In middle school our class read “To Build a Fire” by Jack London. At this time, my over empathetic self would occasionally get too stressed out to finish episodes of Full House in which DJ embarrassed herself*, so “To Build a Fire” was pretty much a quiet, prolonged panic attack. This guy in the Yukon basically gets horrible frostbite and dies. You, as a reader, go through the stages of frostbite with him.
I remember him fighting it for a long time. There was this fantastic sleep that wanted to overtake him but he just wouldn’t give in. He wanted to survive. All I could think was “JUST GIVE UP, DAMMIT! Go to sleep! End this insanity!”
I also, independently, read The Hobbit for the first time in middle school. There wasn’t a reading day that went by when I didn’t think, “Bilbo, you IDIOT. Your hobbit hole was the absolute best and now you’re just hefting about these heavy bags on a cross country trip and you could get hurt. IDIOT.”
Honestly, you couldn’t hook this little guy up with an elven golf cart or something?
Things turn out ok for Bilbo…not so much for the gentleman in the Yukon.
But I think it’s pretty telling that Bilbo Baggins is less a creature of comfort than I was/am. I love being comfortable. I love warm, safe things. Easy things. Pie. Things that do not create conflict or struggle. High fives and enthusiastic thumbs’ up…
Part of this is, as I alluded to, stems from anxiety. The other part has to do with being decently ok at one thing and not being forced to do very much of that which I find difficult. My ability to construct a decent paragraph served me really well through school. It also allowed me to do some ill-advised things, like completely ignore math and sports. Also, I got away with not revising written work very much. The first drafts were pretty good, and that always seemed more than satisfactory.
Here’s where I mention motherhood for the millionth time. Sorry dudes, it’s where my head is.
There aren’t any cool shortcuts to lighten the workload.
Emmeline doesn’t care if I’m a charming conversationalist or not, or if my five paragraph essay is the stuff of ELA templates. She doesn’t care that I can lead a cool improv workshop, and she definitely doesn’t care that I really would like to develop a sleep pattern again. She is an amazing, ever-changing creature with myriad needs that I will meet – whether it’s easy or not. And it happens without question because it is the most important thing in the world to me.
This isn’t written as a post about “what I used to be” it’s written from the perspective of a writer, a mom, and a human who is learning how to try hard at things she sucks at. It’s becoming clear every day that it’s pretty important to fight through the not knowing and the not being good at. I’m learning this. I’m overcoming some anxiety, and I’m taking it slow.
All those stories about the human (or halfling) experience are written to illuminate the important stuff in life, and the important stuff is sometimes the struggle. Very sophomore English of me, I know. But it’s an ongoing discovery, and I guess that’s why so many books are written about it. I’m struggling to get better at revision. I’m struggling to improve my running. I’m struggling to become someone who can haul a heavy carseat into an SUV without looking like she’s going to bust a gasket. For me, these are worthwhile struggles.
Whether through parenthood, illness, loss, relationships, or professional experiences, I think everyone must come to this realization eventually. It may seem obvious but “Life is hard” and “Life is good” don’t cancel each other out. They exist in the same space at the same time.
Nose, meet my hilarious friend, grindstone!
*Honestly, when she collapsed on that treadmill at the gym because she had a pool party to go to? Honestly? I can’t even.