Deep thoughts and a good day

Very good work day today, though I didn’t actually make a whole lot: mentally productive, little tangible result. Did morning pages, read some Artist’s Way, Mommy called and I talked to her for nearly an hour and a half about Shra’s engagement party this weekend, made two cloth napkin rings (learned how to make buttonholes!!!! and re-learned French knots), went to the Pinole Public Library as a combination artist date/work date and took lots of notes on craft fairs and crafting as a business, returned home and typed up the notes (integrating them into my existing FabMo notes), had a ramble after dinner with Erik in which we discussed my problem of not getting enough done every day. And that was my day.

Erik and I both had work outings today — I to the Pinole library, he to Berkeley campus libraries. I think we were both more thoughtful and engaged with each other as a result. We must do this more often. So, practices I’d like to cultivate: meditation, long solitary walks, artist dates, work outings. It might take a while, but I can do it.

While we were rambling this evening we talked and thought about my work habits. I realized again how apt my “pulled in different directions — very overwhelming” metaphor is: were there literally projects tied all over my body, pulling me toward them, I wouldn’t be able to go forward in any direction. It truly is a momentum-stopper, feeling so drawn to all my different projects at once. I wondered aloud why I didn’t feel this way in college (well, I may have, in my senior year), when I also was exploring in lots of different directions at once. Why did life seem simpler then?

Erik pointed out one thing we’ve considered many times before, though not necessarily in this context. In college we always knew what we were supposed to be doing at any given hour and any given semester. We had a set schedule, with built-in rhythms of exams and breaks, and that meant we could avoid a lot of what stresses me out these days. I have considered setting a schedule several times before, but I wonder if maybe I really should do it now. It might help. I’m wont to say that I enjoy the flexibility of not having a set schedule — and that I work better when I’m able to work as the spirit moves me and not because I’m slotted to do x right now — but as I’m getting so little done these days, that argument holds very little water.

I’m thinking it over again now, though, and I think there may also be something else we’ve missed. When I was a student, there were always classes and obligations I could skive off without undue guilt — the easy classes or half-assed extracurricular activities — or classes and obligations that were merely fun, which I never or rarely felt reluctance to undertake — like French or Portuguese classes, or social activities. I was doing a lot, yes, but it didn’t all carry the same weight with me; correspondingly, slacking off in my various activities wouldn’t always saddle with me equal levels of guilt. I think that’s why I only started to feel really stressed out during my senior year, because by that time I had decided on grad school and was then pursuing that path instead of just exploring. Missed opportunities, looming deadlines, subpar work — these all began to take on cosmic significance in my mind, and so every aspect of these newly-named career activities became fraught with longterm consequences. Nearly everything I did had the potential to be stressful, because nearly everything I did seemed like a make-or-break-my-future type of situation.

I think this is the answer… this is what distinguishes normal, everyday stress from that suffocating, panic-inducing stress that keeps coming back and back once it’s taken root. It’s that feeling of desperate importance, that dreadful sensation that my entire life depends on this; I’ve only got very limited time in which to make this right. And now, once again, I’m feeling that same way. I gravitate easily to certain tasks, like reading or drawing classes or crafting, because I’m not invested in a future in which I find success and legitimacy as a Person Who Does Those Activities. With writing, though, or my own drawing projects, I get so paralyzed by the gargantuanness of THE FUTURE, I can’t get started in the present.

Is this kind of thinking avoidable, or is it a natural (if overblown in my case) consequence of making progress on things? It is so clear that we can escape this feeling in the early stages of any pursuit, because that’s when we are still feeling our way, exploring, learning how things work. But doesn’t that mean once we get along a certain path, we’re bound to feel that pressure, just because we are on a path? Is this kind of stress inevitable? After reading so much Pema Chödrön I feel like she would say there is no path, so why stress about something that is just imaginary — transient — illusory? I don’t know. Doesn’t it help us to feel like we have a path? Doesn’t it spur us on, knowing we’re working toward a goal, dreaming of potential rewards and satisfaction somewhere down the line? If, while we work, we try to just be in the moment, where no future can ever exist, will we still be diligent? Will we still move forward, without that carrot dangling in front of our faces?

I will think on this.