When preparing for meetings I find myself glued to the computer, doing research, typing notes, reading and organizing old files – mission statements, health care plans, meeting agendas. I am bushwhacking; managing the jungle of information in front of me in hopes of paving a road for us to walk on, hoping to keep us from falling off of some existential cliff that I imagine is there if we do the wrong thing or miss the wrong cue. My mind and my fingers move so furiously that the rest of me is paralyzed and exhausted. I don’t want to cook or clean or be social; all I want to do is sleep and prepare, sleep and prepare. I am a tenacious, insufferable, boring, anxious, obsessed stick in the mud. On-screen diversions – Facebook, The Times – don’t count because they are filled with reminders of the task at hand and then tend to divert in the wrong direction.
But I was prompted last week by a parent wiser and stronger than I, that motion – physical, heart-rate elevating motion – is necessary to calm the psychic storm that comes with these moments of transition. She faces some of the same issues I do and she is making herself run; I will have to be content to walk, but I will do that and whatever else I can to get out into the daylight. I will take a walk, get my hair cut, and go to the hardware store and get things that have been languishing on my list for weeks.
The last time we were retooling at home and school like this, the same novel sat on my nightstand for three years, unopened, collecting dust. By the time I got around to picking it up I was so tired of looking at it I gave it away instead of reading it. The moment had passed. I don’t even recall what book it was; I only remember that moment of picking it up at all is that it happened when I was talking on the phone to my cousin who was dying of cancer at the time. We were talking about things left undone and I mentioned the book that was sitting there, and she told me how she had managed to pare down her life to only the essentials and divested herself of the distractions of television, newspaper and computer. At that moment I realized that there would always be something better to read than that book.
Now the books – good ones this time! – are piling up again (sorry, Walter Issacson, William Trevor, David McCullough) but at least I am learning to make it mostly non-fiction or short fiction. I must finish it before bed or know how it turns out. I am interested in knowing about the journeys of all kinds of people in the 20th century, and so the book that rescues me today is Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies. I’ve seen so many of the movies he made and he writes so easily and compellingly about the process of film making that it gives me something that is both easy jump into and easy to let go of when my attention is diverted, as it so often is at these times. At this moment, it is the right mix of nostalgia, entertainment, and clarity of process that makes me happy and still keeps me learning.