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.

Notice to Quit

Two days ago, I arrived home to find two mis­sives stuck in my front door. The first was a lovely mes­sage from neigh­bors invit­ing me for drinks before a book­store read­ing that night. The sec­ond was not so lovely: I’d been served with a 30-day Notice to Quit, the first stage of evic­tion proceedings.

The legal notice wasn’t alto­gether unex­pected –  for var­i­ous (good) rea­sons, I’ve been unwill­ing to sign a lease for the upcom­ing year, and I knew that the own­ers weren’t happy that I’d opted to go month-to-month.

But “not unex­pected” isn’t the same as “totally fine.”  I could feel my whole body clench­ing as I thought about what came next.

By the time we got to the book­store, I’d calmed down a bit, bol­stered by my neigh­bors’ warmth and con­cern, as well as their canapés. Still, I was feel­ing no small dis­tress when I bumped into my writer friend Cathi (on break from her own author tour for her ter­rific new novel Gone).

That’s great for your blog!” was her wry response, after my story spilled out.

The words caught me by sur­prise — and the sur­prise itself sur­prised me. She’d reminded me of some­thing I already knew. Why hadn’t I thought of that?

If you’ve been read­ing this blog, you know that I’ve been giv­ing a lot of thought to the power of writ­ing to trans­form painful expe­ri­ences. I’ve writ­ten about it here and also here and here. It’s not a goal I set out to achieve but some­thing I’ve sim­ply watched hap­pen. A won­der­ful and mys­te­ri­ous cre­ative alchemy.

But this time, that go-to strat­egy had totally eluded me. I couldn’t help being curi­ous about why that was.

We grow through stretch-not-break chal­lenges. That was one of the first thoughts that came to mind, an idea gleaned some years back in an adult psy­chol­ogy class. Too few chal­lenges? We stag­nate. Too many? We get overwhelmed.

Legal pro­ceed­ings are stress­ful in the best of cir­cum­stances, and for me the push to move tops off a num­ber of other stres­sors. A sick cat. Sick me. An ongo­ing search for work. The more I thought about this, the more things fell into place. That I’d stall out when con­fronted with another big chal­lenge makes total sense.

Accept­ing – mak­ing peace with – this fact feels like a first step for­ward. Stress is hard. Stress takes a toll. That’s a fact of life. Feel­ing unmoored and being slow on the uptake, is sim­ply cause and effect. So that’s what I’m sit­ting with, this sense of how things are. I have no idea what comes next, but this is where it starts.