Tag Archives: Zen

The Space Between Things

Last weekend, the Cool Kids were hanging out in the deep end of my pool. Floating there on foam noodles and drinking wine out of plastic cups with girlfriends–a little hour in heaven. Wise Heather shared the news that her new job was pretty much a done deal. Good for her, but sad for us who were hoping that she would work someplace close enough to meet for lunch.

I asked, “Is the drive going to bother you?” and she dropped a truth bomb: “It’s nice to have 30 minutes in between BAM and BA BOOM to think my own thoughts.” Ain’t that the truth?

She got me to thinking about the space between things, the moment when we’re going from Point A to Point B (and if you’re like me, using that time to anticipate out all possible problems that might arise between Points C – ZZ). I think my days have left me short of breath lately because I’ve shoved more and more work and worry into the space between things.

This little gem floated into my Facebook feed last week: tumblr_n74fyou6W81r0sn0fo1_1280

Well, hell. I haven’t observed Items 1-4 since my kids were born. Trying to, but…damn. I pride myself on answering emails while I’m on the phone and checking Facebook while I’m walking the long way to a meeting so that my Fitbit will approve of me. Multitasking is supposed to be a good thing, right?

Not so much. Not when it’s ALL THE TIME.

Today at 4:55 p.m., while I adjusted user permissions on a site and posted news stories and sent an optimization idea to the developer and questioned the life choices that have led me to use words like “optimization,” I also texted G to see who was picking up Vivi from day camp. Ding! He was already on the way. OK, I could get a feeeeeeew more things done before fetching Carlos.

But I made the mistake of glancing at my desk calendar and seeing BLOGHER in big yellow letters next week. NEXT WEEK? Shit, I need business cards. So I flip over to a website to design and order something fresh and amazing that’s going to be The Ticket To Next….but the logo I want to use isn’t the right dimension and the website warns me that my design will have “possible white space.” No worries. I can fix it with some clever cropping in this other application over here…

Next thing I knew, I looked up and it was 5:25 p.m. and the Mom Guilt kicked in. “Please don’t let my baby be the last one waiting in the room, sitting over in the book corner while the teacher mops the floor.” I grabbed phone off the charger, chugged down the last of my 100 oz of filtered water, slapped the Fitbit to see how many blinky dots I racked up, sighed in disappointment, shoved the stack of bills that I meant to pay on my lunch break back in my purse for another day, I turned to the whiteboard behind my desk and crossed of ONE DAMN THING from the long list, even though I kept the hammer down for the last seven hours, since I got to work after my early morning dentist appointment for a filling.

I turned out the lights and locked up the office, Mom Guilt squeezing my chest until there’s no room for breath. Turned left to take the stairs and walked past the scale that stands in the hall. Checked the Fitbit again. In the stairwell, I held on to the railing because no one would find me there if I slipped and fell. Last one leaving. Then the “You’re going to die alone!” fears stop in to say hello because why not? All my kids will remember is that they were the last ones picked up from daycare and the smell of mop water will trigger depression for the rest of their lives. As I stepped out into the sunlight, I tallied all the phone calls I need to make…that I never seem to have time to do. Like to check on my own parents.

Two minute walk to the car. Just enough time to catalog all the things I meant to achieve between last year’s BlogHer and this year’s. And I forgot to lose fifty pounds. AGAIN.

Got in the car and the gas light came on. I need to find a way tomorrow to drive across town to the place where I can save 50 cents a gallon on gas with my fuel points. That’s like eight bucks. That matters.

It’s a three minute drive to get Carlos. The first thing I see is a note taped on his cubby, and it’s not just a note, it’s a note with a STAPLE in the corner, a multi-page record of his transgressions. He’s been fine for months…now this shit AGAIN in the last month before he starts Pre-K.


He beams to see me and gives me a gigantic hug. Four other kids line up to get hugs, because I make time for that. As we make our way to the car, the weight of the note makes me think that I should start the “Good Choice/Bad Choice” speech and break it to Carlos that he’s not going to have screen time tonight, but part of me just wants to have a few minutes of happy with my happy kid while he’s actually happy instead of immediately talking about that time six hours ago when he was angry.

Where is the space between things for a working mother? In music, it’s called a rest. In painting, it’s the negative space. In graphic design, white space. Where is the space between things that gives me room to breathe? That, in its emptiness, gives the heart a place to stand in order to see the life as I’m living it?

Sometimes when I find myself standing in front of the refrigerator, foraging for junk, I realize that what I’m really hungry for is a big gulp of breath. A heaping plate of rest. A space. A pause.

Know what I’m saying? What do you do to maintain the space between things?

IRONIC POST SCRIPT: I looked up the principle of “the space between things” in art. The Japanese have a word for it, and that word is…………..”Ma.” I guess my kids have been yelling at me about theories of Japanese spatial design for all these years.

Why You’ll Never See a Lumberjack Wearing a Fitbit

I’ve been so active today that I’m already feeling sore. I’m sore at my Fitbit for jerking me around.

This morning, I spent over an hour down by the river working on my brush and ivy clearing project. Squatting, pulling out ivy by the roots, tugging it out of trees, hauling limbs to the river and chucking them in. The weather was so nice and it felt so good to be moving around that I decided that it was time to get rid of the two dead trees that have fallen over but are stuck on the bank.

So Carlos and I adventured out to Lowes and walked all over the place looking before I chose just the right axe. While the kids played inside the fence and Huck patrolled the bank for deer scents, G and I took turns whacking away at the dead beech tree. Those first chips flew into the air and the THWACK of my mighty axe blows echoed up and down the river. LOOK HOW FIT I AM!!!

It was easy going for the first few inches of tree because that part had been rotting for a while. Then we hit the center–that shit was HARD. Now I understand why they use beech to make railroad ties. (Yes, I looked that up.) G went back in the house for a saw. I was picturing a handsaw but he came back down the hill with a little reciprocating saw. Best used for cutting out keyholes and finger sandwiches. I fought not to roll my eyes. (I sure do sound like my parents’ daughter at this point, mocking my city-born man for his choice of blade.)

Big Stump, Calavaras Grove, California - Watkins, photographer Identifier: 104 Collection: Frank B. Rodolph Photograph Collection Album 2 : BANC PIC 1905.17147-PIC Contributing Institution: The Bancroft Library. University of California, Berkeley.

Big Stump, Calavaras Grove, California
The Bancroft Library. University of California, Berkeley.

But damn if we didn’t–with a combination of me on the axe, G on the nail file, a 4×4 used as a wedge under the chopped part and some ill-advised hopping up and down while perched on the part that tilted out over the river–get that tree snapped in two and tumbled into the water for the fish to nibble!

G cut down a couple of little scraggly cedars and some privet before the reciprocating saw said, “Take me Jesus, I’m done.” He went back to the house while I continued my fight with the English ivy. Seriously, I used to think that stuff was lovely, but now that it has taken over my river bank, I am looking into whether our neighborhood covenants will allow a goat.

After two hours of lumberjacking and full contact gardening, I came back in the house and synched my dongle. (You Fitbitters will know what I’m talking about –the rest of you will think perverse thoughts.)

Guess what? As I sat there with my back muscles aching and my thighs screaming, Fitbit was like, “Yeeeeeeaaaaaah, girl, that’s good for you and all, but I’m about THE STEPS. Sorry.” It blinked two little piddly-ass lights at me (4000 steps). Oh, but my dashboard DID give me a pat on the head for TWO VERY ACTIVE MINUTES. I’m guessing, since we’re going based on steps, that those were the two minutes it took me to walk down the hill with my tools and then drag my tired butt back up the hill after hours of effort.

I’m not giving up. After the kids were in bed tonight, I walked myself up to the movie theater and my Fitbit went CRAZY. It was all, “Now you’re STEPPING!”

There’s a Zen proverb that comes to mind:

Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.

After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.


Finding our goal isn’t something separate from everyday life. It’s the tasks of every day that help us get there. Enlightenment doesn’t happen on just the right yoga retreat and fitness doesn’t happen because my wrist tells me so.

Even when we reach the goal, we still have to take care of the daily tasks that keep us living. I can’t walk to the movie (YAY!) then eat a tub of popcorn (BOO!). The path is never something outside your life. It is your life.

Work’s not valuable because the Fitbit can measure it. Work is valuable because now I can sit on a clear spot and appreciate the miracle of having a river in my back yard.