My neighbor stood at my back door in his usual state: bare torso sweaty, blue jeans dirty, and straw hat terminally tattered. Despite his appearance, a sweet, fresh aroma entered with him when I opened the screen door, as if he had just been rolling around in his herb garden.
Van held out a carton of eggs and a paper bag spilling over with yellow squash, cucumbers, parsley, and basil. Before I could thank him, he proudly announced what he knew would be an even more welcome gift. “I just bought a brush hog!” he said with a grin.
“Oh my gosh!” I squealed. I knew he was looking for an effusive response, but I was also sincerely thrilled because my hay fields are going to be forest very soon if I can’t find someone to mow them.
“I’m going to start on my fields tomorrow, and then we can see about yours,” he said. “And you gotta come down and see the solar shower I just rigged up from the rain barrels. Don’t worry, it has a curtain.”
The Industrious Nature
Like a lot of folks up here in New Hampshire, my neighbor Van rarely sits still. He’s up before his rooster crows, feeding chickens, weeding the garden, or transplanting bee balm and lilies around his Rest Easy Pet Cemetery down the lane from my place. He hammers a lot, building fences and sheds and such. I think this industrious nature may be in the blood — many generations of chopping mountains of wood to fend off the severe winters and farming dawn to dusk during the short growing season.
It’s not that citizens of the Granite State are frenetic like the people in D.C. where I live most of the year. They know how to relax. People in rural New Hampshire work hard five or six days a week, but they don’t work much past five o’clock. On the weekends they go to ice cream socials and sidewalk sales, and they actually stroll in the park (without phones glued to their heads). The bars and businesses in town close early, and then everyone goes to bed at nine or nine-thirty so they can be up at dawn.
So it was with a tone of confession that I answered Van’s query of what I’d been up to: “I’ve really done nothing since I’ve been here.” I smiled apologetically.
“Well, isn’t nothing what you’re supposed to be doing?” I love Van.
“Well, I better get a move on; got to get the chickens in,” he said as he headed for the door.
What exactly am I supposed to be doing? Is this it? Then why do I feel guilty and ashamed? This was my plan for the summer: a month of cleaning out my family’s house in D.C., then a month resting and writing up here — back and forth each month and catching the fall colors both places.
Yet somehow I feel I should be “working.” I haven’t even been writing much, except for some bad poetry I wrote while sitting by the beaver pond.
Perhaps what I’m doing can be re-imagined as work?
Inspiration for some bad poetry
The Writer at Work
I feel slovenly when I spend an afternoon reading fiction, but they say that writers should read incessantly — it is part of our work. I’ve finished almost three books in the short time I’ve been here — Keri Hulme’s The Bone People; Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings (awesome); and an Agatha Christie mystery, Cards on the Table.
I say I’ve hardly written, but I’ve actually filled more than twenty-five pages in my journal and covered ten pages of a spiral notebook with random bits of blogs, essays, and poems.
Much of my writing has also been spiritual work. I came up here with a specific goal for myself: to examine and pray about some of the character flaws I’d like to have God remove — anxiety, contempt, a need for recognition, and envy. (The latter is an insidious little bugger — I’ve only recently realized I have it!) If you’re interested in my navel gazing about some of these flaws, scroll down to my last post.
I am making an effort to get back to my favorite form of meditation, Centering Prayer, which is seriously hard work because it entails trying to surrender everything in your brain to God, becoming nothing but a vessel for love.
My walks in the woods can be considered spiritual work since most of my wandering is spent in reflection, and they are also a workout for my body. So is my occasional thrashing around on the floor in front of a Rodney Yee yoga video.
A Working Chef
Cooking! Surely that counts as work, although it’s fun and something I usually take significant time for only when I’m on vacation. Summer is abundant here, and I never miss the farmer’s market.
I’ve made gazpacho, fresh corn salad, potato and lentil stew, cabbage and pasta with garlic, tomatoes stuffed with eggplant curry (dreadful), and nearly daily caprese salads with perfect local tomatoes and basil from my backyard.
Does building up the compost pile count as work?
Shucking corn is hard work!
While we’re pushing the boundaries here, how about dreaming? I’ve heard of “dream work.” I decided to stop setting the alarm because I’ve been waking up anxious, something that happened after my mother passed away and which returned after my brother’s death. I don’t think I understood the psychic cost of keeping the phone by my bed every night for seven years in case my mother or my brother had a crisis or was dying. No wonder I wake up anxious!
After I nixed the alarm, I slept eleven hours several nights straight and had intense and involved dreams of my mother and my brother. The subconscious at work . . .
What I’m Supposed to Be Doing
The work of rest. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing.
Partners in my work — Mayasika and Eliza Bean
Rest is essential to health and creativity.
After my mother died, I went on a retreat about calling and vocation — I thought I had to get busy since my caregiving role had ended. (Little did I know I would become my brother’s caregiver for the next six years.) On that retreat, I learned that restful healing is a calling in itself. I just forget sometimes.
I will not talk about the work of grieving, that goes without saying. It is what I do these days. Except to say that part of grief work is learning to have fun again. Saturday I went to a party and met a bunch of interesting folks and laughed a lot. On the way home, I stopped at the fairgrounds and watched the town’s end-of-summer fireworks.
I am where I’m supposed to be.