"The only thing I didn't understandwas how in a world whose predominant characteristics
are futility, cruelty, loneliness, disappointment
people are saved every day
by a sparrow, a foghorn, a grassblade, a tablecloth."--From the poem "What I Understood" by Katha Pollitt, from her collection the mind-body problem
I notice lately that I'm having trouble focusing. I must have been too unfocused before to have noticed.
At work, I jump mid-sentence from composing an email to an author, to checking what the weekend weather is so I know how to pack for New York, to adding a new blogger to my review copies list, to checking my Twitter feed. The emails keep popping up in my inbox and the to-do list is growing tentacles.
I know this is typical of modern life as most of us live it. But it wipes me out. I've been walking home from work lately, but instead of using that time to breathe and recharge I'm still thinking about work, as well as the 91 things I need to do at home (Yes, 91. I counted.) I get home, throw a packet of Tasty Bite Madras Lentils in the rice cooker, and if our schedules intersect, have dinner with Mike. By that time I'm feeling as worn out as an old sneaker and I berate myself for not being more productive, for letting another day go by without getting more things done.
Sometimes all this mental stuff depresses me. Now that it's Spring, I feel the cartoon cloud over my head lifting, but the obligations and projects and should-dos are still obscuring the blue sky and brilliant flowers. And then I feel guilty that I'm not savoring the nice weather I wished for all winter!
The tyranny of too much stuff, whether it's mental stuff or that stuff I buy myself because I love acquiring new and shiny things, can be suffocating. It's like when I go to our local craft store, Paper Source, and pick out a few items for making my own cards from their modest but well-selected inventory. Then I go visit my mother in New Jersey, where she takes me to Michael's. There I'm confronted with hundreds of options of cuteness--and that's just counting the new Martha Stewart Crafts line. I get a dizzy, almost out-of-body feeling, like I've had too much caffeine. No end of choice gives me a headache.
This weekend we opened the family cabin in Fryeburg, Maine. I spent Saturday morning vacuuming dead insect parts from the windowsills of the bunkhouse (where Mike and I usually sleep because Mike likes the composting toilet, or what I refer to as the "litter box.") Strings of spider webbing stuck to my fingers like cotton candy. Outside the bunkhouse, I picked up old tree branches and tossed them in a neat pile in the woods.
It was the most calm and focused I had felt in weeks.
Our cousin Mikki calls the cabin "the happy place" and I agree. Not that we sit around all day smiling and singing songs. It's just that it's one of the few places left where our lives get simple again. Our options are manageable--read a book on the hammock or on the comfy old couch in the cabin with its panoramic view of Lovewell Pond? Go into North Conway for fresh vegetables or outlet shopping, or spend an hour splashing in the water? I tend to bring some of the paperwork of my ordinary life to the cabin, but then I forget about it because I've picked up a T.C. Boyle novel at The Local Bookie.
Sunday was a glorious day, sunny but with a gentle breeze which helped keep the mosquitoes at bay. I sat in an Adirondack chair facing the pond, an IPA on the armrest like a Corona commercial, a book in my lap. From time to time I'd look up and watch a pair of nesting loons diving in and out of the water. That's all they do all day is dive for food and then emerge--like synchronized swimmers--right next to each other. The book I was reading was Twitter for Dummies, a compromise between studying up on social media and nature watching. I actually found I could concentrate on what I was reading, even with the occasional looking up to see the late-afternoon sunshine cast perfect photographer's light over the rippling waves.
Life can be chaotic, overwhelming, depressing, alienating, hard. But that's why nature is so important, so crucial. The loons, the pine trees, the quiet--that's what restores us.
Until the neighbors arrive with their power tools, leaf blowers, and mobile lawnmowers.