April 2018

Saturday, July 23, 2016


I’m spending four days at home on a staycation. I’m on day three. It’s fabulous. Fatigue was really getting me down. I over-worked this school year and had believed that because I’m not taking classes this summer I would recover my energy, but I’m six weeks into summer, and I’m still sleeping a lot and feeling worn out in general. Even the idea of going out with friends just makes me think of when I can take my nap. This is a bummer.

Though I don’t take on nearly as much as I did before my tumors (nine and six years ago), I still take on a lot for a person with my energy—sometimes too much. Today, I was supposed to go to Tacoma for a training on supporting immigrants to this area, but the ride fell through and transportation got complicated, causing me to take a breather and decide on a staycation.

I haven’t had a staycation since childhood, if then. I have been all about packing as many things in my day, as excellent suitcase packers can get a lot in the luggage, all my life. (I learned this value at my childhood camp, Camp Seafarer in NC, an excellent camp, but unlearning this value has been slow.) After all, I need to distinguish between living a full life and overdoing it, and that distinction isn’t easy for me.

I began learning this lesson when I was 24 years old, in my second summer after beginning to teach high school. I had volunteered with Amigos de las Americas, working on a “health project” (building latrines) in rural Michoacan, Mexico. I was stunned one day when, as a skinny white girl, I worked to dig a six-foot hole into hard ground, and six strong guys who lived there sat close by the hole and watched me work. At the end of the summer, when groups of volunteers that had been spread across rural town in the Michoacan mountains came together to reflect on our experiences, I shared only a fragment from Simon and Garfunkel:
Slow down, you move too fast.
You got to make the morning last.
Just kicking down the cobble stones.
Looking for fun and feelin' groovy
I remember someone asking me if I wanted to elaborate further. I didn’t then, but I will now. I understood then that the people in that community valued something I hadn’t even known I was missing: down time spent alone or with friends and family, what my niece Gretchen taught me was called “Chillaxin’.” I have since learned that unplanned and unproductive time is important spiritual and creative space.

I say I’ve learned that, but I really keep learning it over and over, which is to say that I have an intellectual concept of the importance of chillaxin’, but it hasn’t really become part of who I am. I’m in some ways a person who still believes that “idle hands make the devil’s work” and that “I should not put off until tomorrow what I can do today.” (From time to time, I do tell myself not to do today what I can put off until tomorrow, but this wisdom is countercultural and comes infrequently.)

I learned more of this lesson from friends in a small, rural, Salvadoran town who told me the story of a U.S. volunteer they had met in their years in Honduran refugee camps. They told me that she never stopped working, and she never laughed. In this way, they knew that she would leave them soon.

So these few days, I’ve been chillaxin’. It’s work for me, and I’ve needed to set up guidelines: no work for school (though I did break down and watch an NPR clip about dementia and poetry, which led to reading about another group); no writing (though on day three I feel like writing this, so I am—I’m trying to distinguish between duty and fun, and this is fun); no appointments (though I did schedule a massage for a couple of weeks from now: that seemed an appropriate exception), no exercise that I have to push myself to do (though I have done yoga each day and went for a walk with Ann one day.) I haven’t even been social (except that Ann and I had Annabella and her younger daughter Trish over for lunch when Trish was in town); I also haven’t done anything out of the house that might seem edifying (though last night Ann and I went to the Sound Theatre production’s The Last Days of Judas Iscariot); I’ve relinquished informative non-fiction for now, and am reading memoirs instead.

It’s just not always clear what’s chillaxin’ and what’s workin’. Maybe I should make this a research project and work towards publication…or maybe I should just have a cookie.

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