So, a little voice in my head is whispering, “Your readers know this already. EVERYONE knows it. YOU know it. There is no point to elaborating it again.”
But I think there is a point, and what it really has to do with is my continuing process of “learning in public” that I practice here. I share my missteps and foibles, my big dreams, my small steps. And you listen. You comment (once in a while), you email me (often). We are in this together. THAT is a more helpful thought.
One of my daughters has been moving to her first apartment — a messy process that has proved instructive for me. Her father (dh) says his heart is broken, and he took her out and bought her a new queen sized mattress and box springs. But, hey, she’s 23 years old! I think it’s time! I find myself reflecting on my own initial move out of my childhood home. Here’s a few thoughts:
- People thought I was old when I moved (20, but my siblings fled at 17 and 18). They also called me “an old maid.” (I was 20!)
- My stuff fit in my little car (a Datsun B210).
- I first moved into a bedroom in my aunt’s house, “in town,” and then shared a duplex with three other girls for a short time. My first actual apartment, about a year later, cost $175 per month to rent, which was the same amount as my car payment. (Of course, I made about $700 per month…but my daughter doesn’t make a whole lot more than that.)
- My aunt Aronda lent me a black and white TV. My aunt Darlene gave me a picture to hang on the wall. I bought a brand new bed, queen sized, with a brass headboard. I also bought a set of stoneware, which if I’m remembering right, cost $30, and was purchased at a hardware store. I had NO pots and pans, and for a few years, that is what I asked for at Christmas.)
- In fact, I had nothing in my refrigerator. I sometimes didn’t eat in the evening, or I’d have a can of mandarin orange slices.
- The phone plugged into the wall and cost something like $11 per month. I called home rarely, as long distance cost extra.
- The first evening in the new apartment (this was in Longview, Washington, by the way), I put all of my new dishes in the cupboards, my clothes in the dresser drawers and closet, and I was 100% moved in. (I also remember that I had very few clothes — like one pair of jeans, one jacket…a WHOLE different world from my daughter’s.)
Yes, my daughter’s experience is wholly different. But what’s instructive for me is how MESSY her process is. On Saturday, her dad stood in the hallway and fretted. Can’t you help her? he asked me several times. But she didn’t want help. She was perfectly happy with it being messy.
THIS is my big insight. (Stop reading if you already know this!)
It IS messy. (It’s ALL messy!) Let it be messy. Stop fighting the messiness. Do not use the messiness as an excuse. Do your work anyway. My daughter shoved things in boxes and carted them to the new apartment and dumped them into her bedroom. (Her roommate seemed to be doing the same.) She spread things all over. She smiled and hummed. She didn’t stop. (She’s still moving.) She didn’t worry or fuss. She just kept doing small things until it was time for her to go to work for her evening shift. She seems to be operating on the assumption that it will eventually fall into place, and there isn’t any reason to worry or fuss. Small steps.
I will refrain from making any political comment here (the world is a mess — but what is YOUR work? What is the smallest possible component you can accomplish right now?). I have absolute faith, however, that my daughter will accomplish her move, and that she will put her posters up and unpack her boxes … and all of it. “Adulting,” she calls it. Grinning.
It occurs to me, too, that a lot of my family life has been this messy — my “ideal vision” of having children had to be thrown out the window before I could have actual children. I haven’t followed anyone’s tidy script, ever. I felt that I had to work full time (or dh thought I had to). I couldn’t give up my dream of being a writer. And of course I have written, but what I’m realizing is that my dreams of perfection — writing the “instant classic,” the award-winning novel, for instance — has remained out of my reach.
What if, instead, I embraced the imperfection of this process? What if I let go of my list of “I wants” (which seem to be thinly disguised “I can’ts) and let it (the novel, for instance) be whatever it is? What if I just wrote it? In her memoir, Still Writing, Dani Shapiro talks about a friend who, when asked what she’s writing, says, “A short, bad book.”
What if I were writing a short, bad, wholly imperfect book?