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

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

Ah, spring break?scantily clad humans cavorting in tropical places, drinking too much. Or: if you have children, a chaotic trip to Disneyland. No?Legoland.

Or, if you’re me, an entire week to yourself.

The way our calendar works, my spring break falls a week before the kids’, and if this was once a little frustrating (I want my trip to Hawaii too, yo), in the last two years I’ve come to see it as The. Best. Thing. Ever. Basically, I have a week of paid vacation while everyone else’s life trundles on. Of course this year I was determined to make the best of it: writing, organizing my house, a decent nap or two, some good books, a yoga class, a haircut, what-have-you.

Learning something about parenting, writing, and wisdom during spring break.

I’m not always great at relaxing, though, and I’ve had moments this week of feeling like I’m trying so hard to take a load off that I’m not really enjoying the rest. But I’ve also been trying as hard as I can to find some spaciousness in the daily grind, and here of a Friday morning, I’m feeling pretty successful. Yesterday, I did something that always makes me feel like a million bucks: I drove up to a meditation center north of here for a two-hour yoga and meditation class.

And the topic of the dharma talk was wisdom.

Now, I don’t always resonate with the teacher. I like her classes, but at times I’m not on the same wavelength as she is. But yesterday, perhaps because it’s the end of a week of spring break, I felt like every yoga pose was a balm for the soul, every word out of her mouth, brilliant. At the end, she asked us to think about wisdom, and the ways we cultivate it. She reminded us that wisdom isn’t a set of knowledge you acquire; it’s a skill, almost like a way of approaching certain things with confidence. Somehow in there she circled to this notion of choices, how we can be wise about the choices we make, and how, in different areas of our lives we might feel we have a great deal of wisdom?and in others, very little at all.

In the abstract, it might sound a bit, well, abstract. But it turned out the talk was exactly what I needed to hear at this point in my life, this week, when I’ve been writing but also feeling quite muddled about the different paths my writing could take and whether I’m taking the right one. There’s this God-forsaken novel, and then there’s this still-unpublished memoir, but what’s really calling to me are these poems about motherhood, and instead of being the kind of wise soul who thinks to herself, Gosh I’m lucky to have all of this creative stuff spinning out of me, and maybe I just need to make a clear choice down one path and see what happens?instead, I’m the kind of soul who immediately goes to God, I suck. I can never finish anything. I’m doing it all wrong.

But here’s the thing. When she said this thing about how we all have wisdom in some parts of lives, and not in others, it hit me like a ton of bricks that in terms of my writing life, I'm still just finding my wisdom. Click To Tweet It is, after all, something you can cultivate (like an amazing spring break). So, call me a student of wisdom. I plan to work hard at this subject, to figure out how to approach the writing work and everything that goes with it with confidence, to cultivate discernment not just in the choices I make but in the way I feel about it.

The other perhaps more surprising revelation was when she asked us to think of a realm where we did feel wise. Perhaps mundanely, I thought straightaway of my new habit of meal planning. Then I thought of child-rearing. I thought how actually, in the domestic sphere, taking care of my people, getting dinner on the table, dealing with an emotional 8-year-old and a baby who likes to bite, I feel pretty solid in my wisdom. I’m not saying I don’t make a shitload of mistakes, or have dark moments, or even that I’m necessarily a “good mom,” but I don’t feel angsty about my ability to keep things together on the home front. And I feel centered and grounded in this path I’ve chosen, like it’s the right one. Even if I second-guess a decision (time-outs for the biter? Something more holistic?), it doesn’t destroy me. I don’t spend hours worrying that I’m doing something wrong.

And wow, talk about luck. I have more than one friend, amazing, amazing parents, who struggle so much with it, who worry all the time about whether they’re doing it right. (I also have more than one friend having to make the kinds of choices for her kids that are beyond anything I would wish on anyone.) I worry about EVERYTHING, you guys?but, I realized yesterday, not that much about my parenting or my ability to provide for my family. I figure (as this imperfect but charming article suggests) that I’m doing pretty well, and that might be good enough.

It was kind of amazing to put these things side by side: on one, my ingrained belief that every other writer on the planet is doing it better than I am (don’t even get me started on the amazing Lauren Groff?if you haven’t yet read Fates and Furies, get thee to your local independent bookstore), and my sometimes pathological inability to see my own strengths, opportunities and choices. On the other, my realization that if someone ordered me, “Make a palatable dinner for ten out of whatever’s in your cupboards, while both of your kids are home, NOW?” it would be stressful?but I’d do it.?So now, of course, I’m wondering how I take wisdom from the latter, and contribute it to the former.

Maybe that’s a project for next spring break.

Where is YOUR wisdom? Where do you need more? Comment it up.

You might also like:

Feeling Vulnerable and Holding Things Close

Ruth Whippman on American Parenting

A hearty thanks to everyone who bought my book or came to my wonderful book launch at Octopus Literary Salon on March 10! I’m now suggesting folks buy it on Powells.com, since Amazon is still all messed up, or directly from me (link on my homepage).


What Wisdom is This

“The dream of being a writer and the crazy price one has to pay for excellence are impossible to demonstrate or, really, even to fathom.” –John Lahr, reviewing the play “Seminar,” now playing in New York, in the November 28 issue of The New Yorker.

My last blog post created a bit of a stir. A friend reposted it on her Facebook wall, and all of a sudden people I didn’t know were reading my blog and commenting on it. This may be silly, but that gave me a thrill. Lately–what with a new blog, and some childcare, and a motivation towards getting out there that has been dormant for some time–I have been feeling, for the first time since I had L, public. Like I am a writer with a writing life, not just a woman squirreled away working on stuff. I made this Website and blog in part because I want to create a sort of grassroots presence for myself on the Web; I have a memoir to publish, after all.

So, anyway, there was this reposting on S’s Facebook page, and then there was a bit of a stir on my own Facebook page. First my friend BK made the point that conservatives “suck hairy elephant nutsacks” (oh boy) and then my mom very brashly said she’d never let a kid cry it out, whence another friend admitted she had in fact let her kid cry it out and then another friend came in on the side of respectful parenting and I sort of tried to smooth everything over, secretly thinking, Uh oh. Conflict.

And I very nearly rethought the whole thing. Because I don’t do conflict that well. It scares me. It worries me that my conservative friends will be really offended by a silly quip or that there will be an all-out war on my Facebook page (no, the smallness of that concern is not lost on me). I am the sort of person who is both deeply opinionated and scared to death that people won’t like her, so I run around trying to make everyone get along.

Over the weekend, deciding how to deal with this problem, I got to thinking about the desire to be a more public sort of writer, since it seems in this day that that is what is required of writers. Have a Website, the books admonish. Have a blog. No space for Emily Dickinsons here, I’m afraid. And then I had to admit to myself that with or without tools like Facebook and WordPress, I’ve kind of set myself up for conflict. My memoir is about the year I spent traveling with B, my now husband. I joke that it’s a “tell-all expos?” of our relationship but the joke is thin; it is. I can’t say what possessed me to write this book other than to say that I started out writing travel essays and quickly realized I had a very different story to tell. So I let it just pour out, and there you have it: how we met, the first time we had sex, the fights we had, the marriage proposal, all on paper. And I want desperately to have it published and widely read. Am I crazy? (Incidentally, what scares me most is my mom and dad reading about us eating hallucinogenic cactus in Peru.)

When you write something like that, you open yourself wide up. For conflict. For judgment. I have been in writing workshops where people said the character of Susie was snobbish, that she needed more gravitas; another found B totally unsympathetic. Another read Susie as an utter basket case by page 50; did I really want that, I was asked? Well, no–and yet, if you’re writing a memoir, you’re bound to tell the truth. And yes, Susie was a total basket case by page 50. After some of those moments of criticism I came home and had a really long, hard cry, and then I went back at it.

If I do get this book published, I know there will be a stir, however minor. And some people will love it, and some will say, what wisdom is this? Why should we care? I guess that’s all a part of the deal.

I just realized how long I have been wanting to get this off my chest.