nostalgia

Nostalgia: “A sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past.” Or, if you’re me today, for television shows that ended. (The West Wing.) For graduate school. (Course work, coffee, days buried in novels, dinners with smart, smart friends.) For career paths not taken, but imagined and then cast aside. Nostalgia to the point of panic.

Does this ever happen to you? Is it my Achilles heel, this oversentimentalization?

How do you know you’re making the right choices?

Sometimes I think I should have been a speech writer for Bartlet. Or, you know. Obama. That I’m smart enough. That if I had just known early enough. Sometimes the shine I see on my (truly gorgeous) life falls away and I think: I’m wasting it.

Because who finishes a PhD and then jumps ship to change diapers all day and try to pry open frozen 2001 van doors in -10 degree weather?

And because yesterday, Bram told me he was mad at me for not making milkies. He wanted to nurse and J wasn’t here.

And because my house is cold and my activism is so local it rarely makes it out my front door.

Most days I think: this is activism. Nurturing, deep nurturing. In this world: that is activism. But today I wonder how it would feel to draft language for the State of the Union. To feel important to someone with the language skills and the comprehension needed to express that importance. It is absurd, but there it is.

I have a couple of options for the next year or two, but I don’t have time for both. You tell me what to do.

Option 1. I’ve been encouraged to run for the position of communication’s officer in my union. It has a stipend that might, just barely, cover the few hours of childcare I would need to pull it off. It would give me the chance to spend three solo hours working at a coffee shop a week (when school’s in session). It would be one way back in to a form of activism (organizing) that I believe in. And it would allow me to connect with people in the community who might have suggestions to offer when, one day, I find myself ready for a full-time career again.

But Option 2. A few months back, I started a novel. And I haven’t gotten very far yet because: No childcare. Short naps. Teaching. The short hours between their bedtime and when I stop functioning are already too full, and I don’t multitask well. At all. What I have, though, is an instinct that it’s worth writing. That it’s a story worth telling. And that I’m the person to tell it. In a perfect world, J would find the right new job, and I would sit a couple of semesters out from teaching, and I would try. Try to write it. Get it out there. See what comes. Which may, of course, be nothing. But which may be a whole new path. Which could – even if only in the most remote of possible future worlds – lead to me being a writer. Of novels. A mama and a writer. A person who didn’t forsake her career to raise babies, but who faithfully put that career on hold and found – lo! – that all along the thing she was supposed to do was just waiting patiently for her to arrive.

But there’s no tiny stipend to that. No money for a sitter. And it won’t help me network. And it will only be of service if anyone ever reads it, and there is every likelihood that no one ever will.

And I don’t multitask well, so I know that I need to choose.

What would you do? I mean, if the job of Toby Ziegler was already taken. What would you do if you were me?

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10 thoughts on “nostalgia

  1. I think that you are probably a very different person from me, but I will venture a comment. I get the feeling from your writing that option 2 is the one that excites you the most, or fits best with the ideal you have of yourself. However, option 1 is more practical for now.

    So my question for you is does option 2 have to happen now? Will it still be there for you next year if J does get that perfect job or circumstances change?

    If doing it later is a possibility, then I would choose option 1 for now. This is because I have noticed a pattern in my life of the more utilitarian choice leading to wonderful opportunities that I would have never even thought of. However you sound like the sort of person who gets satisfaction out of the chasing of dreams, and there is value in that.

  2. I will leave the advice to those who are wiser, what I do know is that you are the best mama ever, and when you listen to your instincts your usually right on.

  3. option 1, because option 2 will be there when you are out of the parenting weeds and can really take the time to craft–option 1 will get you just enough out of the houseness and coffee and conversations with smart, smart friends, and activism that goes somewhere and money to more or less pay for itself. But I’m an extrovert, so of course I choose the chattier choice.

  4. Okay, I say go with option 1 — I know what you mean about missing the smart conversations and being engaged in the broader world. This sounds like a good way to have access to that in a small way that doesn’t compromise the life at home you love so much and are so well suited to. But don’t give up on your novel — work on it in bits and pieces, writing a phrase here or some notes there. You will be surprised by how much you accomplish. If my own experience pursuing various projects is any indication, you would probably have a hard time making your novel what you want it to be right now without big chunks of time to think (not to mention the guilt of neglecting other things you could/should be doing or the crabbiness that comes from trying to fit too much into an already full day), but those times are coming. The kids will get older and they will play by themselves for longer and longer periods of time. They will be happy and content and create amazing worlds with each other and won’t need you to be a part of it (which is a little sad, but also as it should be and quite fun to witness). You will suddenly find some unclaimed time that you can use to think big thoughts and pursue real work. It isn’t the same as the grad school/coffee shop days (I mean you will get 45 minutes, not 4 hours), but after years of such intensive parenting, it is enough.

  5. Which option gives you butterflies? That one. If neither do then I say option #1. My impression is that you are hungry for collaboration and connection. #2 is pretty solo and maybe #1 feeds/leads into #2. I also think Erica is pretty smart and right on. Whatever you choose will be brilliant.

  6. I would do both. And that choice has clear downsides of not having quite enough time to do anything the way I want to do it, and feeling stressed and stretched. But for me, the value of saying yes and doing new things, finding new paths, outweighs the downsides.

  7. Oh, you are not the only one re: nostalgia. I sometimes think about my grad school days with a kind of pain, too. All that TIME.

    Your comments here are wise. My two bits is pretty much what Erica says. Does #1 cancel out #2? I wouldn’t think so. The novel that you are meant to write will get written, even if it’s in small bursts for now. I obsess about writing and motherhood – the impossible balance, or, how to find time for the former. Especially given that we both lack the luxury of more funds and more childcare. And even teaching one or two classes eats all the extra time. Here’s what I have figured out so far: there is time. But not every day. And when I choose writing (for 30 minutes, for two blessed hours) I am not doing things that I “should” do, like cooking/bills/cuddling kids, or I’m giving up watching an episode of something with my wife. So I don’t always choose to do it, but I do find ways to slip it in, and when that’s what I’m doing, that’s ALL I’m doing for that window.

    I wish we could talk about this over coffee because I have more to say, but anyway, point is, you can do both. Only that noveling will be the slower path. Until such glorious day when everyone is old enough and you can take two weeks for a writing residency and you finish the whole draft… (Can you tell I dream about this?)

  8. I will leave the advice to the wise folks before me – lots of good stuff in those comments. I will, however, answer the question of “nostalgia to the point of panic” with a resounding yes.

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