For your consideration, a post begun mid-July 2010 and abandoned before I ever really got to my point. Was there a point? It would seem moot now, as I've already lived through most of the anticipated events and stress described below. This half-eaten post drove my blog to a grinding halt because, life's crazy left turns aside, I hate unfinished business. What can I say? I'm a procrastinating perfectionist and until I can figure out how to light a cleansing, digital bonfire I'll be stuck here, sitting in a heap of regret.
Well, enough friends started or renewed their own blogs this month to remind me that I have something to share, something to enjoy, something to get back to so that I can move forward. Here it is, in its original form with as quick an ending as would satisfy a raging perfectionist who desperately needs some lovely slop in her life..
Even as I gear up for the approaching school year with shopping and calendaring, I find myself clinging to shreds of summer ease. Nights without homework. Days without bus stop drama. Today's lazy morning under a cloudy, hiccuping sky. I'm not sure that recovering 7.5 hours of daily child-free time isn't somewhat (if not completely) offset by the barrage of fall-winter activities I know is coming down the pipeline.
Homework, violin practice and lessons, youth orchestra, karate, dinner and family time for two children are all squeezed into the 5 hours between bus and bed. Dance will take a knee this semester for the first time in six years - I hope that my daughter agrees. Bless my son for having zero interest in fall baseball. Festivals with their accompanying volunteer and attendance expectations come all too fast on the heels of the first day of school. Weekly shelving stints at the school library, battles with the room parents over food allergies, back-to-school nights, Halloween costumes, out-of-town visitors and the weeks-long barrage of winter holidays and school breaks all conspire to dictate the outcome of nearly every weekday through the end of the calendar year.
Small wonder, then, that I feel short of breath when I realize that fall also means the re-awakening of my church committee obligations, annual art show duties and further calls to service, usually at the leadership level. I could add in the details of my husband's busy life here, but suffice it to say that his current level of job responsibility leaves little time or energy for much more than a passing swipe at personal interests.
Stop. All of us know the answer to the mathematics chicken-scratched above. Take back your time. Cull activities down to what is realistic and fulfilling. Don't keep up with the Joneses. Learn to say no. We know it's true and effective and necessary to our survival and happiness to make changes when life isn't working. We know, or at least we are told, that giving things up isn't about giving up and giving in, i.e., defeat. It's about living to fight another day.
However, there is a real danger when we say no, that when we refuse to answer a call to service, we are losing something equally as precious as the time we gain. Connectedness. I wrote a large part of this just as I was "quitting" a volunteer job that I loved for the past 8-9 years, but which I knew could be my undoing this year. I see people less. People miss me more. I leave the house less and come across fewer social opportunities that naturally fall into the laps of those who regularly interact with others. All in the name of "me time." In the several months that followed the stoppage of my blog, the same months that followed my withdrawal from several volunteer efforts, I wondered why things that were so beneficial to others and to me also could be significant sources of stress. Where was the magic balance between volunteerism and private life? Was I picking the wrong situations to share my gifts? Was I making one gigantic commitment at a time versus several small ones?
I still don't have those answers and until I do I won't be throwing my precious (read: stress-free) time around to every comer. I only recently found a sort of answer to that lack of connectedness which completely ignores the question of whether an activity is charitable and instead looks at my ability and willingness to perform the activity. Intellect and skills and time are not the only requirements. What about joy? How can I give and give with joy when I find my own supply running low? Is the expectation to share one's talents for the greater good logical if one doesn't feel good? I know that some find their joy through giving but I see now that this usually has not been the case for me and I've decided not to feel guilty about it.
I now find joy through "volunteering" to help friends with their own businesses. By playing my violin as a valued member of a local Celtic group. By baking loaves of delicious sourdough bread weekly using a sponge first set in the 1700's. And I hope that those I interact with receive joy from me - whether it's a loaf, a tune or a spreadsheet. Or a bon mot.