Inching Toward Simplicity: Pragmatics and Prose

Monday, May 21, 2007

New Hope for the Weary Traveler

Pragmatics: Knowing Your Priorities
It is the mark of great people to treat trifles as trifles and important matters as important.
--Doris Lessing
In this world of what seem to be ever-increasing demands and distractions, it is hard at times to know which end is up, let alone what your priorities are.

Prose: New Hope for the Weary Traveler

It is so easy to get away from what is important to you. My blog is not the full-time writing career I dream about, nor the paid column I long for, but it is, at the very least, my touchstone for the week, my getting back in touch with what’s important.

What is important? Living my life so that I am true to my priorities. These include appreciating my family and friends, remembering and respecting the natural world, making time to reflect and rest, and writing. My effort to simplify is an act of clearing space for these priorities. I know that I am my best self, best wife, best mother, best friend when I‘ve attended to what I know is important.

Sometimes it feels like the world is conspiring against this effort. Friday was eaten up by a dentist visit and errands too numerous to count, laundry and packing, straightening the house, writing notes to the dog sitter, all in preparation for a visit to an old friend. Now that we are back, the house calls to me, desperate for a vigorous vacuum and mop. But I have set my timer and glued my seat to my chair, determined to reflect and write. I know I need this soul medicine. I am glad I know that the chores can wait.

I’m getting smarter in admitting what I can and cannot manage. I took Friday off to prepare, Monday off to recover from our trip. I can’t do that every time I travel, but how much more sane I felt this morning, knowing I could ease Gavin into his day, take some time to myself, take a deep breath and, in effect, press my reset button.

We took a detour on the way home from Pennsylvania to a favorite haunt we don’t get to haunt much anymore, New Hope. New Hope is artsy, quirky, crowded and touristy, a lively blend of culture and ice cream and, this weekend, gay pride. Lots to see, lots to eat, lots to do. And for us, lots of history. Tom first took me here nearly 2 decades ago, when we were dating. We kept coming back for long walks and talks. Later, we used a weekend drive to New Hope, when I was 5 months pregnant and had just learned we were having a boy, to choose Gavin’s name. Gavin sat in his infant carrier seat next to a cafe table here, and toddled on the steps of a grand old church in the center of town, and he remembers neither visit. Yesterday he fed the ducks and reveled in Farley’s Bookshop, a rich old place with piles of delectable reads, pet cats, and secret nooks. He named it his favorite place in New Hope. He is truly his mother’s son.

I always struggle a bit with squeezing things in like this. We got in after midnight, and although Gavin slept in the car I worried about the quality of his rest. But I am glad we pushed the window and made the detour. New Hope is special to all of us, now that Gavin is old enough to process the place. He knows that we chose his name there. He reveled in the waterfall and the ducks and the canal. He wants to go back to Farley’s. I often write about simplifying as doing less, but in this case attending to a priority (reconnecting with a town so good for our family’s soul) meant doing more, maybe sacrificing some rest, but for lots of emotional reward in exchange. It simplified things in that it brought me, really all of us, back to a mindset of joy and interest and appreciation. I am so glad we went, so happily tired.

The lesson here for me is an important one, because there were other things this weekend that tired me too. Things too personal for this blog, but the lesson is one I want to share: if you are going to exert your energy, if you are going to wear yourself out, make sure what you are doing is really worth the exertion and the potential aftermath! If you are going to get tired, try to get happily tired as often as possible.

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