Saturday, October 7, 2023

Season of Change

August brought big, life-changing events--my two youngest kids went off to college; my oldest moved home for an indeterminate time; I had a momentous birthday. When the last Friday of the month rolled around--my arbitrary deadline for sending out this newsletter--I hadn't had time or headspace to work out how I felt about it all, and so had no idea what to write. And then I looked at the calendar and realized it wasn't the last Friday of August but the first of September, and I was off the hook. (I told you it's arbitrary.)

And now a month has gone by, and I still haven't meditated on what all this means. But here's how I'm feeling now. With regard to my kids at college: I'm happy for them, I'm worried about them, I miss them now and again, and I'm enjoying the peace and space left in their absence (especially Z's room, which I turned into my "studio" before the sheets had cooled). I wish they'd call home occasionally, and I wish I could turn off "nag" mode when I do talk to them. 

About the eldest child moving back in: It's nice to have him around. He's not much trouble, and he can even be helpful. Also he's messy and noisy, and I hope that the challenge of finding a job as a recent college graduate in what was supposed to be a high-demand and lucrative field is just a temporary hiccough and not a (further) sign of the decay of our society.

About turning 50: It felt exactly like every other birthday, which is to say, no different than the day before. It's only a big number on paper.

So "life-changing" is a little less seismic that the term suggests. But I do feel my life changing, as I move into what Mary Louise Kelley calls "the third act" in her book It Goes So Fast. As fate would have it, I began Act 3 in a way that I hope sets the stage for the rest of the play. 

Early this month, I had the good fortune of spending a week on a lake at an artist residency. It was the same place I'd stayed six years ago, although in a different cabin; my cabin this time wasn't as charming, but it was closer to the lake and so a fair tradeoff. My work wasn't as focused this time, either--planning a new project as opposed to major revisions on a first draft.

But once I got over the sensation that someone was looking over my shoulder tsk-tsking over my lack of productivity, I settled into a rhythm. I swam in the lake. I went kayaking. I climbed a mountain. I took naps. I stayed up reading till 2 a.m. one night and went to bed at 8 p.m. others. I chatted with artists and writers from the other cabins, visited my friend at the local library, and had a long conversation the owner of a nearby bakery who made the best croissant I've ever eaten. I read nine books, drafted an essay, made some final tweaks to the almost-finished draft of one book, and did some serious thinking and planning and even a little writing on the new book project.

And now I'm back home, and it's fall, that season of settling down to work. While I don't have a lake out my front door and I don't have the house completely to myself, I am working on making at least a little piece of each day into an artist residency--shut out the world around me and delve into reading, writing, and thinking, with a little bit of wandering and adventure, too.

A version of this post went out recently to subscribers of my newsletter, along with some bonus material. Subscribe here and receive a free PDF of my illustrated short essay "Eleven Ways to Raise a Wild Child."

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