I'm doing a supply run today + taking care of everything else outside of the dayjob. I'm taking a day off because last week was a bit too many hours gobbled up by work and a bit too many things of life fallen on the wayside. Hence I'm retracing a few steps back to retrieve the fallen and get them back on the main track.
As part of deliberately shaping my days towards the kind of life and living that I want, I'm practicing being more responsive to the nonchalantly assuming demands of the dayjob. I push back a little bit more each time. Reclaiming time and energy and the right to simply be and become what I am.
The pandemic has given me a very helpful gift. It gave me a context of fragility within which I have become more conscious of "why not now?" With everything literally disrupted and forced to stay in a state of indefinite irregularity, all bets are off. Whatever I had been planning and preparing for are no longer applicable to the situation. All my visualisations have to begin first with the assumption that a vaccine would have been developed.
Whatever you're meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.
All the rules and all the defaults have become wobbly in the face of heightened uncertainty. We do what we can while on high alert for any emergency -- not just of getting sick, but of losing jobs, losing access to necessities, of resources for aid drying up as the strain of prolonged need for help exhausts even the most generous among us.
We have tightened our belts, so to speak, in all aspects of our lives. For myself I have conserved spaces in my head to protect my mental health, closed off areas I couldn't feed, put them to temporary sleep while I seek for alternative paths to a refuge. I have begun to grow a garden to grow a portal into somewhere, somewhen, somehow else.
It is only too easy to let myself be swallowed up by the practical needs of a life especially now. But I have to keep remembering that life is more than the practical. It is also a process of growth and becoming. And in many cases, aspects of the practical are even traded off to be able to make any significant movement forward or deepward.
My life now is a life caught in a crossroads in constant dealing with devils and angels, sometimes one masquerading as the other, sometimes both in collaboration. Because the price of a soul remains the same even if it is torn to pieces. To trade is inevitable. I was born with very limited privileges and I had used most of them up during the years when I didn't know any better and didn't even know myself. Now I battle or barter with Things grown in the impossible garden, Things seeded with spells so that even when lost they will find the way back to me.
Rather than selling one's soul I choose to lend it instead, and demand payment with interest for every day overdue. Later on, the thing to do is to get everything, every piece, back in the end. I hope that by the time I could afford to do that, I will still have enough of the rest of myself to enjoy being whole again.
As I become clearer on what I want my life to be, I also grow to realise that the most important currencies are time and energy.
It has been said that money lost can be earned back but time lost is lost. I would say the same for the energy we require to accomplish things. Energy spent can be regained but not in the same body, because our body is worn and torn by time, and the energy I could afford to expend when I was fresh out of college I could no longer produce now. (There is also the matter of the heart not being into the same things it used to and the absence of heart's support can really take a toll on energy availability and consumption.)
Energy is also more than physical. There is the energy consumed by mental processes (I am always hungrier after more than three hours of intense thinking work, like when I'm doing data analysis or writing a report) and the energy spent by emotions. These cannot be discounted and all -- physical, mental, emotional -- are valid for recovery time.
Most of my young adult life was spent at work, in both time and energy. But the work I did served everyone else's agenda but my own. Thus when I realised the necessity of taking care of my own agenda, the skills and resources I gained needed fine-tuning to help me.
I have always written about reclaiming my time and I frequently complain about recovering my energy. For quite a while now I have been stuck in a vicious loop of losing time and energy and then struggling so hard to somehow win them back (which of course is an illusion for they are lost).
On the matter of time, the solution really is to take a stand on what I agree to spend my time on, and how much energy the thing will take. Anything that needs doing that is a detour from where I really want to go (with my life overall) will consume more energy regardless of the amount of time required (remember that heart takes away energy when it is absent). So essentially I have to make that arrangement as efficient as possible.
Efficiency is a result of deliberate planning including an investment at the beginning to set up processes. This also includes defining ahead the boundaries of my involvement and engagement. (The heart can be persuaded to lend its own energy if the deal is deemed fair and the task tolerable.)
Work, particularly the kind that brings the income but not necessarily the deep inner joy, requires the best efficiency I could muster. I have to find the balance of energy consumption, quality output, maximum number of hours per day depending on task type and the required energy for the task type, task difficulty, and whether I even want to do the task in the first place. I believe that I have earned enough life points to spend on not doing what I really would rather not do.
I have made major lifestyle shifts in exchange for more time and for what I had hoped was more energy to pour into what I really want my life to become. But it has not been easy, and continues to level up in toughness as I go along.
Currently I am in a state of compromise. But even compromises have to be efficient, or else it's not a compromise but a defeat. A compromise is still supposed to leave me with enough resources to do my thing, and not trade it all off for others to use to do their thing.
I used to think that as long as I get a lot of money for my time and effort I'm fine. This is no longer the case. I need the money but I also need other things that are equally, if not more, important. And it's hard to negotiate for intangibles.
So I wish myself luck today as I attempt another go at hitting that Golden Mean of perfectly balanced time/energy spend amidst compromise and crossroads deals.
I grew up not knowing the names of trees and flowers. Nature was an optional knowledge and visual background within the environment where I was raised. Decorative at most, they were treated more like inanimate objects than living breathing things.
Like most, I grew up with a disconnected view of food and growing plants and animals. My idea of quality food was an expensive branded pre-packed item in the supermarket, or a fancy menu item in a restaurant.
Provincial life where nature has a more visible presence was a nice-to-see. Postcard pictures for display. It was a setting for a scene, not a story in itself. I had no idea of the relationships of mountains to rivers to trees. A nature-rich landscape was vacation space, somewhere to stay for a while but not to live in. After all, there was so much to explore in the city, always so many new things to discover and experience. Nothing exciting happened in nature.
Trees were generally invisible towers, offering a shade when convenient, but otherwise mere props along the streets of affluent gated communities. I knew the names of trees and flowers from street names in said communities, but I had no idea what they looked like or how they contributed to the grand ecological design.
When I worked in advertising, nature became even more distant as metaphor and symbol, even while I had no idea how they became to be such, and what inner truths powered those symbolisms. The glory was in the man-made brand, nature was support material, twisted and distorted in favour of profits and market shares.
But in the past eight years I have been re-orientating myself in relation to nature. It started with the art. For I could not stop from painting flowers, and all of them were imaginary with faint echoes of inspiration from the real ones that I could not name.
This year I started a tiny garden. And so many regrets came upon me, of how I knew nothing of what plants and trees were called, and could not identify any green thing that grew. Of how I started so late, as with most of the things that mattered. Of how so little time is left to learn and do what I need.
But I persist and persevere anyway. The garden, tiny as it is, teaches me new things about patience, growth, simplicity. All the old perceptions fall away. I begin to see behind the metaphor and the symbol. The scent of well-turned earth brings me to a memory I did not know I have, a memory older than my human life. The quiet strength of a seed becoming a tiny cluster of leaves lend me encouragement in my own daily tasks.
I started with vegetables because I want to have some level of food sufficiency in the future. I want to be less dependent in however way I can on the economic system I want to inspire to change. Later on I will have flowers too, not in neat carefully cultivated categories and rows but in a mixed profusion of an attempt to create a wild-ish patch for insects.
I can feel that I am moving farther away from a life that has been patterned after old rules, standards, and expectations with its glamorous promises of brilliant success and material wealth. I am moving closer instead to a life that I once thought to be utterly uneventful, boring, and even to a certain extent lazy, closed-minded, stagnant. Only of course I have realized that such a life is not any of those things but the opposite.
Nature should be the main story, a main character actually. If only there are more who listen to what she has to say. If only I can speak her language better so I can understand.
How we fit into the natural world, what sort of beings we wish to be, and the role we might play in shaping the future of the planet are all questions we'll be forced to consider one day. We will need to consider them because Earth's resources are rapidly dwindling at precisely the same time that our power over other life-forms is growing dangerous. We may be compassionate beasts, but we're also bullying and destructive."
We enter a daily landscape where wearing masks is the new norm. The laundry line now includes a row of cloth masks in various prints and colours, and they got me thinking about the other kind of masks we put on and often forget to take off.
I understand the need for masks. For us to perform certain tasks and roles that let us participate and survive in a society we need to learn some basic manners and codes of behaviour.
The trouble begins when the masks are mistaken to be the truth and there is a disconnect between who we are outside and who we are inside. Most often, the truer self that is kept inside suffers being neglected and forgotten. The self that is meant to grow and become is instead made to conform to the mask.
My mistake has been to assume that the mask is what I am supposed to become. Because the mask lets me into the spaces of belonging that I believed to be were the main destinations of my life, the signals of my success as a responsible human adult.
It had come to a point that I felt my inner self needed exorcism. That it must be removed so I can be more fully what others needed and expected me to be. I spent a good part of my young adulthood feeling that I was born wrong, flawed, and inadequate in many ways, that I should be striving to change "for the better" as defined by the social circles I was immersed in. I have not even begun to understand who and what I was before I was being told that I should be better because everyone else was better that I was. That I had to take on certain skills and apply them a certain way, to build my life in a certain manner, to seek success following a trusted and proven formula.
A child should be allowed to take as long as she needs for knowing everything about herself, which is the same as learning to be herself. Even twenty-five years if necessary, or even forever. And it wouldn’t matter if doing things got delayed, because nothing is really important but being oneself.
What I needed to do, however, was to unlearn. There were many things I thought I supposed to be. And I hated that part of myself that did not want to become those things. It was a painful battle to reason with oneself, and more painful when reason was set aside and instead the heart was made to speak. For while it speaks, it breaks. In the same way that my self breaks because I could not reconcile my outside life with my inner life.
Self-examination and self-acceptance, which include coming to a reconciliation and resolution on how to move forward, are hard work. It would appear at first that it would be much easier to let the masks take over, and silence the inner selves forever. Or so I thought. It was much harder to live carrying a death inside of me. A barren landscape that only serves as a mirror to what others want to see. A blank map that others will mark and define while I annotate with apologetic footnotes.
I only started reconciling my inside and outside about three years ago.
I still have masks but I find myself unable to wear them for any long period of time. I get sick. I become a monster. An other self comes out to remind me to fix things or else.
Masks are necessary. They have their purposes. What I need to learn better is how to craft them so they are less masks that are purely for outside function to serve others but instead more of a bridge that connects the inside to bring forward the gift that my authentic self can give.
I have been trying to find a space to write. An open space like this, outside of the pages of my private journals. A public space, to teach myself to speak, to learn a little bit more about courage. Also to put myself on one side of a possible conversation even if it is a silent one and the response of the other remains unknown to me. To share, to open up, to release. To own, to take a position, to express without apologies.
In a way, perhaps, to complement my overall "bid for everlastingness", to borrow a term from Christopher Phillips, who wrote the book Socrates Café: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy.
The task and potential greatness of mortals lie in their ability to produce things--works deeds and words--which would deserve to be at home in everlastingness...I think we all have some unique ability that we can transform into our life's work and passion."
The idea of everlastingness has stuck with me since I encountered the word way back in the early 2000s. It gave a name to how I wanted my life to become. Even before I fully understood and appreciated Joseph Campbell's hero journey and the final stage of bringing back the boon to share with the world. My desire to "make a difference" is more than satisfying an ego that is hungry for recognition and validation. I really do want to make a difference. If I can make a difference in a single person's life such that the person is able, in turn, to contribute significantly to the larger scheme of Things, or becomes a crucial link in the chain that powers a positive shift or transformation, that if somehow I have been able to inspire, to encourage, or to feed a spirit what it needs, then my days would have truly counted.
You are to bring this treasure of understanding back and integrate it with rational life. It goes without saying, this is very difficult. Bringing the boon back can be even more difficult than going down into your depths in the first place...
I am in the middle of my life and I am a late bloomer. I seem to be in a perpetual state of trying to settle down, of being like other adults. But I am not settled down. I am restless and constantly pacing an invisible maze that goes deeper into an unseen centre. All I know is that a fraying thread connects my exhausted heart to that place where either a monster or a god dwells, patiently waiting.
Everything about my life now is in transition. A long process of movements and shifts. Countless detours, delays, and dead-ends.
I need a place to rest once in a while. A space to be quiet, where I can listen to my selves and feel through Things. I want to think loudly once in a while, and not be afraid.