Homegoing – Part 1

I’ve been resisting sitting down to write. I had the idea to write about home beginning a week ago, on the first day waking up and not owning the house I once I thought of as our dream home.

We owned a house. A beautiful house in a beautiful place. The kind of house that people talked about. A dream house. And then, after 8 years in that house, we decided to pursue a different adventure in a different part of the country. And we set out to sell the house. Everyone thought it would sell right away – it was so memorable, so welcoming. Our agent priced it far higher than I hoped, but I’m notorious for underselling value. Of myself, certainly, and often things I own.

And nothing happened. Oh, lots of people came to see it. And said they loved it. But no one made an offer. We dropped the price. And dropped the price again – to right around where I probably would have started. We needed to move forward, so we left the house behind. He started the job we decided to leave for, we sent the girl to grandparents, and I packed up (or more accurately supervised packers and movers while weeping copiously).

We found a more than suitable house here – more accurately, I found it. I chose it. And we could buy it. Through this incredibly cold and snowy Michigan winter, the house, our home, has been cozy and safe and sheltering. Just what a home should be.

We finally got an offer on the house in mid-February. The offer was low, but the price we settled on was acceptable. And then more negotiations when the inspections revealed … things. But a price was struck, a price we could live with. Done. Relief. And grief. I loved that house. But I was also afraid of it. It was too much for me. I never felt the house carry me – I always felt like I had to carry it. There’s more to that story, about carrying when you should instead be carried. That’s for another day. This is about houses and home.

I felt lighter and lighter last week, as the reality set in that the very big mortgage was gone, that we only have this house, our home, to care for and to let care for us. And then on Sunday I read the lovely piece in the New York Times Magazine about Peter Mathiessen, who died the day before it appeared.

Near the end of the article, the author quotes from Mathiessen’s book, The Snow Leopard: “In the longing that starts one on the path is a kind of homesickness, and some way, on this journey, I have started home. Homegoing is the purpose of my practice.” When I read these words, I burst into tears. Yes. Homegoing. More on this to come.

So today…

I stepped up and spoke out in my new-ish job at a meeting with a foundation program officer – I’m just shy of 2 months in so it seemed to be time. (I’m in development – we are marketers, yes?).

I sponsored a child through World Vision inspired by Kristin Howerton of Rage Against the Minivan because, really, the right thing to do.

I am trying to be patient as I wait to hear final logistical details about the closing on the sale of the New Mexico house on Friday, because I am sure that everything is probably on track and I am just paranoid. But really. And yikes.

And that is all that I have got today.

Showing up.

I was so happy and excited on Sunday when I got myself organized and brought this blog back to life and figured out how easy it was to use the domain name I bought over a decade ago…I promised myself that I wouldn’t overthink it. That I would write regularly. Figure out my voice by doing, not planning.

So I am showing up. But feeling tentative. And second-guessing.

Last week the very smart and lovely Alice Bradley wrote about Austin Kleon’s new book Show Your Work. I haven’t even read it yet – it only just arrived today. But I think the reason it stuck with me is that this, in a nutshell, is something I’ve been struggling with for the last several years. Show your work? But what if no one likes it? What if it’s no good? I don’t think it’s ready yet. Methinks this is exactly the line of argument he’s out to counter.

And then this straightforward piece of advice:Learn to Take a PunchI’ve been thinking a lot about making change using your body’s wisdom. I even wrote about the body as a compass right here on this blog. But I’ve wandered away from my path since then. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and analyzing and gaining insight – lots of time spent in my head. And little by little I’ve lost the connection to how I feel. But I know it. And I know that I’m at that intersection where understanding the why isn’t enough to motivate a change. You have to feel it in your spine and your gut and your heart. That’s  where change really happens, where it sticks. And you have to get there by doing, by moving, by making, by showing up and showing your work.

On Stuckness

I am ready to start the new year, albeit two weeks late. My experience of the first two weeks of January this year has been a lot of starting and stopping. I love the symbolism of new beginnings, the chance to start over or change direction, or just tweak what’s not working. I also have come to realize that I am not motivated by restriction or punishment or self-criticism. I’d rather focus on doing something better or doing more of something positive. So I’ve been thinking about what I want to do. Life list stuff, or life menu stuff. And the challenge hasn’t been coming up with things to put on lists. The challenge has been finding the spark to get started, the mojo, the momentum. Instead, stuckness.

Here’s the thing – you know why you feel stuck when you’ve told yourself you are going to give up carbs or go to the gym everyday or whatever goal you came up with that came from some external notion of how you need to change to be better. You feel stuck because you don’t actually want to do that thing you said you were going to do but you think it’s something you SHOULD do. Sometimes you are able to reach the place where the thing you should do also becomes something you also want to do, and while it remains challenging, it becomes something that has an energy and momentum that you can rely on. This is what happened to me when I lost 45 lbs some 17 years ago. It became something I wanted and then it became something I could really do.

So I know how to make myself work for something. And I’ve decided that this is the year where I am going to refocus my energy on finding my creative work, figuring out what I want to do when I grow up, now that my daughter is growing up. My husband is full of support and encouragement (and no doubt hoping that I’ll figure out something wildly successful so he can be a kept man). And I have been feeling stuck. And trying to figure out why.

When I am working, I like to be able to completely immerse myself in it, whatever it is. Distractions (unless self-inflicted for the purpose of procrastination!) are not welcome. I don’t think I knew this about myself until I became a mom. Our daughter was 10 months old when we adopted her, my husband and I in our late 30s after 15 years of marriage. And suddenly it seemed I had no time for myself. I didn’t know it would feel as hard as it did. I didn’t know that I would be unable to not hear her wanting something in the other room, even with her father sitting right next to her. And eventually, I think I just conditioned myself to expect to be interrupted. It’s still annoying, maybe more so now that she’s 8, but I expect it. And it means that I am reluctant and unsure how to commit to more ambitious projects.

I stumbled across The Bridges of Madison County on Friday night. It’s a total tearjerker, but good because Meryl Streep is so great in it. And the soundtrack is terrific. I’ve seen it a few times and always found it moving. This time though, the moment that got me was one I didn’t remember, which tells me I haven’t seen this movie since before Katharine came along. Francesca and Robert are having their final dinner together and he’s wanting her to come away with him, to follow her own dreams. And she says to him:

“Robert, please. You don’t understand, no-one does. When a woman makes the choice to marry, to have children; in one way her life begins but in another way it stops. You build a life of details. You become a mother, a wife and you stop and stay steady so that your children can move. And when they leave they take your life of details with them. And then you’re expected to move again only you don’t remember what moves you because no one has asked in so long. Not even yourself.”
I know, I know. She’s a housewife in Iowa in the 1960s. But it seems to me that the struggle she describes is still here, embedded in the “mommy wars”, and the question of whether women can have it all, and why so many women wonder if it has to be one or the other.
I’m incredibly lucky – the expectations I’m not meeting or struggling to meet are my own. I’ve been able to focus on being a mom and the CEO of our home for the last 7 years. But it’s not all I want to do. The life of details, of home and children, is a very comfortable place for me, but it’s not enough. Now comes the time of figuring out how to stay steady for her, and get moving where I need to go for me. I think it’s time to cast on.

Lessons from My Daughter

My daughter is a Maker. Without question. Some days she feels extra crafty, but every day she has to make something. She’s 8.

We find pop-up shops in our house all the time.

Over the Thanksgiving break, she decided to make gifts for every one of her classmates. She attends a traditional Montessori, so the 25 or so kids in her class are pretty evenly divided between first, second and third grade. Before she began producing the gifts, she created what was essentially a hand-drawn spreadsheet with all the kids’ names, the type of gift she was going to make (earrings for the girls unless they are non-girly girls, felt magnets for the boys and anyone not getting earrings), and any necessary additional details, i.e. color, pierced or clip-on, etc. And then she made them. All of them. She wields a hot-glue gun like an expert. I was not required for any production steps, although I do get consulted occasionally for my aesthetic opinion – she most often rejects that opinion, but she asks.

She announced to me that she planned on bringing all the gifts to school on the first day back from Thanksgiving break. I told her I thought that wasn’t the best idea, since we were still weeks away from Winter Break, no one else would be handing out gifts this early, best to wait until closer to Christmas, etc. She grudgingly went along with my verdict. And in the back of mind I was wondering why I cared so much when she took the presents to school. Why was I trying to hold back her generosity?

Then last week, in the midst of getting ready for school, she told me she was taking the presents to school that day. Again, I objected, this time suggesting that instead she ask the teachers that day when would be a good time to bring them and wait until then. This time, she was on to me. “I will ask the teachers first. But I’m bringing them – I’m sure I can give them out after circle.”

“But honey, what if the teachers say that today isn’t a good day?”

“I’ll just save them for tomorrow.”

At this point, I was frustrated and she was frustrated and I shooed her out of the room and off to finish getting ready. I knew at this point that I wasn’t going to stop her from taking the presents to school. And I thought I needed to tell her why I was questioning her. I came into the kitchen and knelt down next to her chair. I muted the television, even though it was a violation of the sanctity of Martha Speaks and looked her in the eyes. “I want to tell you why Mommy was worried about you taking the presents to school today. Mommy was worried that it might not be convenient for the teachers, or that the kids might not understand why you brought presents on a Tuesday, or that you might not get the appreciation you deserve. That’s the way my mind works – I worry about what might go wrong. I’m a cautious person.”

She looked back at me. “I’m a cautious person too, Mom, but I don’t worry about what I don’t want to happen. I think about what I want to happen.”

I want to be more like her.