I remember, as a young girl, spending hours at my neighbour Molly's house, reading issues of Architectural Digest magazine and dreaming of one day, having a really beautiful home full of antiques and surrounded by a gorgeous garden. I imagined myself in a beautiful cashmere sweater set, saying witty, clever things to my doctor/lawyer/architect/ husband as we welcomed our guests to yet another fabulous yuppie cocktail party. None of these 'dreams' came true in my real life. Don't get me wrong, I still love pretty things and sometimes I even get the urge to paint a room but, I discovered along the way, just like my parents, that I had other priorities that involved reaching out to the world beyond the nest I had created for my family.
When my children were small, as much as I loved them, I couldn't wait to get involved in my community. I looked forward to the day when I could organize fundraisers, join committees, help backstage at concerts, supervise school field trips, etc. etc. etc. Now that I am doing all of that, I wonder if I am wise to be doing quite so much of it - but I can't seem to help myself. I seem to be hard-wired that way (it's genetic). When I said as much to a friend over coffee he said, "I have a very good psychiatrist, you know."
I have come to believe that we humans have a need to be useful to each other, and when we find a place where what we have to give is welcome, we become fulfilled and happy. This of course, is different for everyone. One person may find that living in a monastery and embracing a life of silence and prayer is their best way to serve humanity. Another person may find that being an artist and creating interpretations of the human condition that others may relate to as the best way to give. Yet another person may find that knocking on doors to canvass for various causes is their calling, and they're good at it. Everyone has something to give to the world, but finding it, and giving it a place of priority among life's other demands is the key.
For years now I have tried to maintain a balance between all of the different activities I feel compelled to be involved in, often ending up frustrated. Ever since I began to give writing a position of importance in my daily life, I find, to my surprise, that everything else is falling into place, at least psycologically, for me. I have discovered that I am happiest that way, and that my non-writing activity, if kept within reason, feeds my writing and vice-versa. I like to help at my children's schools in a supportive role only (not to organize anything), and to volunteer for local arts organizations and for my church. I like to work, too, now that my youngest is well established in school, but for now, I am happy with my temporary jobs that let me earn a bit of holiday money, and then let me get back to a life that allows the brain space necessary for creativity; my husband and I decided long ago that until our children are grown one stressed-out parent is enough for our household, thank you very much. I need exercise as a release and for my high expectations of personal health, but I don't need it to involve competition or time-consuming goals (at least not at present). I like to maintain my relationships as well as possible and am always striving to become a better listener and friend. If I were to make a pie-chart of all of these aspects of my life, it would be divided into about twenty pieces of varying sizes, which to another person might seem crazy, but to me, as long as I keep my priorities straight, seems right. I admit that I will have to eliminate some activities from time to time, but I feel like I finally have reached a place where things are working the way they are meant to, and it has taken a long time to get here. I have had so many odd notions about life that I have had to toss out the window. I used to think that 'real' writing was something one could only do if locked in a tower or secluded in a cabin for months on end with nothing else to think about, but now I know that just is not so (unless I get a really good idea for a novel - but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.)
Lately, when I crawl into bed after a full day, I pick up the latest novel I am reading - The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society these days - read a chapter or two and then go to sleep looking forward to the next morning's cup of coffee and fresh perspective. I know that whatever happens the next busy day, it just might be something to 'write home about'. And that is a very good feeling.