My thoughts are a jumble these days, thus why I have not done much writing. If you could open my brain, it would look like that corner drawer in your kitchen, overflowing with nails and screws, dried up glue and birthday candles, tangled string and electrical cords that belong to something, pens that don’t work and single doll shoes, tweezers, guitar picks and countless green grimy pennies.
That’s exactly what my mind is like right now.
I think about writing when I’m in the car or putting on my make up in the morning or walking to my office building – “I should write that down,” I say. And then I forget. Little snippets of somethings that aren’t really a story or a proper blog post, but too important to throw away completely.
It’s my first Spring working at Stanford, and it is beautiful. Where once the space was inhabited by endless parched, brown grasses and the hum of bees and birds squawking in the trees, it is now cool and lyrical and very, very green. If only my body could drink from this rainy fountain of youth every February and March, coming back fresh and soft and curvy, glowing with life the way the hills are right now. It always smells good on campus, usually of eucalyptus and evergreens, but right now the aroma of Spring is so strong it nearly makes your nose hurt. There must be a thousand blooms around every corner, and sometimes the tiniest, most inconsequential looking flowers are the most powerful. So while the Birds of Paradise pose in the background of every tourist’s selfie, it is the nearly nonexistent and nameless species crowded in bushes around bike racks and doorways that you’re really smelling.
I’ve spent 10 months working in this beautiful and curious place. I love the diversity of it – its people make me smile. Today, when I was returning a library book at lunch time, I people-watched as I walked. I saw a grey-haired slightly senior male with a messenger bag, confidently pushing his scooter down the middle of a road with his foot at breakneck speed. I saw a young woman, slightly awkward, flipping her waist-length red hair self-consciously back from her face as an eager and passionate young man with dark hair and eyes and skin impressed upon her what one could only presume must be his entire knowledge of the world in a span of one lunch date. I saw groups – tourists, prospective students, classes, colleagues – laughing and enjoying the break in the clouds as they sat around palm trees and alcoves. I was nearly run down by at least a dozen bikes. I overheard pieces of conversation from too many languages to count. Even my son’s campus day care class boasts 10 or 12 foreign dialects at minimum; most families seem to speak at least two or three.
I will honestly admit I get overwhelmed by the pressure of it all. After all, as lucky and excited as I am to be here, I have always labored under the assumption that all (or most) people have worth in and of themselves. That, if a person really who wants to learn and is willing to work hard, they should succeed. But around here, as in many affluent and rigorous college towns, that is not enough. You must be the best – at everything. And whether it is intentional or not, this truth is reinforced every place, every day, by nearly every one I meet.
I was talking to a counselor on campus a few months ago, before Christmas, when I was struggling with some anxiety and depression issues. I told her our story, of how we came to the area and what it took for us to get here.
She nodded, knowingly, and said something like, “Ah yes, the problem of the ‘golden handcuffs.’ I hear that a lot.”
“I’m sorry?” I replied, not understanding.
“You’ve made it – you’ve got good jobs, you’re living in Menlo Park, your kids are in good schools – and now you’re trapped in your good fortune by the high expectations you put on yourself,” she surmised.
Not exactly. And the only golden handcuffs I’m feeling right now are the ones slapped on me by the IRS. I jest… but seriously…
My truth is this – I’ve never been the best at anything. I’m a perfectionist, yes (though having two very independent young children has nipped that in the bud somewhat). My truth is that my family went through a lot to get here, and are thankful and blessed – but we have not “arrived.” The very idea is sort of laughable! We live in the most expensive part of the USA, where our salaries are more than generous, but 1/3 of them goes to rent and another 1/3 goes to childcare expenses. What we have left goes toward paying off the debts we ran up to make this fresh start, as well as things like car payments, medical bills, and a LOT of taxes.
We have not been on vacation, well, really ever as a whole family. Like most people of our age and stage in life, we spend the whole week working full time, spending our home time making lunches and doing laundry and reading bedtime stories. Our weekends are filled with preparation for the next week ahead – paying bills, cleaning the house, grocery shopping, trying to catch up with family members on Skype. And remember, our kids are still young – 6 and 3 – so that means a lot of nap times, tantrums, dawdling, disasters and many, many, many colds, flus, and other various ailments that disrupt all our best laid plans.
I’m not complaining, exactly.
It’s just that on top of all of this normal life stuff, we also have a FILM. Or a dream of a film. Yes, that’s right, Frank and I are still trying to make films. When we didn’t raise all the funds for “One Day in December” last autumn, we went back to the original plan to “go big or go home” and make the feature version titled – wait for it – “10 Days in December.” And we have been working really hard on getting our first stinking draft done. And let me tell you, it’s been really stinking hard.
I’m realizing I’ve never finished a big creative writing project. That, like the description of my Junk Drawer Brain above, I try to draw together lots of bits and pieces and fragments, glue them together with some passionate inspiration and a few bottles of wine, and then I can’t seem to finish. I can’t push through, and as I watch it start to crack and crumble, I put it away, give up for a while with the promise to myself that I’ll pick it up again later, at “a better time.”
But just like all the most important things in my life – meeting Frank, having kids, moving across the world – there will never be “a better time.” That is one thing I actually feel very, very passionate about. (Well, that and doing everything in my power to keep Drumpf out of office…) The time is now. What time? The time after the kids are in bed. Or the rare time we get to go out on a date. Or, more commonly, all those little snippets of time when we’re between things at work or running around town, and I text Frank or he emails me, and we say, “You know, I was thinking about that scene, and what might really work there is…”
It’s not ideal, and I’m scared to death we won’t be able to push through sometimes. Well, that I won’t be able to push through – Frank’s a pro at this. He’s my champion, my hero! But never has there been a project in my life that means so much, and that I want so much to see through to the very hard-won end.
I think we will do it, I really do. I’m not sure how, but we’ll get there, just as we always have before. I just know that now, when it’s difficult, I need to stay focused – keep listening to what is important, keep looking into the faces of those who know me, and keep believing that this is part of my greater purpose. And that while I may not be “the best” in career or fitness or education or wealth or parenting, I know, somewhere in my heart, that this is OK. I am enough.