If you are reading this entry, it means that you are one of my faithful subscribers. If you make it to the end, it will be because you’re sitting in a waiting room with nothing else to do, you actually care about me, or you find it a challenge because I’m betting you won’t read the whole thing. Why? Because it’s going to be long. It’s also going to sound like my thoughts vomited onto the keyboard, and I most certainly am not going to end up where you think I’m going. Instead of A to B to C, I go A to -37 to purple fire hydrant.
So, where to begin…
I want to sell my current two homes, purchase land, build a farmhouse, buy a milking cow and some egg-laying hens, plant citrus trees, and grow a vegetable garden. I’ve always been a marriage between city and country, so this isn’t too far-fetched of a scenario.
But first, let’s rewind to two weeks ago.
The best way I know how to put it is that I’ve been experiencing an identity crisis. For as long as I can remember, this has been the equation for my life:
Beverly = School.
I’ve never not been (for more than a few months) either a student or a teacher (sometimes both). Now that I’ve closed that chapter of my life, I have taken on a new full-time role of wife and mom. Sounds easy, right? I get to do what many women wish they could. I’m living my dream. But now that the newness of fitting into my new role has washed away, I’m finding myself restless. Not because I want to go back to work, but because I almost feel as though I don’t know who I am anymore. Being a mom and wife is fulfilling in its own right, but I have always needed something that belongs just to me. Something in which I feel I excel. My name means “industrious one,” which means I need to find a craft. When I left teaching, I thought adding “writer” to what I identified as would solve the problem. So, I’ve been writing.
I’ve always known my blog isn’t something that would go viral. I’m not the world’s best writer, I don’t write with a universal audience in mind, and I’ve committed to only write about ideas that come to me and ferment for a while, which is why you only get an update every few months, at best. My real side project has been working on a manuscript for a novel. I’m eight chapters in of a potential 24-30, and two weeks ago, I was ready to throw in the towel. I’ve been working on poetry, but much of it is riddled with dark themes describing the brokenness of humanity: suicide, abuse, murder… I fear I can’t share without others thinking something must be wrong with me… But back to the point. I have always believed everyone has at least one thing in which they are really great. I’m good at a lot of things, but I’ve never felt as though I’ve been great at one thing.
Thankfully, I have a couple of good friends who listen to me without judgment. And by that, I mean, even when I walk away, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt they aren’t thinking something different than what they said to my face, and I know what was said will be kept confidential. So I texted with one about this crisis and had coffee with another. Both graciously listened to me and gave me advice on what I should focus on. Even after that, I still just felt frustrated, and for the first time in my whole life, completely lost. What am I doing with my life? Who am I? Why am I not great at something? Why do I always feel distracted?
When people who know I’ve been working on a manuscript inquire about how far I’ve gotten since the last time they asked, I’m embarrassed to say I’m in exactly the same place. I tell them I don’t have time. I don’t even have time to read. I’ve been reading The Lovely Bones for three months now and have only conquered ten chapters. The only “reading time” I’ve allowed myself is when I sit in the tub at the end of the day. But invariably, I find myself catching up on what I’ve missed online since I checked in the morning…or since lunch…or since that afternoon break…or since thirty minutes ago.
I woke up several times Sunday night thinking about why I can’t seem to make a major dent in any of my projects and about how much “noise” is in my life. I’m constantly reading people’s conversations on Facebook, keeping up with what’s going on in my own world as well as the world at large through Twitter, I’m focused on seeing the cool life everyone else has on Instagram. I love music, so whenever I’m in the car, I have the radio on. At home, CDs are always the backdrop for chores, cooking, playing, eating,…anything! I even bought tickets to three different concerts all within a week’s time!
The next morning when I awoke, I impulsively deactivated Facebook for seven days. I can’t delete my Twitter or Instagram app because it will delete it’s content, so I moved them to the last page on my iPhone and committed to not opening them for the full seven days as well. I need quiet. Apparently, I’ve become more interested in everyone else’s life than my own. I’m afraid I might miss what one of my friends I haven’t seen in twenty years and probably will never see the rest of my life had for lunch.
Back to Monday morning. After I dropped Elizabeth off at school, I came home and picked up the book Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider. A friend had lent it to me a few weeks ago. I wasn’t even really sure what this book was about. I picked it up and finished the whole thing within two days…and in rolled the farm.
Even though non-fiction isn’t my first choice when I go to pick something up, this book spoke to my soul. It was so timely. Within chapters, she eloquently explained the struggle I was experiencing:
“…I find my soul frequently calling for a rest from the loud cacophony of the Internet. It’s too easy to confine the world to little pixels and square-shaped photos that ask for a “Like.” When I can dive into that world at any given moment, from the stoplight to the church pew to the grocery line, my heart begins to hurt. The Internet is clamoring for me to admire and interact with the thoughts of my friends and readers around the world, but the payment is the three-dimensional people around me the ones with whom I live and breathe in community” (Oxenreider 73). *
My first day without social media was amazing. I felt newly alive. I even decided to not turn on music or talk radio for this sacred week of quiet. It’s then that I remembered that I had seen a sticky in Brent’s car the previous week when I borrowed it. Plastered right in front of the gas gauge were these words:
“Be still and know that I am God.”
I wonder if I had been thinking about that subconsciously, and that was what originally woke me in the middle of the night.
Monday night I asked Brent what we did before we had easy access to the internet? When I think back, life might not have been as convenient, but I do believe it was richer.
Tuesday, I drove to Melbourne and back to visit my parents, which is almost a two hour round trip. Usually this is my time to put in some of my favorite CDs and just zone out or sing at the top of my lungs. Instead, I drove in silence. I allowed myself time to quietly think.
I have friends who have never even opened a Facebook account. I’ve always thought they were missing out. Now I believe it is I who am missing out. It’s much harder to go back once you’ve opened Pandora’s Box…especially when I opened three (FB, Twitter, and Insta), but I am on my fourth day and I haven’t missed it one bit. I honestly haven’t wondered what is going on in everyone else’s life because I’m focused on my life. What is right in front of me. I would really like to give up social media altogether, but there is pressure if I want to (maybe) be a writer, I have to build a platform…and that platform is mostly built online. So while I know I can’t completely give it up, I will figure out a way to balance it. I might only check social media once a week. And because I do that, I will have to check “popular” instead of “most recent,” a momentous challenge for my OCD brain.
So, if I don’t “like” a status, or “favorite” a tweet or “love” a picture, it’s most likely because I didn’t see it, not because I’m a snob.
Our current generation is at a real disadvantage because of their easy online access. Yes, it’s a handy tool, but they are missing out on life by staring at a screen. I’ve seen this played out over and over again in my last few years of teaching. Instead of using a study hall wisely, over the course of a year, students waste an obscene number of school hours watching YouTube videos or Netflix, or playing games. We want them engaged (even within education) with a screen rather than with those around them. We wrongfully tell them they are engaging the culture and each other through technology.
And forget about allowing our kids to be bored! Oxenreider writes an entire chapter on the subject of boredom. Here are just some of her thoughts:
“If boredom is simply a lack of stimulation and the unpleasant feelings that go with it, then the antidote is not finding a source of entertainment – it’s finding motivation to brush away those unpleasant feelings. If I quickly solve my kids’ boredom problem with movies in the car, the next great video game, a slew of extra-curricular activities, or even lying on the floor with them to serve as a playmate because no other kids are around, we’re short-circuiting what could ultimately be a beautiful thing. History has shown that boredom is the impetus to creativity” (Oxenreider 182).
Our kids rarely have the chance to be bored, and it’s really our fault. We, as adults, don’t allow ourselves to be bored either. We often model the need for constant entertainment. I can’t even stop at a red light without checking to see if I’ve missed an email.
We’ve also eaten the lie that in order to be productive, we need to multi-task…and we wake up wondering why we have a bellyache. Sometimes to be productive, we need to be quiet. And still.
During the last few days of quiet, I have one word that keeps coming to me. At the beginning of the year, my resolution was “be.” I’ve done fairly well “being” in the moment when there is a moment to be in. But isn’t it true that when we begin to master one area of our lives, a new construction site is opened before our eyes? I keep hearing the whisper of “Repurpose.” I’m not sure if that means I’m learning what my new purpose is now that I am listening, or if I’m supposed to go buy used materials and repurpose them, or start a side blog titled “repurpose” that will follow my journey and give encouragement to others to live intentionally and simply. But I kid you not, this word has been repeated in my mind at least 100 times daily since Monday. It must mean something.
Live simply. Live intentionally. Minimize the noise.
When Brent got home from work last night I asked him the following question: Do you think we could go a whole year without buying any new clothes? We have so much! We are so rich (in comparison to the rest of the world, not to mention non-monetary richness)! We consume, and consume, and consume. We have so many unused items on shelves and behind cabinet doors that I could probably make it a mission to just tell myself I can’t buy new eye shadow or nail polish until I use up what I already have. And I’m not even a hoarder. Brent knows when he turns his back I’m constantly weeding things out to donate or throw away.
Don’t get me wrong. I like new stuff. We’ve scrimped in the past because we don’t believe in living outside our means. Right after we had Elizabeth, I colored my own hair until just a few months ago (she’s almost five), we rarely went out to eat, and we lived on $80 for weekly groceries. Credit cards and debt was not an option. So now that our dedication has paid off and there’s more than enough wiggle room, I enjoy going out to eat, taking the occasional shopping trip, or being pampered.
But what if I went for a year giving myself my own pedicures, wearing the clothes I have in my closet that haven’t been worn in three years (maybe even reinventing them with my sewing machine), used what I have. Lived on what I have. What would I learn? I would probably learn about savoring life. Having a rich life. Because it would be on purpose. I would consciously be making that decision. There’s nothing wrong with having it the other way. I just fear I’m allowing life to live me when I choose convenience over quality.
I realize that I have the advantage over many people because I don’t work outside the home, but in my several days of quiet, I have realized I haven’t done some of the things I’ve been wanting to do for years because of the distraction of all the noise around me. I live a quarter of a mile from the drugstore and grocery store. I should be riding my bike up there if I only need to pick up a few things. How long have I lived in Florida and I don’t even have a library card yet? It’s been six years since I’ve wanted to bake cookies and take Shadow over to the fire station. Make my own pasta. Roast my own coffee. Cook from scratch. Eat organic, whole foods. Learn how to can. Do the things that my family did just a few generations ago (some of them just one generation ago). Enjoy the sweetness of it.
I need to write out the principles I want to instill in my daughter and figure out how our family can instill those in her through the intentionality of our lifestyle. I want her to have knowledge about the world, not just her world (believe me, it’s not going to come from access to the internet).
I want her to live a real flesh and blood life, not a digitized life. I want her to be bored so that she can create.
It seems I might be going backwards, but when I think of savoring life, I think of my grandfather. He was the oldest of nine kids who lived on a farm when he was younger. He knew what hard work was. He even built several of the homes he and his family lived in. He knew how to live a self-sustained life, dependent on no one, not held captive by the almighty dollar or consumerism. And savoring life is often about enjoying the fruits of your labors, is it not?
I’d love to one day sell our two houses, buy some land in the “country” outskirts of Orlando, build a house (a distant dream Brent and I had when we first married), grow some of our own vegetables, plant citrus trees, and even have some livestock.
To live life slowly. Yes, it would be hard work, but think about the togetherness our family would experience from weeding a garden, milking a cow, and cooking from scratch in the kitchen. Oh, the lessons Elizabeth would learn that can’t be taught in school. I know I sound like 1900, but there’s something to be said about the way they lived life back in the good ol’ days.
I’ve been thinking lately about what the best way is to honor my grandfather’s legacy since his passing not long ago. It’s not by necessarily doing all the things he did, but at least creating a life conducive to reaping the same benefits of the life he had, whether it be in the country or not. Being content and resourceful, working hard, not wasting, caring about people and not things.
It’s easy for me to get excited about all of this because I’m in the romantic stage of this awakening. Check in with me in three months and I might be moving to Winter Park, getting weekly pedicures and eating donuts. Even if I never own a cow named “Brownie” like my grandfather once did, I do want to purposefully set aside time to recalibrate myself on a regular basis. To spend time in the quiet. Listen to my own thoughts. Be willing to sacrifice convenience for quality.
Oxenreider, Tsh. Notes from a Blue Bike. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2014. Print.
*Sorry I don’t know how to format a block quote in my blog. The English teacher inside me panicked, but the ex-English teacher inside me doesn’t care!