be sure, but I also have this sense that if I write something like “revise ending of Will essay” on my to-do list that that’s, actually, an accomplishable goal. I can look ahead?on a Monday and think, yes, I can realistically revise that short story and send it out by Friday (as opposed to years ago, when I might have revised for months, or never gotten to it, or decided to scrap it, or decided what to work on the morning I sat down to write). Is this making any sense? I used to think that artists and writers waited for inspiration, wrote things, had things happen. Lately, for me, it’s more about setting small goals and achieving them. It sounds so boring, when I write that here. But luckily, luckily, when I’m in it?high on too much caffeine, 45 minutes until I have to get L or leave for work, and I just want to write all day?it still feels like there’s a lot of romance, a lot of?excitement.?So much, in fact, that I sneak moments the rest of the day to reconnect with whatever I’m working on. I sneak onto the computer while L is playing with Legos. I postpone my grading to edit one more paragraph. I drive my family insane because I can’t put down my work at dinnertime.?I fall asleep reworking the first line in my head.

So in a way, the to-do list keeps me in check, helps me focus and not get ahead of myself.

But I do long for a time when I won’t need one. In a few weeks?after I’ve gotten notes back from the book editor, and?sent out the personal essay a few more times, and finished that poem?I really am going to sit down with that novel I started during NaNoWriMo. It will be the only thing on the list. No, really.

I’ll be at the San Francisco Writers Conference this coming weekend, FYI. Reading poetry on Friday night, moderating a panel and presenting on a panel on Saturday morning. Should be good. Maybe I’ll see some of you there.

On the subject of writing routines and just getting down to it:

“Kazuo Ishiuguro: How I Wrote The Remains of the Day in Four Weeks”