Is a clean slate really what we want?
In theory, it’s beautiful, it’s poetic—a blank page. Time to write a new story. But as a writer, I’m here to say, sometimes the blank page is anxiety-inducing. It’s just nothing but white space and a blinking cursor, counting the seconds that pass without anything to say. It’s like a metronome for every writer’s worst fear, and you know how it goes when you put the pressure on: It becomes even harder to deliver.
This is true in life, too, isn’t it? In the rush toward my kids’ winter break, I felt that same beat, the counting-down, demanding I deliver something. It was cookies and teacher gifts and making sure my kids made it on time to two different rehearsals in two different locations. I kept thinking, after this, my time will be free. After this, we’ll be wide open.
Then, the Monday I was waiting for came. My husband was at his office, my kids were at school, and I had, essentially, nothing but time to myself. There were no pressing deadlines, no chores to check-off. I poured a coffee, I crawled into my chair by the fireplace, I waited for the sun to crest the mountains and scatter rainbows out of my Christmas ornaments onto the living room walls.
And after about five minutes of that, I went completely nuts.
Classically an introvert, I’m not one to squander alone time. I sense the importance, the productivity of journaling, reading, being with oneself and sitting in one’s own thoughts. But life doesn’t lend itself to daily introspection at this capacity, and evolutionarily speaking, one must adjust. Like any other over-achiever, despite any quieter tendencies, I find a way to make the impossible schedule a reality; and like any modern-day woman, I create the additional pressure of doing so while also serving up all-organic snacks and making sure I put on real pants more days than I opt for yoga leggings. That’s the expectation.
But by basic laws of physics, when a moment of peace arrives, and it all comes to a screeching halt, there’s a lot of leftover force that’s going to catch up and slam into you, pushing you a little further than your originally-intended resting place.
That’s what happened to me that Monday. Twiddling my thumbs wasn’t enough, so I started making up things to do. I opened up the Reminders app on my computer and just started adding things to the to-do list, the shopping list, the reminders list, the home repairs list. And as I started panicking over everything that I suddenly had to accomplish, I settled into a sort of masochistic serenity. There was familiarity in the stress, and that felt good.
When we start a new year, it’s the same. Twelve months, 52 weeks, 365 days of schedule-able time stared at me from their little calendar slots, and I cannot rest until I know what will live in each one. While people are cleaning out their closets, I think, but I already did that. I added it to my ‘home chores’ list on that Monday I had nothing to do. When everyone is planning their upcoming vacation, I think, but I had to schedule out travel six months ago when the school calendars were released and before my husband could book too many work trips. There are resolutions and lofty self-promises that, for those of us constantly trying to fill up our time, are just a basic Tuesday’s to-do list.
A brand-new calendar year is the penultimate blank page, and time’s ticking away is life’s cursor taunting you to hurry-up and get your brilliance out. So, I ask you again: Is a clean slate really what you want?
Call it self-preservation, or maybe it’s just reverting to those primal instincts, but something inside of me shuts down in January. I’m not kidding—I wrote this column in mid-December, preparing for the darkness I knew I would crawl into. I am not motivated to renovate a bathroom space, and I do not care to give up leftover Christmas candy for the hot new diet plan. No, in January, I give up on the real pants thing, I stay in bed a little too long, I make it a point to sit in the corner chair and actually read the book and enjoy it, damn it. It is a gift to myself to wallow in that holiday let-down and try to figure out, at the start, how to just be. Forget wiping the slate clean. I just fester in the mess of it. I let the messiest parts of life pile up around me and remind me that I’m a human. All that force behind me has time to settle, like the little dust piles on my piano I insist on ignoring. It’s in the messy space—not the clean space—that I can,