Things I Have Patience For:
- Complex knitting projects
- Complex baking projects
Things I Do Not Have Patience For:
- Literally everything else
When I was a child, one of the things my mother often said was, “You want what you want when you want it.” It was always uttered in that momlike tone of pure frustration, tinged with disbelief that she, with her deep wells of saint-like patience, could have possibly produced such a single-minded and selfish child.
As an adult, I am arguably just as single-minded and selfish, and things that require the exercise of patience inevitably end in frustration for me (unless they are cooking- or knitting-related, see above). This inability to wait around for things to happen makes me driven, I suppose, but it also causes me to rage when things aren’t progressing at the speed I think they should.
I’m struggling with this mightily at the moment. I’m not going to go into lots of detail, but suffice it to say that the last ten years have been jam-packed, and not always in a fun way. I’m not particularly advanced in years, but my twenties and very early thirties were comprised of a series of events, one after another, that normal people go through later in life. One of my favorite movie lines (from Indiana Jones, when Marion tells Indy that he looks way rougher than the last time she saw him) suits me perfectly: “It’s not the years, it’s the miles.”
I turned thirty-four last Sunday, and woke up in a state of intense anxiety, which soon led to a total meltdown. I cried on my sweet husband. Then I cried when I saw that my mom had decorated their kitchen with the very same birthday decorations she’s had since my fourth birthday. And then I cried on my sweet mother. In so many ways, I am not where I thought I would be: We do not own our home. We do not have children. The career that I thought would be the end-all-be-all of who I was professionally and personally turned out to be, um, not that. I’m in the beginning stages of starting a business, which is a roller coaster, and I’m prone to motion sickness.
And underneath it all is the simple fact that this fairly-recent-model-year-but-high-mileage human being is tired as hell.
This pisses me off for a variety of reasons, mainly, one: that deep down, I do not feel I deserve to be this tired. It seems like the ultimate in white lady privilege—being able to take to my fainting couch with the vapors while other people work proper jobs while bearing burdens I can’t even begin to imagine.
On some level, this is objectively true. Being able to stop long enough to feel my own exhaustion is a luxury of sorts.
But also: it is what it is. Being a human being is always hard work, even if that work exists on some kind of spectrum. Even the most charmed of lives contain loss and heartbreak and health scares and worries about money. And wherever our individual struggles fall on this spectrum, they are still struggles. They wear on us, body and soul.
I try, I really try, to be patient with myself, to practice what people who move in hippier-dippier circles than I do call “self-compassion.” I am, after all, technically a finite creature, one with a limited lifespan and limited energy. And after ten years of fighting like hell to be the person I actually am, not the person everyone else wanted me to be, I am weary. I’ve lost a lot in the last decade, too: loved ones, for one, but also a sense of stability and predictability in my life. I’ve had to grieve the life I thought I’d have, not once, but twice, and grief is grief.
And, to paraphrase the brilliant children’s book “Going on a Bear Hunt,” you can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, OH NO, guess we’ve got to go through it. I fucking hate going through it, for the record.
I fret that I won’t feel like myself again, that normal, everyday things will provoke what feel like bottomless anxiety pits. I wasn’t always this fragile, I tell myself. I used to be strong. Fearless. Put together. Able to handle sixteen-hour days and manage a social life and keep the house spotless.
I return to Mary Oliver’s words in her poem “Don’t Worry”, again and again: “Don’t worry. Things take the time they take. How many roads did Saint Augustine follow before he became Saint Augustine?”
That’s not the only Mary Oliver poem on my mind these days.
The opening lines of “Wild Geese” remind me that, at the end of the day, my truest vocation is to be a creature.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
I’m tired of being good. Being “good” got me in this mess in the first place.
Maybe I’ll try letting the soft animal of my body love what it loves for a bit.
Which is yarn. And knitting. And color. And fabric with chubby squirrels on it. And naps. And going to bed stupid early. And giant cups of strong-brewed English Breakfast. And cake.
Thank God for cake. And Mary Oliver.