On Having It All: Part One
Can you have it all?
First, I suppose you have to figure out what your "it" is, and what would it look like to have all of it.
Being a human of a certain age (meaning, undeniably beyond the half way mark on this leg of the mortal journey), I think about such things. I'm retired, kids grown, happily married. For the first time since childhood, I have the luxury to choose how I spend great swaths of time.
It's wonderful, of course. And a responsibility, a challenge. One that decades of meeting deadlines and seeing to daily necessities and crises, didn't prepare me for. I can no longer blame a demanding boss, sick child or toxic marriage when I flounder and manage to accomplish less with this bounty of hours, than I did when I was squeezed, tugged and pushed in all directions.
Apparently, achieving balance, fulfilling ones goals and dreams, finding health, happiness and peace of mind, doesn't just happen. There are all manner of self-help books, seminars, life coaches and gurus to turn to for advice and guidance.
I was rereading David Sedaris' essay, "Laugh Kookaburra," which among other intriguing and amusing tidbits, includes his anecdote about an Australian acquaintance who ascribed to the "four-burner stove" approach to life.
The four burners are: family, friends, health and work.
According to this model, in order to be successful in a given quadrant, one of the four burners must be shut off, abandoned. To be really successful, shut off two.
In the anecdote, the woman sharing this wisdom was highly successful in business. In service of focusing her energy on work and friends, she had chosen to shut off family and health.
Sedaris concluded that he couldn't see turning off the family burner.
"Cut off your family, and how would you know who you are? Cut them off in order to gain success, and how could that success be measured? What would it possibly mean?"
I'm with David. Whether it's validation for losing fifty pounds, publishing well or hosting the perfect holiday meal, it's my sisters' admiration and envy I crave, my deceased father's praise and my children's pride in me that I aspire to.
Different burners burn more fiercely during life's changing seasons (as I write these words, I'm hearing the Byrds singing Pete Seeger's Turn, Turn, Turn, in my mind's ears). In childhood, there was nothing more important than having a best friend. As an adolescent and young adult, the heat went up on sex and love. Then work took over, big time.
Health was never a major consideration. In younger years, that didn't matter so much. I might stay up all night to finish a riveting novel (this was before binge-watching Netflix was a thing) or subsist on nothing but coffee and a two-pound box of See's chocolates. I'd feel crappy for a day or two. I might need a nap or a handful of extra-strength aspirin. But I bounced back. Alas, at 64, my body has lost its resiliency. It doesn't bounce back, or at all, anymore.
I find myself winded after vacuuming. My wearable wardrobe has shrunk to a few pair of stretchy pants and concealing "tunics." I can't sit on the floor for fear of not being able to get back up. Clipping my toe nails is a major undertaking. Headaches. Insomnia. Shingles. Fatigue. After a lifetime of neglect, the health burner is clamoring for more heat.
As David Sedaris said of the family burner, without health, what does any of the rest of it mean? I had assumed this would be my season to pursue my passions, to fulfill my lifelong dream of being a writer. And that's happening, word by word. Yet it's not much of dream when I often feel too crappy to be productive, let alone celebrate, and foolish for not taking better care of myself.
Tis now the season for health to become a priority. Is it a coincidence that these thoughts come to mind as 2018 winds down and I gear up for 2019? Alas, hope, and the ritual of New Year's resolutions, spring eternal.
Next up: What is the "it" in having it all?
Dorothy, author of GRAY IS THE NEW BLACK, blogs about the challenges and opportunities of being a woman and a writer of a certain age in a youth-centric universe.