August 17, 2012

an occasion

Yesterday, as I shared, was a very gloomy day, one of those days when you feel down in the dumps and unable to muster up energy for anything. Least of all, the things you should be doing... at least that's how it goes on my gloomy days. I am industrious and driven by nature. I like to stay productive, I like to accomplish goals, I like to keep on moving and get something done, and as many "somethings" as possible, if I'm being honest. "Gloomy" is not something you do - it is something you are. Gloom had moved me to the realm of "being," which remains less familiar territory for me, despite recent attempts at embracing this space.
After struggling in the gloom for a good portion of the day, dissatisfied and discouraged and dismal as could be, I finally hit upon something that sounded less-awful than anything else. A question I am learning to ask is "What do I feel like doing right now?" Another variation is "What sounds good to me right now?" Now, these may seem rather elementary, but I am usually the type to shoot these questions down. I tend to believe that this line of questioning will lead me down paths that are lazy, selfish, or unproductive - the very opposite  of what I like to be! Even asking the questions at all can seem, at first thought, like extremely dangerous territory. I prefer to ask "What should I be doing right now?" But all my "doing" has no place in those moments when "being" is all you can do, like on my gloomy Thursday.

So I decided to let myself ask the question. "What do I feel like doing right now?" Like a bored teenager, I shot down about a hundred suggestions for myself before I finally heard that I was hungry - I had not eaten in several hours. Nothing sounded good, of course, but I kept asking questions, until finally, something clicked. I had some fancy crackers and a jar of apricot chutney I picked up at a market recently. But my internal battle continued: "You are saving those for future company! It is only a Thursday afternoon and you are eating alone! You shouldn't waste them on yourself." It is another common pitfall, one that I have been working to avoid for a little bit longer in my life: the desire to save joy, whether moments or things, for a later, better time. But what if I can make now a better time?? I fought my negative instincts and decided that now was as good a time as any to make an occasion for myself. 

My occasion had no particular purpose, except that I could really use an occasion. As I opened my crackers and apricot chutney, I remembered that I had a wedge of Brie cheese in the fridge, and some blueberries, and some freshly-brewed rhubarb green iced tea. I grabbed the book I was reading, Willa Cather's novel A Lost Lady (a great suggestion from Chris, which I finished reading as a part of my "occasion"), and one of my lovely vintage linen napkins, another usually-only-for-guests indulgence. As I sat and ate my simple but fancy lunch, I felt myself settle and soften a bit. The gloom did not let up outside my window - it continued to hover in the corners of our home and in the corners of myself, as well. But my small occasion was a way of nurturing the light inside, and a gift, from myself, to myself, which I desperately needed. 

I believe in this practice of "making occasions." I adore the concept of the "un-birthday" coined by Lewis Carroll, and I believe in the magic that an "occasion" can add to your life. Do you believe you are worth an "occasion?" How often? Under what circumstances? I am not referring to lazy indulgences, or to binge behaviors, or to a constant stream of selfish choices. Instead, what I am suggesting is an investment in oneself the way one might invest in a guest. How much lovelier are the many small moments in life when a candle is lit, or a cup of tea or coffee sipped, or a vase full of flowers scents the room? And while an occasion might not be able to eliminate the gloom, it might just help you move through it. What occasion can you create today? I hope you will give yourself this gift sometime soon, this practice in the "art of being": an occasion of your very own!


  1. We are living separate lives, but it amazes me how parallel they can be. My form of the question is "What do I want to do right now?"
    When Ryan was gone for a week being the assistant chef at the Summer Forum (a one week residency that our friend created where people from all over the country come together to dialogue about readings centered on a theme) I had a lot of time alone and this question was one of the most beautiful, invigorating happenings that came out of it. One day this question led me to a spontaneous solo road trip to Santa Cruz along the ocean with stops at a beach, forest, and berry farm.

    I too tend to always expect myself to be productive. One thing that helps me slow down and just be is to paint my nails - this forces me to quit doing doing doing and to be still while they dry. Also, I love the saying "Don't should on yourself" - priceless!

    I am glad you were able to be kind to yourself on your gloomy day. People don't often give themselves permission to do this, but everyone needs kindness, especially from themselves.

    Love you and love your blog!

  2. Jan-

    Great quote! So happy you, too, are embracing chances to practice self-care! And I agree: home manicures are one of my favorite indulgences... I tend to think of it more in terms of outcome (lovely nails to look at for several days to come, to help me feel fancy) but I agree that I probably gain as much or more from the simple act of slowing down through that process. :)