There are some periods of my life when I’ve felt like I’m being propelled along by something bigger than myself, it’s this wild sense of PUSH, of velocity; a gathering of speed. It’s like driving down a busy street and having all of the lights turn green just when you thought you’d need to start braking. I love these periods, the fluidity and the serendipity of them. It makes me feel in connection with something, like I’m on the path I’m supposed to be.
Last summer, challenging as it was, was a perfect example. This apartment became available just when I needed to move, it was cute and filled with old hardwood and natural light. It was airy and promising and right next door to my sister. A month after I moved, at the delicious age of 31 I went on my first date ever and it was far better than any first date has any right to be. I sat there with my drink, blushing and looking at the man across from me as he clasped his hands behind his head, leaned back and grinned. Two months later I was offered a column with the Guardian – next to my book, the most incredible opportunity I’d ever had in my writing career. A week after that, Olive began preschool and thrived with this new routine, loved her teacher, adored her classmates.
I could hear the pieces clicking into place.
And it’s not that I didn’t want it to last – although why wouldn’t I? This sort of effortless natural ease is absolutely intoxicating – it’s that I knew it wouldn’t. And sure enough, it didn’t, somewhere around January or February things began to slow again. The ease began to disappear and things felt harder, like pushing uphill.
It’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned as an adult and I even began to welcome it after reading this book. Nothing lasts forever. Everything in nature, including us, follows natural cycles. Upswings have to be balanced with down. Even if your overall trajectory is upward, onward, it’s not linear. There are always digressions and diversions, and it’s not a bad thing, either. It’s necessary. It’s balance. And this won’t last forever, either.
Since I realised this, I’ve come to recognise those periods when I’m out of sync and instead of fighting them and scrabbling against them, I just know I have to wait them out, instead. It’s not any easier, but at least I know this now.
For me, it feels like a sitting back, a gathering up. A resting. It can also feel a lot like failure, because when you slow down or stop moving you have time to look around, and suddenly everyone else seems to be speeding up in comparison. This is when I typically spend a great deal of time wallowing and making internal checklists of all the things I don’t have or am not doing, I linger over social media and become filled with envy. Try it! It’s a terrific way to spend your time and not at all soul-destroying! Swear!
The thing is, I’ve never made decisions quickly. It takes me three hours to pick a restaurant, two years to pick a purse. I like to be sure. I like to research and compare and map out every possible road in front of me, travelling ten hypothetical kilometres down each one before ever taking a single step. The advantage of this is that when I do make a decision, 99% of the time it’s a damn good one. A great one. I have very, very few decisions I truly regret.
Key to this process is silence and reflection and lots of time where it feels like I’m doing nothing, but within that nothingness, things are filtering through and being sifted out, opportunities are ruminated over and options weighed.
The one roadblock to this whole lovely-sounding period of contemplation is there is very little time for silence and introspection and filtering and sifting when you have a three-year-old who talks two miles a minute. My days are filled with chatter and activity and playing this guy and that lobster and joining Olive to act out very precisely orchestrated scenarios for which I receive very few instructions. (Many tears when I don’t say my lines right.)
Also, things like parties for inanimate objects and the never ending fish saga and cleaning up the latest thing to get toddlered – like my sink, recently gleefully decorated with nail polish (I knew she was too quiet but I was too preoccupied with motoring through The Girl on The Train to check on her. I should have learned my lesson after she gave her baby a helmet. What’s that saying? Destroy one thing with nail polish, shame on you; destroy another thing with nail polish, put your goddamn nail polish away for fucks sake, Madeleine?).
So it takes me longer these days, is the essence of it. It takes me longer to get back into that sense of flow and ease, longer to pick up speed again after I take the time to sit back and survey things, formulate a plan and figure out how to proceed.
I’ve been in this fallow phase for two or three months now. It’s been incredibly frustrating. It’s like watching a cannonball coming at you in slow motion and knowing you have to get out of the way but just standing there inert with terror instead because you’re not sure which way to jump.
Writing becomes especially tough, which is particularly terrible because at the moment writing is my job. Deadlines get stretched and sometimes extended two or three times as I sit here and stare at a blinking cursor, mashing my face into the keyboard and hoping something halfway coherent will come out. I write as an outlet and I mostly write what I know, especially on this blog, but when I don’t feel like I know anything yet because I’m stuck in this limbo-ish, research-gathering, data-analysing, deciding phase, I mostly just want to write fuuuuuuuuck! over and over and then have someone give me an award for it because at least I pressed publish, goddamn it!
So! Existential life crisis, very deep ennui, and the various neuroses of a thirty-something, is basically what we’re dealing with here .
The good news is, that the fact that this post is being written and published at all means that I have gathered myself, and decided. Hurray! I’ve chosen my direction and now, the past few months really start to come in handy. Because although sitting back is nice for a change, it gets boring, fast. Even I start to get fed up with me. But now all of that groundwork, all of that rest, all of that pent of energy lies neatly coiled within me. It’s been collecting and waiting and now it’s ready to go. I’m ready to go.
Now the work begins.
I too like the idea of time to reflect but it makes me feel lethargic, and too much thinking is exactly that, too much thinking.
Wonder if you’ve ever read much on the Enneagram? Your description of that processing time made me think about one of the personality types in it and wondered if you might find it helpful to read about…
Life’s ups and downs… I’m dealing with a drainage problem under the worst part of the house, I’ve been crawling on my stomach in gravelly slime. Still can’t use the kitchen sink or dishwasher, but at least the shower and toilet are ok. Can’t wait for the part when everything falls into place, I think I’m well overdue! Any tips on how to get over writer’s block?
Ah, I needed this post right now, in the middle of my own downswing/slowing down. Thank you!