5 things I will do, and 5 things I will not

Photo credit: D Sharon Pruitt

Yesterday, I headed out to buy cat food. I parked my car, went into the store, pulled out a shopping cart, looked around . . . and realized that I was at Staples.  (True, the pet store is just next door. Still, this is a first.)

For the past few days, I’ve been unusually distracted and distractable, anxious, and unsettled. Being threatened with eviction will do that to you. At least, it will to me. My thoughts are shooting in all directions, but everything seems hazy. I’m doing my best to get things done without knowing what to do.

Back home from errands, it occurred to me that I need to simplify. I need to be clear about what I’ll do – and what I will not. Here’s my first crack at setting down a set of personal guidelines (a sort of mini-experiment within my experiment of nesting).

I will:

1. Write something every day. (Because writing always makes things better.)

2. Get at least some exercise every day. (And yes, a walk counts.)

3. Look for a place to live.

4. Do something soothing / nice for myself each day.

5. Fractal flower pitching.

I will not:

1. Expect myself to be operating at full capacity.

2.  Tell myself I shouldn’t be so distressed — or anything else that I, in fact, am.

3. Do one more thing that I don’t want to do unless I really have to.

4. Draw conclusions about what any of this means

5. Give myself a hard time for eating weird meals (cottage cheese and carrots anyone?) or relying on prepared food. (Yes, I could make it more cheaply myself, and I will again. Just not now.)

 ♦

So in the course of the day, I took a long walk, did some writing, and checked out real estate listings before springing for a raspberry lemonade at Cup and Top. At the moment, making lemonade out of life’s lemons feels a bit beyond me. But real lemonade on a summer day is a pretty good distraction.

Life Experiment #7: Nesting

Nesting Storks

Last week, I was served with a 30-day Notice to Quit, the first stage in eviction proceedings. I’m not happy about this, but such is life. This is my reality. So what am I going to do?

Not surprisingly, I’m really anxious. I have a houseful of stuff – books, art, furniture, dishes, appliances, writing projects, not to mention a cat. The idea of moving in less than a month is hugely stressful. Friends have reassured me that, practically speaking, I likely have far more time than the legal paper suggests, given our state’s landlord-tenant laws and the nature of judicial proceedings. But things are already unpleasant enough. At this point, I just want out.

Still, getting out takes time and effort. Much as I might wish it otherwise, I can’t magically snap my fingers and be somewhere else. The question: How to make the best of this particular bad situation? How to go about reducing its impact on the rest of my life?

A comment from my friend Allegra was helpful here, pointing out how the specter of eviction likely evokes past threats and rejections. “I’ve never known a notice to quit not to hurt,” she observed, speaking metaphorically. Separating the past from the present strikes me as eminently useful. How much of my reaction is about now? How much is about then – about newly retriggered pain surging from the past. (“Now is not then,” Havi says, over and over and over.)

That said, I’m definitely confronting a very real present-day challenge, one that goes to the core of how I live and work. Even if I don’t want to fight eviction, I already feel embattled. It’s affecting the quality of my days and my ability to get things done. I have a hard time sleeping. I awake awash in cortisol, already on overdrive.

Years ago, I took a class in Early Freud at a psychoanalytic institute in Manhattan. (“Early Freud, that’s great. Stuff even Freud doesn’t believe anymore,” a friend dryly remarked.)  Most of what I learned there is long forgotten but one principle stayed with me. “Never deal with a neurosis by attempting to uproot it. Always work to build up other aspects of the personality,” our teacher said (or something pretty close to that; it’s been a long time).

I see an analogy here. On the one hand, I could focus on the bad thing happening. Or I could train my sights on the life and home I’m hoping to create. What are the qualities I want them to have?  Where – and how — am I most likely to find them?

And here’s where the idea of nests comes in (another thing inspired by Havi). What are the qualities of a nest? (It holds EGGs. It’s a place where small creatures grow from helplessness to self-sufficiency. It’s a product of instinctual needs. That’s a start.) What am I looking for in my nest? (Safety. Support. Ease. Contentment.) How can I create it? (That’s what I’m sitting with now.) The nest metaphor feels especially apt given the sustenance I’ve gained in recent months from both breadcrumbs and basket weaving.

So that’s it: Life Experiment # 7 will be all about nesting, watching how the metaphor works and (I’m hoping) starts to shift things.

Update on Life Experiment #6: Present Me is delighted that Past Me got rid of some of these pesky nagging tasks, especially given the pressures Present Me now faces. I sewed on the button! And did some 20 other things besides – got my bike tuned up, hemmed a pair of linen pants, got a long-overdue haircut.  I didn’t make it through all 30 things, but I definitely made progress. And as I’ve learned through these Life Experiments, that itself is cause for celebration.