Has the image of the ideal woman ever etched itself into your creative imagination? The woman you would be “if only”...
If only…you had more time.
If only…or when…the kids are all in school, or out of the house.
If only…your husband received a sudden and unexpected raise and your annual income increased significantly.
If only…your house were bigger, cleaner…nicer.
If only…if only…if only!
What would you do? Who would you serve? Where would you volunteer? What types of dinners or play dates or get-togethers might you host at your house…if only.
What might you finally get around to creating or organizing or investing in (emotionally and tangibly)?
I sat in Tim Hortons last week on Saturday morning with a bag full of books and notebooks, my uncombed hair hidden beneath a baseball cap, sighing at the stains on my sweater (that I was just now noticing under the very bright lights) and trying to make the most of the two hours I had.
It was an early 6:45 a.m. Let’s be real, that’s a sacrifice (in my world!) on a Saturday morning when your husband and children are sleeping in and you would like to be as well!
But we had a busy weekend of house projects and kid stuff ahead of us and I was determined to squeeze in two hours of writing and journaling before it all began.
There was, unfortunately, a newly installed television blaring local news in the front corner of this Tim Hortons. The plastic seats were cold, the lights too bright, and the older man and his wife who eventually sat next to me spent several long minutes trying to figure out why they hadn’t gotten the muffin they ordered and then the employee hollering that their muffin was up on the counter. There was a dirty gas station next door and it was 16 degrees outside.
The space was anything but ideal…
I literally aloud laughed to myself as I sat down and tried my best to concentrate. I typed the word “ideal” into an online dictionary.
i·de·al [ahy-dee-uh l, ahy-deel]
noun- a conception of something in its perfection. -a standard of perfection or excellence.
adjective-conceived as constituting a standard of perfection or excellence: ideal beauty.-regarded as perfect of its kind: an ideal spot for a home.-existing only in the imagination; not real or actual: Nature is real; beauty is ideal.
It got me thinking…the morning, this un-ideal space for writing, that definition.
There might have been a time in my life when I was shooting for perfection…for a higher standard of excellence…in the tasks of my life. Like when I worked for a publisher and we needed to make sure the manuscript was in tip-top shape to move into production. Like when I was grading mid-term exams for 11th grade English students and there was a right or wrong answer to questions like, “What is the main character’s name in The Scarlet Letter?”
But in our day-to day-lives?
Taking care of a house and children and trying to work through the joys and challenges of a marriage and life in the midst of it all. It is SO much less straightforward than a test question, deadline or marketing report. Sometimes I find myself floundering to figure out what to do with that.
What happens to “ideal” when the realities of life kick in?
How about that idea to volunteer at church or a soup kitchen that sounded so good…ideally. Or those relationships that you want to invest more time in (neighbors, friendships, family members)…ideally. How about the exercise? The pursuing of passions or interests outside of the daily responsibilities? The get-togethers full of laughter with friends around a table…all things you want to fit into your life…ideally.
Things are so much less straightforward in our adult lives, in the “real” world, where ideal sometimes feels like an unfair expectation that always hovers far enough in front of me that I can see it, but never touch it. Ideal can make me discouraged.
I jotted these words in my journal after I read that definition of “ideal”:
“My life is not ideal…there is no time for ideal. That does not mean I am not happy, and that I cannot experience joy and gratitude…it simply means that I need not look at my idea of “ideal” before arriving at joy, or gratitude. I don’t mean to be cynical…I feel that this is actually part of maturing in our lives…part of become more “realistic” than “idealistic”.
What if we never have more time? More money? Those house additions or updates we’d like? Then what? Will you never write that book or that poem? Will you never try, even in the smallest way to pursue that dream you’ve tucked deeply away? Will you never engage with that family member or friend more deeply? Will you never start to do the things that you know, in your heart of hearts, matter to your kids and family: just being with them, praying with them more, laughing with them?"
If the “if onlys” never come true…does that mean the rest of it never comes true either?
I determined on Saturday morning to make the most of what I have...those two hours in an un-ideal fast-food coffee place. The house we live in. The wonderful man and beautiful children that beckon for me to see them, be with them and love them EVERY day. I determined to start letting go of my "ideal" and embracing the life before me more fully.
I’m currently reading a great book on writing called “The Right to Write”, by Julia Cameron (also author of The Artist’s Way). That morning, after I settled in and opened my coffee stained book (un-ideal for the woman who likes clean book pages, but after finding coffee spilled in my purse what was one to do?!) and read the title of the next chapter, “The Time Lie.”
Here’s what she said…truth that applies to all of life, not just the writing life.
“The myth that we must have “time”—more time—in order to create is a myth that keeps us from using the time we do have. If we are forever yearning for “more,” we are forever discounting what is offered…My life—and all the work I have made from my life—has been more like making a patchwork quilt than unfolding bolts of limitless serene silk…Years as a single mother, full-time teacher, and full-time fiction writer taught me to grab for time to write instead of wait for time. Grabbing is what I am doing right now. Grabbing works.”
So friends…I implore you…grab and create. Grab the scraps of time that are left over at the end of the day or in the early morning. Grab the moments in the car with (or without!) your kids and around the dinner table…Grab and try, in whatever little way you can, to do the things that God has placed on your heart to do.
Let go of the ideal and “if only” statements that are running through your mind. The same goes for me!
At the end of that journal entry I wrote a statement to myself…
”Let go of the ideal and make the most of what you have. Chances are you will find yourself happier in the process of life as you make the most what is in front of you rather than biding time frustrated and restless as you wait for your “ideal” to arrive.”
I think I might have to write that one down on a 3x5 card and post it on my fridge.