Room to Breathe



Use what talents you possess; The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best. – Henry van Dyke

Sometimes it’s not that fun to be an adult.  You do all kinds of things you don’t want to: waking up early on rainy Mondays, going to work in the snow, paying seemingly endless bills, eating shakes made out of kale.

The average child laughs 300-500 times a day, while the average adult just 15.  Sadly, I can recall any number of days where it was even less than that.  When did it all get so serious?  When is the turning point in most adults’ lives?  While I still feel like the same girl I always was, I lament I may have lost touch with her somewhat.

But, since I started writing again, it’s as if something lit up inside.  That fire seems to burn day and night, with bits of stories and turns of phrases assailing me in the most wonderful way.  I stop the car to jot down an idea, or awaken in the middle of the night to record a thought.

After reading my blog, a number of you recommended I read Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Liz Gilbert.  I’ve been a fan of hers since Eat Pray Love, along with about 10 million other people.  I’ve read her subsequent as well as earlier work, and found her talents to be vast and varied, tackling non to historical fiction with equal verve. I was eager to hear her take on creative living, and am so grateful for your recommendations.

I picked up the book during a visit to the bookstore. Even in this digital age, I still love going to a bookstore to read. There is a pleasure in feeling the paper, turning the pages. I fondly remember the way the ‘Betsy’ books smelled in my school library. I am powerless to elucidate the pleasant recollection that now wafts in near visual vapors in my memory, but I can see myself in a far corner of the library looking at the 1950’s illustrations.

So there, in the middle of the B&N café, as I began to read about Susan and her skating after years of not doing so, and her joy in rediscovering this lost passion, I started to cry.  Not one little trickle of a tear, but an ugly cry, a shoulder shaking sob. I forgot I was there and that people might see.  Something in this idea struck a profound chord with me.

A teenaged version of myself perked up, demanded to be heard.  She had something to tell me.  The hobbies you discounted as childish and not for serious adults made us happy.  We want that again.

My older, sedate self retorted, there’s no time.  That is silly. You’re a mom. You work, and you travel, a lot. It would be hard to keep up with one or two hobbies, let alone a whole host.  But, she refused to be silenced, and over the next few days and weeks, I allowed myself to think, what if?

I used to think about writing now and then.  It was like a cherished jewel I kept in a velvet box for safe keeping.  Sometimes I would take it out and turn it over in my hands, feeling its solidness, gazing longingly, but then, would put it away again.

I decided I needed to try to find a way to get back to some of the things I once loved. But, how was I to do it, between parenting, marriage, and work? I recall an article citing women have approximately 14 hours of free time a week.  That sounds pretty good.  I could do something with that time.  But, where was it?  I certainly didn’t feel like I had 14 unaccounted hours.

I had been taking piano lessons the past two years, for the first time in more than a decade.  I really enjoyed picking up the study again, but I didn’t find the time to practice as I should to really master the pieces.  Likewise, I did drop-in ballet class, but really wasn’t in a consistent pattern.

But in the evenings after I put the children to bed, I would feel the rhythm of a horse’s hooves, ba-da, ba-da.  I heard my teacher reminding us heels down; my legs still remembered.  I had gone so far as to do a google search.  There were stables nearby that could do short packages or drop-ins.  I missed the feeling of the wind, the weight of the helmet settling after a jump, the feeling of moving as one with the horse.

I looked at my work day and found wasted time.  I arranged my schedule in 15 min increments, surprised to find what I could accomplish in short blocks, rather than just writing off that time as non useful.

I started to get more regular about ballet.  I blocked the time on my calendar, tried not to schedule meetings over it.  The beauty of centre work, the discipline of barre, I had forgotten.  I felt lively and energized.  I caught myself smiling for no reason at all.

I turned off the TV at night and went to the piano.  I listened to pieces on you tube, marked dominant and tonic chords.  Each line seemed to have a secret language only theory could explain. The complex phrases infused my dreams with their resonant tones.  The melody’s lightness found its way into my head, and I walked with a spring in my step.

On a work trip, I found I had a spare morning, and the resort happened to have a trail ride.  I booked it, almost without thinking.  I couldn’t wait to be in the saddle again. We started walking, the desert scenery all around.  I heard the horse’s tail swishing.  Hawks slowly circled overhead.  Little gophers darted here and there.  The reins felt unfamiliar and familiar in my hands at the same time, as if recalling a distant memory.

After a while, I could see nothing except desert sage and mesquite, the mountains off in the distance.  I breathed in the warm dry air.  It seemed I could breathe deeper than I had in months.  Suddenly, in between the trees was a herd of wild horses.  They were beautiful, grazing huddled in their small group, encircling two foals.  I felt as if I was spying on a forbidden, intimate moment.

On the way back, I caught a glimpse of a coyote.  As we past, he stopped and turned. We considered one another for a moment.  I wondered what he was thinking; what it was like to be him, running free in the desert, life a mere game of survival.

I realized with discipline I could still get the important things done, but more efficiently, perhaps creating time to pursue my ambitions, and room to breathe. I was never going to be great, or even good at these things.  It didn’t matter.  They gave me joy.

Dear Liz, your book taught me to dream like I had scarce allowed myself. I had denied myself things I loved, and why? For the cloak of busy-ness and adult propriety?

Going out and creating something no longer seems a foreign notion reserved for people in creative fields. It feels accessible, something I can choose any day. The idea that I can choose to create the time for this is powerful. I like to know I don’t have to accept things are they are, but can craft a life and future of my choosing, balancing duty and passion.

One thought on “Room to Breathe

  1. A sweet commentary on one’s search for joy. I’m happy that you are making time to do the things that make you happy!

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