DIY-MFA Book Club: Honoring an Ever-Changing Reality (Prompt #2)

Two very large (and getting larger) pieces of my reality: Jeremiah, 17, and Lise, 14.5, on the first anniversary of their father’s death.

When I first signed up for the DIY-MFA Book Club, it was my intent to keep up with all the prompts.

Since the club is up to Prompt 7 (well, they were, a week ago, when I drafted this post), and I’m finally getting around to drafting my response to Prompt 2, it’s obvious I haven’t managed that very well.

And the Book Club isn’t the only area where I’m way behind where I wanted to be.

  • My house is nowhere near as clean or in as good repair as I would like it to be.
  • I consistently find myself pushing right up against (or over) deadlines and running late.
  • I don’t sleep as much I would like to (and almost certainly not as much as I need to, for optimal performance).
  • I have a chronic feeling of things piling up faster than I can clear items from the top of the pile.
Sometimes life feels like this… and sometimes, it’s less lovely, and more chaos!

It would be easy to blame it on my circumstances:

  • I’m still adjusting to having gone from a wife growing a small business with her husband to the wife of a terminally ill man to his widow and sole parent to our two teens, one of whom is still homeschooling.
  • I’m learning as I go how to manage things that were solidly within Jim’s domain while he was alive, like home and vehicle repair and maintenance, purchasing major appliances, ordering heating oil and getting the furnace going again if the tank runs dry before the delivery comes, and more.
  • Things we used to do together, like financial and purchasing decisions, are now my responsibility in toto.
  • Along with all this, I’m leaning into my passion for writing, with a commitment to professionalism that requires time, focus, attention and learning.

But easy as it would be to just pin the tail on that nice big Blame Donkey, I don’t think that would help – because there’s more to it than that. Oh, don’t get me wrong – all those things up there are factors, and definitely part of my current reality. You can add  being in the midst of two major transitions – from wife to widow and from active parenting to children growing into legal independence (my son will be 18 late this summer, and my daughter 15 a few weeks before that).

Crossing the threshold… Lise at 11, Yaddo Gardens, Saratoga Springs, NY.

Still, it’s not as simple as saying these things are the reason I so often fall behind.

I’ve been aware of the real problem for at least the last couple of years. I even wrote about it here a few months back.

The real issue isn’t the circumstances of my life.

It’s that I consistently try to do far more than I can possibly do given those circumstances, and I exhaust myself in the effort.

This is my goals list from a few weeks ago. You might notice that there are 60 items on this list, to be finished in seven days. That’s over 8 things a day – and some of these are major projects that could easily gobble up a day or two all by themselves even if I didn’t have any other responsibilities or interests and worked on them through my waking hours.

It’s insanity to think I can do it all.

I’m finally really starting to grok that – and to see what might seem like a completely obvious solution.

I need to stop trying to do so much.

I need to chill the hell out.


Proof positive that I DO know how to chill the hell out… once in a while. Photo by Lise Burton. All rights reserved; used with permission.

I know where it comes from, this need to achieve the impossible. As a teen, I kept a very different schedule than the rest of my family. My home life was, to put it kindly, volatile. I was already a reader, a writer, and a person with a tendency to sink into deep inner realms of thought.

At night, when the house settled for sleep, it was finally quiet and peaceful. I could read, and write, and think, all without interruption. It was a kind of private paradise. I could only have it on school breaks and weekends, so it was all the more precious.

But, when my father rose, he expected me to get up, too. When I wasn’t ready (having often gone to sleep only 3 hours before), he called me lazy and berated me for “doing nothing.”

A lot of our homeschooling life, and my writing life, is still comprised of “invisible” effort. Oh, other radically unschooling families can understand how learning takes up none and all of our time, at the same time, because it’s more a way of life than an educational approach. Other writers understand the hours of effort that go even the simplest polished piece of writing.

But those efforts don’t show from the outside. They’re like the reality beneath the glassy perfect surface of a lake.

My purpose now is learning not how much I can do – or even how to reduce the number of tasks I demand of myself (though I am learning).

It’s figuring out how to excise the voices of the Laziness Police from my head, so I can devote myself to my two great life purposes – raising my children to capable, compassionate adulthood, and creating worlds of word-connection.

What is the reality you need to honor? Share it in the comments below!

Till Next Time!