Here’s what I want to know: what I can give up being consistent on. Seriously. Some adult function that I can let slide and not have horrible consequences. I’ve done a bunch of blog posts about things it’s better to pay continual attention to: people in your family and around you, pride and fear, and choosing to be miserable. Every week, if not every day, I read posts on writing like this, Day After Day After Day–Showing Up At The Page No Matter What, a post I actually find encouraging, but there again is the consistency thing. There is so much information whizzing past me, every piece saying, “pay attention to me and follow up on this because this is important!”
What can I give up?
I have to keep up with the bills because otherwise I’d be wasting money on late fees and ruining my credit, credit that we’re going to have to use this Spring to buy one, if not two, vehicles. I’m not going to drop tithing, either. Money is definitely not the place to drop the ball.
I’m already as minimal as I can get with house cleaning — neat in the public areas of the house, but clean, not so much. I couldn’t get much less clean without getting into health hazard levels. To keep it real, while there are no clothes on my bedroom floor, here is my “chairdrobe” this morning.
I exercise several times a week, not so much for the long term good of it, but because I love to move and Zumba and Pilates and the like make me happy. Also, they make it possible for me to dance in church with control and without injury, and I promised God that I would dance more if I got back in shape. I’ve broken enough promises to God that I want to keep at least this one.
I could give up dying my hair, but then I’d be less attractive, and I’m not giving that up until I’m forced to. Besides, that costs less than $8 and takes only 45 minutes every 6 or so weeks. Not a burden.
Can’t give up washing my face twice a day or I’ll break out like a teenager; I’ve done that already and I’m not going back.
Can’t give up brushing my teeth and I floss some. Of course, I really should floss more. So now I’ve added to my list of things I should be consistent on but aren’t. My terrible teeth have cost us at least $1,000 out of pocket, over insurance, every year for the last four years. Gotta take care of the teeth.
I am weary of cooking, and looking up recipes in Pinterest or wherever is not inspiring. Yet I am committed to making home cooked food whenever possible and sitting down all four of us for dinner as often as possible (which is pretty much every day). So I shop and cook and try to get the people in my life to eat a variety of foods with food value. This is often not a joy. Despite my nonsensical answers and my snapped retort of, “food,” to the question, “What’s for dinner?” my people insist on asking my least favorite question every day. I should be more consistent (there it is again!) about teaching the kids to cook so they can share this burden with me. This category is also affiliated with the Money category: the less I cook, the more we eat out, the more money we spend on food, the more crap we eat, the more weight we gain, etc. So for money, health, and family togetherness, I can’t give up or cut down on cooking.
I will admit to you fine people that I don’t freeform play with my kids anymore. That said, I do concrete things with them: play tennis or racquetball, go for a bike ride, go to the book store, watch a movie, do my daughter’s hair, talk about books with my son, etc. I will play a board game once a year, at most. More often than not, I’m the one who encourages them to be in charge of themselves, to determine their own entertainment — skills that are necessary in this life.
I help with homework, as well as insist that it be done before dinner and before screen time. I’m the monitor of screen time. I’m the policer of snacks, but also the provider of baked goods and periodic junk that I find disgusting but that makes them shout for joy. I’m the facilitator of lessons and teams, the chauffeur to and from friends’ houses, the one who teaches them skills they’ll need to become independent members of society while making sure they take those steps of independence (even when I must nag a bit to accomplish it). That’s my job: I’m the stay-at-home mom. There’s nothing to give up here.
I read somewhere between 85 and 100 books a years. Most of these are quick-read middle grade/young adult fiction and romance novels, with a bunch of nonfiction, memoir, and serious-minded book club fiction thrown in. This is both for pleasure and escape and for “work”: I want to be a published novelist, so I need to read. I need to know what’s being published in my chosen area. I need to be inspired by good books to remind myself why I do what I do. So no slacking off there, either.
Blogs, though. I could cut down on those, even the ones I read for professional writerly development. Some are encouraging and galvanizing, but they can easily be a time suck and made my brain all foggy and unable to be consistent about the things that matter.
Okay, here’s something I could give up, not easily, but I could. However, I need a little nonsense. I’d be giving up word games so I could be more consistent and efficient in other areas, which is the point of these complaints: I’m tired of being consistent and efficient. It’s so good to say, every day, “I’m going to play for awhile.” But the truth is that I play too much. I’m too oddly committed to doing nothing after the kids are in bed. There’s no reason to do nothing every night. It’s pure laziness, which I support now and then, but I know I’m crossing the line into sloth.
Here’s where I screech to a halt. I’m sick of myself before I even get to the biggies: marriage, family, friends, writing.
I have a perfectly ordinary middle class life. I don’t overschedule my children or myself, but I have a nice mix of responsibilities and aspirational activities to keep me engaged in the world. I don’t see my friends or family enough, but that’s mostly because of my strong hermit tendencies. I may have a secret desire to get a gold medal in getting the kids to school on time with everything they need for their day including a hug and kiss, but that’s just silly. I have nothing to complain about and everything to be on-my-knees grateful about.
What I’m sensing here is my old friend Resistance. It isn’t that I’m doing too much. It’s that I’m not doing enough of the things that matter. I’m not writing enough. I’m not being consistent enough in dozens of areas. I was all impressed with my consistency and efficiency pre-whine, but then I read an article called 5 Ways Your Brain Tricks You Into Sticking with Bad Habits, by Dennis Hong, that included this nugget:
It’s not because your brain hates you; it’s because your brain likes efficiency, and mindless habits are efficient. See, what your brain really wants is to shift into autopilot, to turn your life into repetitive patterns and create heuristics — mental shortcuts that help you get through the day using the least amount of brain power necessary.
Which, in turn, reminds me of my recent research on the Judean desert for the middle book about David and Saul. In an amazing book, Desert and Shepherd in Our Biblical Heritage, Nogah Hareuveni talks how desert paths are formed by grazing sheep, goats, ibex and deer, hundreds of narrow tracks crisscrossing hills that often all look the same. They can lead you to the best way to get to your destination or to likely water holes, but at the same time, they themselves can mislead and confuse you.
“Yet these grazing tracks, so typical of the desert, are a hazard to the wayfarer. Sometimes the trail traverses a steep slope and becomes ever narrower until it reaches the edge of an abyss. Above and below it numerous light-colored tracks glimmer, some of them broad and conspicuous, so that the track followed gets lost in the proliferation. Are you still on the right path or have you lost your way without noticing the intersections?” (p.96)
I’m trudging along a path that I have created in my brain, and which my brain desperately wants to remain on, whether it’s leading me where I want to go or not. I am Resisting mightily the development of new habits that would be better than some comfortable old ones. And when I manage to head out on a new path, I drift back to the old one way too soon.
The bad habits article says that it takes 10 weeks (not the old 6 I was taught) to develop a solid, new habit. That would take me to Dec. 4, the week before my birthday. Now that I have all this new insight, I’m going to go for it. Last year at exactly this time, I managed to add the new habit of regular exercise, which messed up the writing habits I’d been cruising on before that, and which I’ve never fully recovered from.
I’ve got to make it specific, though.
** No turning on the tv to catch just a bit of the news after husband and kids leave the house in the morning. Also, no trolling the internet. None. Save that for lunch. After delivering departing hugs and kisses, go straight upstairs, get dressed, do your Bible reading and prayer, have breakfast (still watch the previous day’s Live with Kelly and Michael while eating — I can’t get rid of ALL my silly habits at once). If I do that, I can get in an hour of work when my brain is most lively before it’s time to head to the gym. **
That’s it for now. I’m not going to try to revolutionize my entire schedule in one fell swoop. If making that change doesn’t bleed over into my bad evening habits, I’ll revisit this process in the new year.
I started this post whining and wound up ranting against my own Resistance. I’m really glad I let myself wallow in the whine. Without that, I’d still be thinking “too much” was my problem and I wouldn’t be any closer to making a difference.