Monday, December 31, 2012

Spectives, retro and pro

Nearly all the bloggers I follow are looking back at their 2012 accomplishments and regrets, musing on the year past. I'm in that spirit, too. So I read all those posts with interest, peering between the lines to discern the joy or frustration, weariness or energy, tedium or adventure in their recollections.

I have a lot of summing up and looking forward I want to do. Much more than one post's worth. I made a lot of things. I watched my children (and my husband) change and grow. I found myself at a crossroads and began to engage in deliberate, regular introspection to understand its opportunities and pitfalls.

For today, I want to focus on one tiny thing that seems to represent my 2012. It's so insignificant, and yet that very fact indicates how critical it must be to my self-understanding.

I'm still making beds.

Every morning I straighten the sheets, smooth the blankets, pile on the pillows. I do it first in our room, then after I'm dressed and while getting out clothes for the kids, I do the same for their beds.

Why do I do this every morning? Nobody is making me. Nobody would say a word if I didn't. If they even noticed, it would be fleeting, with no emotional color one way or another. Even that driver of so many things we women do, What Would My Mother Think, isn't in the picture. I went for decades with unmade beds; any guilt I might have felt occasionally was diffuse and sporadic.

My bed-making appears to be unlike almost anything else I do. It is entirely voluntary. It is not a step toward a larger goal. It is maintenance work, undone a few hours later, then done again. Nobody and nothing depends on it.

Why do I make the beds? Why have I kept making the beds? Will I continue, and why?

Clearly I do it because I want to. But what makes me want to?

There is some satisfaction in the neat appearance of the made bed. There is a sense that something is begin attended to, cared for. There is the control I have over one tiny corner of my environment. There is the welcoming, inviting mood created at bedtime by the bed that is ready to be occupied. There is the division between time for sleep and time for waking activities, created by closing and opening the bedcovers in turn. There is the opposite of the "broken windows" effect for both me and my kids, where a tidied bed seems to lead to a room kept tidier and less cluttered, as if it breathes an energy that impels us to put our things away, or vibrates with a frequency that resonates with clear space and order.

All those things are true. I don't think about any of those things when I make beds, though. I have a fleeting thought, most mornings -- "I could skip this" -- and then it goes away, not with a sigh or a whimper, but just fades as irrelevant. I'm always surprised at how little time it takes. And then it's done, almost before I made a decision to do it.

In the rest of my life, I have two main areas of activity. There are assignments, deadlines, obligations, disciplines, and nagging areas where self-improvement is badly needed on the one hand. And then leisure, creative pursuits, contemplation, recreation, and escape on the other. In my current crisis thinking, the two are sharply delineated, and each defines the other; when pursuing activities of the second kind, I'm constantly aware of the obligations I'm putting off, and when doing work of the first kind, I'm longing and looking forward to the time I can put it aside for something of my free choosing.

Making beds isn't either. It falls outside the dichotomy. I think if I could understand my bed-making, I could find a way out of the trap of guilt and escapism that seems to form the shape of my mid-life crisis.

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