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.