Eight Ways to Be and Have a Friend

friend

This month on the Here Year has focused on friendship.  My friends and those I love the most have been firmly on my mind all month.  The thing is I’ve struggled with what to say that is new, to be honest.  I believe that true, honest, deep friendship is one of the most essential parts of a full and contented life.  I believe that certain fertile moments in our lives lend themselves particularly to making friends.  I believe that a person’s closest friends can tell you an awful lot about them and that who we truly love shows us a lot about who we are.

I have always loved my friends, and am truly blessed with wonderful people who are close to me.  Sometimes I hear from readers, though, that it all seems easy and smooth.  That’s far from the truth.  I’m not always a picnic to be close to, that I know.  I’m over-sensitive and take things personally, I react quickly and sometimes strongly, and generally I’m a pain in the ass.  I assure you: nothing in this life of mine is always easy or perennially smooth.  Please know that.  Part of why I feel so strongly about friendship is that I’ve learned, often through heartache, to value and defend those relationships that matter the most to me.

Aidan has often blogged on the Here Year themes with lists, which are a mix of reflection and action suggestion.  I love this format.

So, a few thoughts on ways to be, and have, a friend:

1. Remain Open.  I think the key to those particularly fecund friendship-making periods in our lives is that they are moments of real vulnerability.  When we let down our guard and reveal who we really are, that invites others in.

2. Be Loyal. Remember the other person’s feelings.  Include them. Consider how they will feel about something.

3. Be Trustworthy.  More than once people have been shocked to hear that I knew something about someone else and never said anything.  I’m always surprised by this shock.  To me, “don’t tell anyone” means don’t tell anyone.  Period.

4. Keep in Touch. It’s simple and doesn’t take very much time at all.  Just a quick “I’m thinking about you” means the world.  Email and text have made this so much easier.  Remember and mark birthdays (paper card is ideal, or an email or text, or, if it comes to that, a FB message) but the random “you’re on my mind” message or “I saw this and it made me think of you” can mean even more, in my opinion.

5. Say How You Feel.  I don’t think we tell the people we really love and value that enough.  Just say it.  To be maudlin, we never know when we’ll get the chance again.  Text it if you don’t want to say it out loud.  I can’t tell you how much I cherish the expressions of warmth, gratitude, and appreciation I’ve received from others.

6. Defend Each Other. That quote about what the silence of our friends hurting more than the words of our enemies comes to mind.  Oh, yes.  I’m watching this now with Grace, in 6th grade.  Sometimes we have to stick up for those we love, even if it means going against the easy current.  Do it.

7. Listen. Friendship is made of attention.  I believe this entirely.  I am still learning to listen without jumping in with suggestions, observations, reactions.  Just listen.  Pay attention.  Don’t be distracted.

8. Show Up. There are certain things you just show up for: weddings, funerals, christenings, big birthdays.  I regret missing some of these in the lives of some of those I love most, though I can honestly say the decision has never been a casual one.  Still.  Show up if you at all can.  It always means so incredibly much to me when others make the effort.

What are your thoughts on the most important things to remember about friendship?

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those moments when she stopped and thought I’m awake!

The sun was out after a sojourn behind some clouds.  Planes glinted in the sunlight and gradually diminished in the distance, leaving a trail of noise.  A light breeze took the edge off the heat.  The moment struck her as perfect, in the way that quotidian moments sometimes did.  She tried to freeze it in her mind: the acid sweetness of her apple, the crunch of it against her teeth, the smell of the grass.  It was cheating, in a sense, to circumvent the natural sifting process of memory, but she found that those moments when she stopped and thought I’m awake! as though in the midst of a dream, were ones she remembered with an uncommon clarity.

– Matthew Thomas, We Are Not Ourselves

Thank you, Lacy, for sending me this perfect passage.

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How She Does It: Raluca State

Raluca State’s blog What Would Gwyneth Do is one of my daily reads and has been for a long time. She runs a regular interview series called I Don’t Know How She Does It which definitely inspired this very series here.  For that reason, and because I admire her so much in general, it’s a huge honor to feature her words here.  Raluca’s blog has an addictive mix of content and is all written in her approachable, wise, wonderful voice.  I wish I lived closer to Raluca as I’d love to meet her.  What Would Gwyneth Do covers tyle, fashion, and design, music, cooking, working motherhood, and a million other things.  I highly recommend checking Raluca’s blog out and know you will be glad you did.  I was thrilled when she agreed to participate in this series, the stepchild of her own wonderful investigation of working motherhood’s particular joys, beauties, and challenges.
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 Photo credit: Fawn Christiansen

1. Tell me about the first hour of your day? (I often describe mine as being “fired out of a cannon”)

The first hour of my day is surprisingly mellow…most of the time. My son is three and a half and always wakes up first, around 630am. Luckily these days he is a serious daddy’s boy so he tends to go to my husband first and pulls him out of bed to pour his cereal. I get to snooze for a few minutes while they do that and gather my thoughts for the day. It always takes me a minute to focus: what day is it? What’s on my calendar today? What do I have to look forward to? What do I not have to look forward to? I like to do a quick assessment before I get out of bed. I have to wake my daughter (she is seven) and lure her down to the kitchen. We’re incredibly lucky because my husband and I both work from home so while we need to get our kids dressed, fed and washed up to get out the door on time, we can usually handle drop off in casual clothes, make-up free and with a coffee cup in-hand because we are driving right back to the privacy of our home offices. We like to keep the mornings as relaxed as possible – no TV, no music on weekdays (a ton of it on weekends), natural light, and patient voices, wherever possible. I also don’t micro manage my kids in the morning – both of them, even my three year old, can pick out what they want to wear (I edit their wardrobes on the side so everything is mommy approved, for the most part) so there are fewer arguments and hiccups in the morning.

2. Do you have a work uniform that you rely on for getting dressed? What is it?

Since I work from home, my uniform is definitely on the more casual side but it’s not (always) yoga pants or sweats. I like leggings or jeans and layered tops for cooler days. A tee under a chambray or cardigan. In the summer, I am in dresses every day. We live in southern California and it gets warm so I like to feel breezy and cool. I try to do a little make up every day so I don’t fall into a work-from-home slump. A bit of BB cream, a cream blush and a little mascara and I am set for the day. For work events or meetings, it’s a lot of the same but I will always throw on a chic blazer (my favorites are Helmut Lang and J. Crew) and a pair of heels (Cole Haan are super comfortable) and a little more makeup.

3. How do you and your spouse resolve conflicts about scheduling?

I am very lucky in that my husband and I share our parenting duties 100%. We both work full-time from home so our schedules tend to be fairly similar in terms of limitations and flexibilities. It means we can swap pick up and drop off duties as needed, we can attend school functions together or solo, and we can cover for each other when needed. It is an incredible set-up for this chapter of our lives. We are also very good about recognizing each other’s need for personal time – I always make sure he has a few early mornings to go surf, he will cover bed time if I want to go to an evening yoga class or a cocktail with a friend…and we make that a priority not only for ourselves and each other, but for our family dynamic.

4. What time do you go to bed?

Early, ha. I am usually in bed by 9 and most nights asleep by 930pm. And yes, that typically includes Friday nights. On Saturdays, I might stretch to 11 or 12. But that’s a stretch. I like to stay I party on east coast time ;) My routine is a little geriatric in nature – I diffuse essential oils and put lavender oil on as well. I typically have a candle burning and like to do some deep breathing and stretching before I pass out. My husband finds it all quite amusing to watch.

5. Do you exercise? If so, when?

I do. Sort of. I was one of those lucky gals who never had to worry about diet or exercise until I hit my mid 20s. Unfortunately, ten years later, it is still a struggle to make it a priority. But I try to. That means I typically aim to break a sweat at least five times a week and usually succeed three times per week. My work-from-home status comes in handy here because I will often sneak out for an early morning or mid-day class during the week and then always go to one on the weekends. I was a Dailey Method devotee for the past few years and it did wonders for my body, but have recently switched it up and started yoga. I tried it many years ago and didn’t enjoy it but now I have gone back with a different mindset and I am really liking it. You need to be in the right mindset for yoga, I think.

6. Do you cook dinner for your kids? Do you have go-to dishes you can recommend?

Yes, yes and yes! Menu planning is one of the pillars of my life and I blog about it all the time. It helped us get on a budget, helped clean up our eating habits and put family dinner front and center on the priority list…right where it should be. Sometimes it’s simple – tacos, homemade pizza, burgers – and sometimes it’s more elaborate – broiled salmon, roast chicken – but it’s a very important part of our lives. I also love to bake for my kids. Something about homemade muffins (I pack mine with zucchini, chia seeds and flax seeds for extra goodness and chocolate chips for extra flavor!) in the morning makes my mama heart sing. Most Sunday afternoons, you will find me in the kitchen with my two little sous-chefs. I want to set them up now for a long, healthy relationship with food and cooking and family dinners.

7. Do you have any sense of how your children feel about your working?

Yes. I think they are both annoyed and proud of it. They are definitely annoyed that my cell phone and laptop are always at the ready (one of the few cons of working for yourself and working from home – you are always working). I have been trying my best to put those distractions away, physically, when I am with them but sometimes it just isn’t possible or realistic. Most people don’t end their workday at 3pm so when my daughter comes home and my emails are still active, I need to be able to respond to them. On the other hand, they are proud. I have heard them talk about mommy being “her own boss” and my daughter is starting to understand what it means to have an income, where our money goes, etc. She asked me if I had more than $10 in the bank the other day and was beyond excited when I said yes. I think she gasped ;) We also try to remind them that our situation is not typical. Most mommies and daddies don’t work downstairs in their house. Most mommies and daddies can’t be at every drop off and pick up and school meeting and event. We are lucky that we have the best of both worlds and they are learning that so it makes those late-night and weekend emails a little easier to accept.

8. What is the single piece of advice you would give another working mother?

Take it one day – sometimes one hour – at a time. Don’t worry about next week’s schedule or how you’re going to pay for preschool in three years or that you missed last month’s PTA meeting. How was today? Did you do your best? Were your kids happy and healthy? Did you feel fulfilled? Tired, maybe. Burnt out, likely. But fulfilled? I often say that some of my most exhausting days are also my most fulfilling and I like to look back on each one, individually, and give myself a little pat on the back.

And, inspired by Vanity Fair, a few quick glimpses into your life:

Favorite artist?
My daughter. She really is quite good.

Favorite jeans?
Madewell for more affordable, J Brand for less affordable. Always dark and typically skinny…they can work on girls with curves, I am sticking to it.

Shampoo you use?
Pantene for more affordable, Bumble & Bumble for sort of affordable and Frederic Fekkai (way less affordable) in my Christmas stocking every year.

Favorite book?
The Hours by Michael Cunningham.

Favorite quote?
So many come to mind, but I am going to go with this one from Ira Glass. Does that count as a quote??

Favorite musician?
I am very fickle when it comes to music and my tastes are all over the board, but I am going to say Michael Jackson. And anything on The Lumineers radio on Pandora. And a little Jay Z, always.

Favorite item (toy, clothing, or other) for your children?
Any kind of book for my daughter, she is such a bookworm and it makes me so happy.  We buy a lot of books. H&M or crewcuts for clothes and PLAE for shoes, they last forever and look super cool. We also like Native Shoes for the summer months. Finally, our Oeuf crib. It has seen 7+ long years of daily and nightly use and holds so many memories from both our kids and it still looks great.

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Things I Love Lately

Glenda Burgess’ blog is a must-read for me, but this post, Permission, struck me even more than usual.  “We are done with life when we cease to engage with our dreams.”  Oh yes.  How true this is.

I can’t stop listening to A Life That’s Good by Lennon and Maisy.  So, so good.  Makes me cry every time.  Thank you to Katie Den Ouden for knowing that I would love it and for sending to me (is there anything better than an email from a friend that says “I thought you might like this”?)

Recently I started reading Happy Healthy Kids and the site is a trove of useful information.  Last week’s post on the best TV shows for older children was really wise and full of good suggestions (and resonated with my kids’ recent passion for Survivor).

It was Julia Fierro who pointed me to Last Night’s Reading, which I fell into headlong and in love with at once.  Kate Gavino’s marvelous illustrations are coupled with quotes from writers that I kept writing down.  “We are always becoming.  It never stops.” – Richard Blanco.  “It’s my job as a writer to pay attention.” – James McBride. “We write to inform ourselves of ourselves.” – Julia Fierro.

I just finished Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, which I really enjoyed, and am now reading Marilynne Robinson’s Lila.  As expected, it is grave and beautiful, solemn and powerful.

I write these Things I Love posts approximately monthly.  You can find the full archive of them here.

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So brief, so fragile

What fools we are, she thought, to love something so brief, so fragile, as life. And especially that handful of sweet, little-children years.

– Julia Fierro, Cutting Teeth

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Friendship, attention, and history

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The mountain lake that we hiked to on Saturday morning

This month, Aidan has chosen Friendship as the topic of our Here YearThe topic is near to my heart and the timing is perfect.  I just returned from my annual reunion with my dearest friends from college.  It was a marvelous, sunny weekend of laughter (a lot) and tears (a few) that reminded me yet again why these women are so essential to me.

I’ve written a lot about friendship, and I cherish my female friends.  As I get older I am more and more convinced of the importance of female friendships to our lives.  The women who live nearest to my heart come from a variety of places and times in my life, but this group of college friends are the single largest and most stable locus of identification for me.  They are my anchor and the first people I call with news, good or bad.  They are the women who hold my stories.  They are some of the few people in the world who know both who I am now and who I was then.  They were my bridesmaids and are the godmothers of my children, and we have attended graduations, weddings, and funerals together.

These are the friends whose lives have now been beating alongside mine for more than half my life.  They are the friends who know the specific part of Middlemarch that I missed because I was skimming a little too aggressively, what the trapezal is, all the lines to Jennifer Lopez’s performance in The Wedding Planner, the best roast chicken recipe, and how to work a 1970s-era one-piece ski suit.  The memories run incredibly deep.  We know the titles of each others’ theses and what we called our grandparents and why a DTR is  important and how we celebrated our 21st birthdays.

For me, this was the best reunion weekend yet.  All but one of us (those who were there) is now 40.  We are all mothers and wives.  We have a great deal in common, most of all the 4 years we spent on the same college campus in the mid 90s.  But our lives are also very different.  We run the gamut, professionally, personally, and geographically.  Somehow, as our flight from those years in New Jersey lengthens, and our paths diverge, we also feel closer than ever.  These women define where I came from and help me know where I am.  Something about this past weekend was simply magic.  Maybe as we hit our 40s we are settling into our skin.  Maybe it was the mountain air and spectacularly beautiful weather.  Maybe it was the triple cream brie and French Sancerre.  Probably it was a combination of all of these things.

I suspect part of it had to do with my – and, I think, everyone’s – increasing ability to be here.  For many years I’ve known that attention is love, and this weekend was a reminder of how true that is.

Friendship is made of attention. 

We listened to each other and in turn we felt heard (I can only speak for myself, but my strong sense is this feeling was common in the group).  I’m always amazed by how swiftly we slip back into comfortable patterns and by how easy it is to be around each other, because so much of our history is known and doesn’t need to be explained. .  This weekend was no different.  There is no way I can capture this strong, loving, dazzling group of women nor how fortunate and privileged I feel to be in their presence.  I simply love them.  That is all.  And I hope they always know that.

I wrote about this weekend, and these friends, in 2010, 2012, and 2013.

 

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73 Questions

I’m so grateful that Brettne pointed me to the Vogue video of Anna Wintour answering the 73 question challenge.  She’s hilarious, and, as Brettne said to me, I totally covet her office.  I was also fascinated by how the specific questions come together to provide a compelling portrait of a person.  I’ve often written about this, about how small details can tell us a lot.  In this case each question reveals a singular facet of a person and the 73 come together into a revealing kaleisdoscope.  I thought it would be fun to answer them.  I’d love it if you wanted to too!  (I’m going to change New York to Boston for my purposes).

1. How long have you been in the area?

I was born here, but we moved around a lot, and I came back for good when I graduated from college in 1996.

2. What’s your favorite season in Boston?

Spring

3. What’s your favorite activity in Boston?

Running along the Charles at sunrise

4. Would you ever leave Boston?

I don’t think so

5. What are three words to describe living in Boston?

Seasonal, bookish, manageable

6. What’s your favorite movie?

Hard to say – not a huge movie person.  But first reactions are: Stealing Home, all the Harry Potter movies, Old School.

7. Favorite movie in past five years?

Truthfully I have barely been to the movies in the past 5 years.  Maybe Where the Wild Things Are.  Though that may have been more than 5 years ago!

8. Favorite Hitchcock film?

I haven’t ever seen one!

9. Favorite TV show that’s currently on?

House of Cards

10. What’s a book you plan on reading?

Frankenstein

11. A book you read in school that positively shaped you?

To the Lighthouse

12. A book you read in school that you never think of?

Vanity Fair

13. On a scale of one to ten how excited are you about life right now?

Nine

14. iPhone or Android?

iPhone

15. Twitter or Instagram?

Close call, but Twitter

16. Vine or Snapchat?

Neither

17. Who should EVERYONE be following right now?

On Instagram, my friend @averdiroach, whose shots of where she lives take my breath away with their beauty.  On Twitter, Book Quotes (@ao_BookQuotes) and Mary Oliver Poetry (@MaOlPoetry) for beautiful snippets of prose and poetry.

18. What’s the coolest thing in this room?

The view out of the window

19. What’s your favorite Boston restaurant?

Probably the bar at the Harvest

20. What’s your favorite food?

French fries, chocolate chip cookies, a perfectly ripe peach, brie with fig jam

21. Least favorite food?

Any shellfish

22. What do you love on your pizza?

White pizza with arugula

23. Favorite drink?

Coffee in the morning

24. Favorite dessert?

Gooey chocolate chip cookies

25. Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?

Dark

26. Weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?

Brain, maybe – as a baby I was looked after by a French woman who fed us very authentic foods

27. What’s the hardest part about being a mom?

Not doing anything well enough

28. What’s your favorite band?

Literally, this stumps me.  Pathetic.  Cool about music, I’m not.

29. Favorite solo artist?

James Taylor

30. Favorite lyrics?

Waiting for my Real Life to Begin by Colin Hay

31. If your life were a song, what would the title be?

Be Here Now

32. If you could sing a duet with anyone, who would it be?

James Taylor

33. If you could master one instrument, what would it be?

Guitar

34. If you had a tattoo, where would it be?

On the inside of my wrist

35. To be or not to be?

To be

36. What’s Oprah like in person?

I wish I knew

37. What number of question was this?

37

38. Dogs or cats?

Dogs

39. Kittens or puppies?

Puppies

40. Dolphins or koalas?

Koalas

41. Bird-watching or whale-watching?

Bird-watching

42. What’s your spirit animal?

A bird

43. Best gift you’ve ever received?

My engagement ring, from my husband

44. Last gift you gave a friend?

A book

45. A person you want to have coffee with?

Mary Oliver

46. A historical figure you’d love to have coffee with?

Joan of Arc

47. How do you like your coffee?

With milk and sugar

48. Can I play a note on this piano?

Sure

49. What’s your favorite curse word?

Shit

50. What’s your favorite board game?

Sorry

51. What’s your favorite country to visit?

Africa

52. What’s the last country you visited?

Ecuador

53. What country do you wish to visit?

Chile – Patagonia

54. What do you see in this image right here?

?

55. Can you write down your favorite word that starts and ends with the same vowel?

alluvia

56. What’s your favorite color?

Orange

57. Least favorite color?

Don’t have one

58. What color dress did you wear to your prom?

Black

59. Diamonds or pearls?

Diamonds

60. Cheap shampoo or expensive?

Cheap

61. Blow-dry or air-dry?

Blow-dry

62. Heels or flats?

Sneakers

63. Can you give an impersonation of someone?

Not well

64. Can you do the same impersonation with a British accent?

No

65. My friend outside this window would love to ask you a question?

Sure

66. [Holding two different colored dresses] Which should I give my girlfriend?

The one on the right

67. Pilates or yoga?

Yoga

68. Jogging or swimming?

Jogging

69. Best way to decompress?

Read in bed

70. If you had one superpower, what would it be?

Time travel

71. Can you describe an experience you felt most nervous?

Speaking in front of a group (giving a toast or reading at my grandfather’s funeral)

72. What’s the weirdest word in the English language?

I don’t know why, but “ooze” and “unctuous” come to mind – clearly I have onomotaepia on the brain.

73. Last question: Is this the strangest interview you’ve ever had?

No

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The work of my heart

There are mothers
for everything, and the sea
is a mother too,
whispering and whispering to us
long after we have stopped listening.
I stopped and let myself lean
a moment, against the blue
shoulder of the air. The work
of my heart
is the work of the world’s heart.
There is no other art.

~ Alison Luterman

I’m familiar with Alison Luterman’s wonderful work (highly recommend!) but I didn’t know this poem before.  I am thankful that I found it on Claudia’s beautiful blog, First Sip.

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Time folds like an accordion

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On Friday, Grace ran her first cross-country meet.  She was nervous, I was not there, and she did well.  She did really well. I met her after the meet and we went straight to the airport to pick up her dearest friend from camp, J.  J is the daughter of my old and dearest friend, Jess, who I met at the same camp, when we were 12.  Grace and J were born 12 weeks apart to the day.  Their firm friendship, independent from ours though inextricably woven through it, makes me happier than I can articulate.

While waiting to pick Grace up, I tweeted that I was collecting my daughter from her first cross-country race.  Lacy tweeted back, “This makes me teary. The colt legs, the pony tail. Late light on the towpath. Go, Graciegirl, go!” That message sent me immediately and viscerally back into the fall light with my friend, a fellow redhead, walking along the towpath, the autumn light on our head.  Then and now collapsed together and I cried, alone in the car.

Grace arrived, I met her coaches, and we headed to the airport.  As we walked in, Grace took off running, her cross-country jersey billowing behind her, her ponytail bouncing.  She’s nearly as tall as I am now, long and lean, all planes and sharp angles, full of energy and a blooming, hopeful tentativeness that is both familiar and, somehow, sad.  I took the picture above and stood, feeling like the wind had been knocked out of me, as I watched her go.  Always, they are running away.  My own cross-country days, in the woods of New Hampshire, among trees whose leaves flamed and then dropped to the ground, felt animate around me, both yesterday and a lifetime ago.  It’s her turn now.  And rather than making me sad, it feels right.  I am grateful to be here to cheer her on.  I can’t wait to go to her first actual meet and to watch her take off, as my mother did so many years ago.

And the seasons, they go round and round …

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We got to the gate early.  As I watched Grace wait for her friend I found that my eyes were brimming with tears.  When my dearest friend’s daughter walked off the airplane towards my own willowy tween, I remembered holding her as a newborn, her tiny self curled on top of my belly which was swollen with Grace.  Over and over again, memory confuses and confounds me with its power: how can that moment be so far gone, never to come again, when it also feels sturdy, still here?

I trailed the two of them back to the car, Grace still in her cross-country uniform, J carrying her own bag, their lanky bodies almost exact mirrors of each other, and thought that they are now the age that Jess and I were when we met for the first time.  I also remembered the day I first discovered I was pregnant with Grace, February 15, 2002, when the first phone call I made was to Jess.  I will never forget that conversation, my whispered, fearful question, and her warm, loving answer.  And from that day forward there were these two girls, whose lives I hope will be joined forever by what they shared even before they were born.  I imagine them when they are our age, hopefully still as beloved as they are now, and it makes me glad, relieved, breathless with wonder.

It is so much, all of it: my youth, then, her youth, now, running, the leaves turning, friendship, history, all that has happened before and is still here.  Time folds like an accordion, then kisses now and spreads apart again, and the past surfaces through the present from time to time, enriching it and reminding me of where I came from.  And always there is my startlingly tall daughter, running away, faster than I could ever imagine, her mahogany ponytail bouncing as the sun goes down.

Sometimes this life is so beautiful it is almost unbearable.

I wrote this post last weekend, but this morning it occurs to me that it nicely straddles September’s and October’s Here Year themes, time and friendship. 

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Time, and a map of what matters

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This September has offered simply spectacular sunsets

September is almost over.  The world spins on.  Aidan and I are coming to the end of this month of the Here Year, whose theme has been time.  Time is perhaps the central preoccupation of my life.  How quickly it moves, how evanescent it is, the confounding nature of memory, the inexorable, unavoidable forward movement of our days: these are the themes around which my thinking and feeling and and writing and living circles.

I hear certain quotes and passages and lines from poems in my head all the time.  I’ve written about that ad nauseum.  It’s hard to say which I think about the most often, but it might be Annie Dillard’s famous sentence:

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.

I literally could not believe this more fiercely.  Yes, time is a zero sum game.  It is the only one this life actually has.  That’s bracing and often difficult to accept.  At least for me.  But I also have some good news: you can choose what to do with the time you have.  YES, I know: there are many things we HAVE to do that we might not choose.  Work is a big one.  I know.  I work full time.  There are many things I love about my job but it definitely contributes to the fact that on a near-daily basis I wish I had more time for my family, for my writing, for sleep, for myself.

When I look at a map of a week I see a lot of hours dedicated to work, and you might challenge my assertion here, saying “is that something you really value?” The answer would be yes.  I value contributing to my family economically, I like my work and colleagues, and it’s important to me to show Grace and Whit that I have something I enjoy doing to which my training and education contributed.  And the other hours?  They are mine.  Are there things I have to do in there?  Yes. Do I spend more time driving to and from practices than I want?  Sure.  But that reflects a value that I want to do that with Grace and Whit.  Do I spend more time doing laundry and packing lunches than I want?  Sure.  But that is a way for me to stay intimately involved in the details of my family’s life, and for me, that’s worth it.

How I spend my time tells me what I value.

Anne Lamott says that “it is our true wealth, this moment, this hour, this day,” and this is true, too.  How do we spend this wealth?  Let’s be deliberate and thoughtful about that.  Honestly, that is all I want.

Every hour of our life is a choice, a trade-off between competing priorities and desires.  We are all given the same number of hours in a day.  What do you prioritize?  What do you care about?  Where are you spending your time?In the last several years my own life has simultaneously narrowed and widened.  It has narrowed because I have substantially cut down on external (non-job and non-family) commitments.   I say no much more often than I say yes.  And even beyond commitments about my physical presence, I’ve withdrawn in a real way: for example, I spend much less time on the phone catching up with friends.But even in this narrowing my life has startled me with an unforseen richness.  It’s like I stepped into a dense forest but then I looked up to see an enormous expanse of the sky.  Somehow, in my turning inward, I have learned to see the glittering expanse of my own life.  Maybe it is not having the other distractions.  Maybe it is that is training my gaze I have opened my heart.  I am not sure.I spend my time with my family, I spend my time writing, I spend my time reading, I spend my time with a small number of people I entirely trust and wholly love.  I run at 5:30 in the morning because that’s the only time when the trade-off isn’t too steep for me.  It is very rare for me to have dinner, drinks, or lunch with a friend one-on-one.  The same is true for Matt and me with other couples.  On the other hand there are many evenings where I sit and read to the kids while they are in the tub, when I get into bed at 8:15pm with a book, and there are a great many days full of work.

Let’s all decide to no longer hide behind the excuse that we “don’t have time.”  The truer response would be “I don’t care enough to really protect the time.”  This may be harsh, but I think it’s also true.  Let’s take ownership of our choices rather than bemoaning their results.  Do you want time to meditate?  Time to go to yoga?  Time to spend reading with your children?  Well, something else has to go.  As I keep saying, time is zero-sum.

Think long and hard about how you spend your precious hours, the only currency in this life that I personally think is actually worth anything.  A lot of these decisions are made instinctively, without deliberate thought or analysis.  But that’s how life is, isn’t it?  We know what we care most deeply about, and we run towards it, chins ducked.  We protect fiercely time for those things and people and events we truly value.  And those things, people, events we never seem to have time for?  Well, that tell us something important too.

We each populate our hours differently, and our days, weeks, months, and years, are maps of what matters to us.  Look closely at yours.  Do you like what you see?

Parts of this post were written several years ago. Every word is still true.

 

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