Before the holidays I was stuck in self-pity, feeling grumpy, suffocated, trapped. I had a case of “If only we lived in Spain, everything would be better.” And though wallowing in self-pity has a certain satisfaction, maybe because of the illusion that I am a passive victim, and therefore can’t do anything about my misery, after about a week I got tired of my own whining. As I often do, I looked to Julia Cameron for comfort, found an essay on self-pity in one of her books. She said that eventually we will get sick of self-pity and ask “What can I do about it?” I slept on that thought Saturday night, woke up on Sunday, did yoga, then meditated. With a rarely calm mind and body I called to mind the many things in my life that work right now. Here’s a partial list:
1) My creative life. Not only am I writing the book and the blog, I’m exploring other art forms and nurturing my inner artist.
2) My job. Somehow, miraculously, I found the perfect job for me right now. I like what I do, I like the people I work with and the work environment, and maybe most of all, I love how my three day work schedule allows me to keep writing and gives me time and space to continue most of the things I loved about my no-job life.
3) My family. Almost all of my family is in the Philly area, and I get to see them a lot. I get to go to my cousin’s birthday parties. I get to see my Uncle Ed, Aunt Mary Lou and Grandmom around town. I get to have dinners with my parents, girls’ days with my niece, double-dates with my brother and his wife.
4) Ocean City, NJ. It’s hard to feel grateful for the shore this time of year, when I can’t go in the water, and hardly even get there, but our proximity to the beach and access to my parents’ beach house is one of the great blessings of my life.
5) My friends. Not only do I live within a few miles of some of my oldest and dearest friends, I’ve made some truly nurturing new friendships over the past year.
6) Narberth. My one-square-mile town has the world’s best almond croissant, boutiques that sell original art from local artists, a giant mosaic mural, a magical cheese shop, some down-home pubs, a fine restaurant, a few thrift and consignment stores, a talented florist, an old-school five and dime, and the best 4th of July celebration of any small town anywhere. And we gorgeous giant old trees. Loads of them.
7) Philly. I went out last week for an artist date, with fresh eyes, into University City. I wandered around Penn’s campus and discovered some amazing pieces of art and architecture. College Hall, made of travertine stone—an eerie and beautiful green, looking like a castle that belongs on wind-tossed moor in Wales rather than in West Philadelphia, ignited the imagination. A photo exhibit about Nigeria transported me back to Africa. A small Cuban café fed body and soul with a warm latte and an impromptu drum performance. Joy and laughter seeped into me at the University City Arts League, where I went with a group of children to the land “Where the Wild Things Are.” All of these things are in Philly and of Philly. Perhaps the best blessing of that day was the idea that my own city has untold wonders waiting to be discovered, if I can approach it with the fresh eyes of a visitor, at least occasionally.
It was good and necessary to remember what a full and rich life I have. But that wasn’t enough. Self-pity is a signal that something isn’t quite right. With my still-quiet mind, I realized that I need more fun and more exercise in my life, and then I felt immense relief. I don’t have to go to Spain for exercise or fun. So I investigated and joined a gym, where I went for a long overdue swim, feeling my soul expand the way it only does in the water. I’ve done some cardio workouts since, gaining not only those lovely endorphins, but also some insight into the book, better sleep, and more peace in general. So the more exercise is already paying off. Next step: more fun. What can I do for fun other than surf? Suggestions please!