old (2007), Uncategorized

living in the moment

The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be.

–Marcel Pagnol
For months, my front closet has been unusable, filled with empty boxes from when I moved in. More junk has accumulated there since then — stacks of unwanted mail, outdated departmental memos, old magazines, scrap paper, any non-perishable garbage I’ve been too lazy to take out. At the same time, over the past few weeks, my clothes have migrated from my closet to my beds, my couch, the top of the radiator, my kitchen table, any horizontal surface available. Today, in a fit of productivity (or out of an urge to avoid grading papers), I tackled my closets and my clothes — and I inadvertently learned a lesson.

A. tells me that her first sponsor gave her the following advice: Never go to sleep with dirty dishes in the sink and always make your bed in the morning. For someone like me, that’s a Herculean task. I still have a pot on the stove that hasn’t been washed since I used it in early August. I did, however, catch up on all my other dishes yesterday, which felt good and spurred me on to get a ton of work done by the time I went to bed last night. And today, when I got home from therapy, I decided I couldn’t stand for one more minute to see my clothes strewn about, and I set to work.

After I cleared out most all of the garbage (the janitor, who is in his 60s, carries it all down from my floor, and I didn’t want to give him too much at once), I set about with the clothes — and promptly started panicking. One of the things I was trying to do was put aside the clothes I don’t wear, some of which I’ve never worn since I first purchased. And some of them were expensive — the $160 jeans I bought on eBay (only realizing later that I’d bid on the wrong size); the Badgley Mischka dress I’ve been holding onto for seven years now; lots of Anthropologie stuff that looked good on the rack but has been sitting in my closet with the tags still on. My first instinct was, I should list all these things on eBay, followed by I don’t even have time to wash the pot that’s been sitting on my stove for two months! When will I ever have time to list anything on eBay?, quickly followed by Damnit! I’ll just Freecycle all of it!, and then But I’ll lose hundreds of dollars! Of course, I was paralyzed by my thinking and quite nearly broke down amidst my $160 jeans, beaded dresses, and tweed pants (when have I ever worn tweed? what was I thinking?).

But then, a realization: Why did I need to focus on the past (the money I’d spent + the fact that I hadn’t worn many of the clothes)? And what good did it do to worry about the future (what to do with the clothes + losing money if I made the wrong choice)? In the present moment, I needed to put away my clothes, set aside the ones that didn’t fit, and do what needed to be done for my life today. And so I put away the useful clothes, and put the others in a box, where they can sit until I have the time and energy necessary to deal with them. Yes, it is a problem, but it isn’t one I had to figure out today.

And as all these things are coming to me — doing the dishes, cleaning out closets, putting away clothes — it occurs to me that today I am happy. Almost nothing in my life is resolved, and I know for sure that there are many obstacles on the road ahead of me, the least of which is straightening out my financial/living situation, but I also know that I’m doing what I can — today, in the present — to fix the things I can, to solve the problems I can handle, and to do the work necessary to make sure I’m OK for now.

Lots of things are fitting together and beginning to make sense in a way that surprises me. Earlier today, I was thinking how I’ve always believed something my mother used to say: Everything has a way of working itself out. And that’s true, but I’ve used that bromide as a means of allowing myself to do some pretty stupid stuff: stay in bad relationships, misbehave, spend too much money, neglect my health and psyche, lose sight of my goals and dreams. Today, it occurred to me that the bromide isn’t a Get out of Trouble Free card — it isn’t at all a promise that no matter how much I fuck things up, I’ll get out of the jam. Even though that’s what’s happened in the past — A. has often laughed at how the universe throws me bones when I need them most — I don’t see that phrase in the same way now. No longer is it a mental safety net that allows me to make foolish decisions; rather, it is a truth about the universe: I don’t have to solve all of my problems today, because they will get worked out eventually.

And so as I get ready to grade those papers (ugh) into the wee hours of the night, I’m putting all my thoughts and worries aside — in a mental box not unlike the physical one in which I placed unwanted clothes — to deal with when the time is right. Tonight, I have faith in the future without anxiety about getting there. Which makes me very, very happy.


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