Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life


7 Comments

And February Was So Long, That it Lasted Into March*

I’m calling it: January is the cruelest month. Or maybe February. Or maybe the entire January-February continuum, from New Year’s to the first of March. I always have high expectations for January. I’m off school, so I make a copious to-do list, embrace the time, and plan to walk into February light as a feather, with 56,000 new words written, my closets cleaned out, my shoes polished, my psyche clean, and my body well-rested, in shape, perfect.

Instead, this January kind of sucked. I struggled constantly to figure out which project to work on. I got some good notes towards a novel but ended up only finishing one essay. The entire family got sick, and days went to tending L and M. I fought off low-grade depression the whole time. I did clean out my closet, the last night before school started, in a burst of desperate energy. I did not get to Goodwill, get my pants hemmed, find the Savings bond I was looking for, locate an affordable piece of furniture to house the six or seven box-worths of junk that’ve been waiting in the living room since we moved in in October. I did not get a date night with M. I did not sleep very well.

I did have some nice times: one perfect, lovely weekend in Inverness, a tiny town next to Pt. Reyes National Seashore, with my creative lady friends. We hiked, meditated, did yoga, read books, drank wine, chatted about writing and art and creativity. The last day, L and M met me there and we spent the day at the beach, L frolicking in his underpants in January sun (Boston, eat your heart out). We went out for lunch in Pt. Reyes Station, the charmingest of towns. Driving back into Berkeley, I felt M’s and my energy kind of sink with the weight of the impending week, though I held onto the nice feelings from the weekend for a few days, felt lighter, happier, more possible.

But last week, when classes started, this low-grade panic took over my body. Monday night, I told M I wasn’t sure I could do it (teach these classes I have taught a gazillion times, that is. I did it, obvs). Tuesday night, I junked out on the couch, exhausted. All I could think about was getting to Friday. But now that it’s the weekend, I feel more of the low-grade panic, plus a general feeling of malaise and depression, kind of like I just don’t want this life of mine anymore. Kind of this feeling that I never get a break, that a weekend isn’t even a weekend. And that maybe I wasted January.

I know how this sounds: whiny, extreme, annoying, privileged. And I must confess that I woke up with a really rotten cold and spent the morning moping in bed, trying to sleep, so that can’t be helping my mood. But it’s kind of, well, how I feel.

I wonder if this is a problem of expectations. Or of connectivity. Like, if I hope too much for things and don’t just accept things as they are. And if I feel depressed because I realize that, even when I don’t have students to attend to, I’m already too “on.” I used to look forward to weekends; now I dread soccer and the social events that characterize them. And I’m anticipating things to come—a conference I’m participating in, a workshop I’m leading—with an unhealthy level of anxiety. The other day, I thought to myself, I just have to get through February. And at least once a day, I have fantasized about getting in the car and just driving back to that beach in Inverness and hiding out until it’s all over. Until what’s all over? Exactly. Who knows.

This doesn’t seem like any way to live.

Last week, I saw this therapist I’ve been seeing lately, and I confessed that sometimes I wonder if January has been hard the last couple of years because it’s the anniversary of the miscarriage that nearly took my life. She looked shocked; I hadn’t told her of my dramatic ectopic explosion in January of 2013. I told her that last year, in January, I commemorated the miscarriage by getting salmonella and spending a week in bed, thinking far too much about what had happened a year earlier. This year, the depression, the family getting sick, and then a trip to the ER because I thought I might have a blood clot. I told her how, being back in the ER for just an hour (I was fine) last week, I had this strange desire to go back upstairs to my old room and stay the night, nurses poking and prodding me, everyone else in control. I didn’t want the loss again, but I wanted something else.

“Well,” she said. “Trauma works like that. We often have trauma anniversaries, times when we just feel off as the body remembers what’s happened.” She suggested I revisit the trauma, heal it, so I can move on. I haven’t thought of myself as deeply traumatized by what happened, honestly. But it still makes me teary to think of it, to write about it, so maybe there’s something to it. Maybe January is a little doomed because of it.

And I feel better even having written this. I’m sitting on my back porch. It’s the most gorgeous day ever. M is happily working in the yard. L has been a love lately. And tomorrow, it’s February. Maybe February will surprise me. Maybe next year will too. To quote Dar Williams: “You never know how next year will be.”

Love,

BB

*A line from a really fabulous and sad Dar Williams song called “February,” which you can listen to above. Thanks, Dar


Leave a comment

Mindful Resolution #1: Embrace Abundance

Last spring, Marc and I had one of those terrible moments when we realized that the reason we were perpetually broke was that our income and our expenses were EXACTLY THE SAME. Seriously. I figured this out one day when I sat down with ye olde calculator and the checkbook and the credit card statements and afterwards I felt so bummed–we have jobs, we’re well off in the scheme of things, and it just felt crazy to think that we were incapable of even saving $100/month.

So, as is my way, I immediately sprung to action. And, as usual, action made me feel better. We needed to either increase our income by X number of dollars or reduce our costs by about the same amount, and after a month of phone-calling and moving things around and me finding a little more work and really embracing frugality, I am pleased to say that we now, knock on wood, come out ahead by a few hundred bucks a month. It’s not amazing, but it sure feels better not to be stressing out about money all the time.

So why do I still live like I’m holding onto my wallet for dear life with my fingertips?

This resolution is two-fold. One, to appreciate the abundance we have. We can afford preschool, a nice, albeit small, apartment, occasional meals out, good organic food and occasional free-range meat. We have music, books, magazines, and Netflix in our lives. We sleep on a gorgeous expensive mattress we bought during a flush period. Lex has his own room. We have bicycles, a car, and BART passes. We have generous grandparents and a safety net, should things get hairy. In other words, to quote Marc’s mother when he was a kid and whining about wanting a new toy: we have everything we need.

Resolved to remember that, every day.

Abundance at the Union Square Farmer’s Market (photo courtesy of Emma Brode)

And, on a much more practical and mundane level, resolved to keep my house full. Today I opened the fridge for the umpteenth time and found: a quart of milk, a jar of preserved lemons, some boring old vegetables, and some corn tortillas. So after I picked up Lex from school, we made a giant pot of Cuban black bean soup and a batch of granola, plus started soaking chick peas for hummus. And we cleaned the kitchen and emptied the compost and swept the floor, listening to very loud music the whole time.