My agent just sent my manuscript to three big publishers. Now there’s nothing for me to do but to continue my daily life, to not allow my thoughts to burn in a fire of what-if’s since I’m not promised tomorrow–or even 2:30 this afternoon. I want to wait well, though, so far, I am not successful.
My sister brought this beautiful Wendell Berry poem to my attention. For me, it sums up the struggle of being a human ruled by time.
“From the Crest”
I am trying to teach my mind to bear the long, slow growth of the fields, and to sing of its passing while it waits.
The farm must be made a form, endlessly bringing together heaven and earth, light and rain building back again the shapes and actions of the ground.
Wendell Berry, Collected Poems (San Francisco: North Point, 1985), 190-91.
I would like to cool my mind, to accept the good gifts God gives me in the time He chooses to give them, or, maybe, to accept the withholding of them. I would like to teach my mind to bear long, slow growth, both today and tomorrow (if I’m still here).
I’m not a tranquil, easygoing person. Even as a kid I planned for imaginary contingencies. I worried and wondered. I made lists.
I’m convinced this is a bit of a personality defect since I had a wonderful childhood.
It’s still true of me as a 41-year-old wife, mom, and artist. I have a good life, and I’m still a bit of a hurricane on the inside. My emotions are easy to stir up. Hard to quell.
I love this time of year. I’m a Christian, and this season reminds me why I have hope–both in this life and in the one to come. But Christmas stresses me out, too. It ruins my routines. It sinks me under the weight of its happy expectations. It adds items to my to do list and upends my fragile status quo.
If I’m honest, I miss the way we celebrated Christmas when we lived in India. Which is to say, we did Advent readings, watched good movies, lit candles, and opened gifts on Christmas morning.
There were no concerts, no expectations, no parties, no travel, no Christmas cards, no feasts, no detailed gift lists, no endless choices, no school performances, no commercials reminding us that we hadn’t bought enough.
Our Christmas dinners in India were spaghetti and mutton meat balls because that was the fanciest thing we could find in our little hill station market.
I’m in America, now, not India. Sure, there’s plenty to love about an American Christmas. But peaceful, it ain’t. Not unless I plan for it.
So I’m mostly cutting out social media this month. I’m checking my email once a day. I’m listening to Christmas music I actually enjoy. I’m drinking coffee, slowly, in the wee hours of the morning. I’m putting on my makeup in silence so I can think. I’m reading my Bible before I reach for my phone. I’m working on tricky edits of my manuscript in the morning instead of pushing them off to the afternoon when I’m exhausted. I’m going to bed early. I’m reading novels instead of watching Netflix.
I want to thrive this holiday season, not just survive. And, for me, planning for peace is the only way to go.
In an earlier post, I wrote about how I’m intentional about filling my creative well during the day, whether by noticing visual art at my local coffee shop, listening to podcasts on interesting topics, or reading a few pages of a novel before bed. It’s creative input, and it helps me stay connected to right-brain pursuits.
But, increasingly, I need “no input” time, too–protected chunks of the day (however brief) to hear myself think. These are moments when I’m not listening to, or reading, anything. I’m purposely not taking in new data.
It’s hard to find these no input minutes in our modern world, not just because “news” and trivia are the white noise in our public spaces, but also because we’re addicted to looking stuff up on our mobile devices. We stuff our brains with junk info–beyond its capacity–all the time.
Author, runner, and NPR show host Peter Sagal writes about preserving space in his day for no input. He says if he didn’t run without listening to music, he would have no time when he wasn’t taking in data. This is crazy-making and has the potential to reduce productivity and peace. So, for a few minutes a day, he runs in silence. He lets his brain chew the food it’s already trying to digest instead of gorging it with more, more, more.
I’ve started keeping track of the times I could be going input-free but am choosing not to. I’m asking myself why I reach for my phone when I’m unable to process all that’s being hurdled at me. I’m taking a moment or two, several times a day, to mull over what’s already on my mind. I think it’s helping lower my anxiety.
At the very least, it’s helping me remember my limits.