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Getting and Spending

October 10, 2011

If I have gained anything in the last couple of years since my life and house was taken over by a second pair of little feet, it is an awareness of my emotional state.

I never used to know how I felt. I just felt. There was some initial emotion buried down there, but then there were a bunch of other feelings piled on top: guilt, concern, fear. Mostly fear. Usually, I reacted badly when it felt like another hurdle popped up in my life, and yet I didn’t quite know what I was reacting to. I was only aware of the very top layer of things, not what was going on underneath. My emotional state was an enigma, and it skewed the world.

Lately, I have been working on uncovering the layers, digging deep into the rich soil of the bottom. I still react to the hurdles, to the pieces of Lego on the floor, but I can go backstage once in a while, figure out what’s really happening. Sometimes, it’s as simple as the question: “How are you feeling?” to help me simmer down and understand, hold myself a little more gently. In the past two years, I’ve learned that there are certain things that help me stay sane, feel good, not beat up on myself. Fish oil capsules, for one. (Magical.) And of course a decent amount of mental space, exercise, time to write. But I also need a spiritual outlet, a place where I can ask myself important questions and search for meaning without distraction.

Yesterday, in Quaker meeting, I found it. It didn’t last, of course. Later that day, I trudged from store to store in a strip mall for a bag of lettuce. But at least, for a little while, I had a place to reflect on why I’d felt so bogged down the past few days. I put a mental image to the way I was feeling—like blocks were weighing down my shoulders, stuck to the insoles of my shoes. I realized that all of the world felt like too much, that the heavy bags I carry to work on a daily basis are a symbol of the heavy bags I’m often carrying in my mind. The thing I’m trying to teach myself is how and when to let them go.

And then I thought of a poem by William Wordsworth, one I used to teach.

The world is too much with us, late and soon;

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.

My heart began the subtle pounding that means I’m supposed to share a message. (I hate when that happens.) My breath and voice became shaky, and I reluctantly stood up to try and untangle my thoughts, to share what we Quakers call ministry. (Ack.)

That poem came to me as a gift. I was feeling exactly what Wordsworth wrote—the world was too much with me, overwhelming me with its trivial concerns. The last few days of my life, the weekend, were supposed to be open and warm and replenishing, and yet they were filled with a series of tasks that felt taxing. I have a special disdain for the tasks of running a household, the endless, thankless, chores which bring so little joy.

Still, they need to get done:

We are out of toilet paper. And apple juice. And cheese. I need a new cartridge for our printer. Mr. B just got into my computer files and changed student grades. The tires on my car are old and unsafe. The kids need Halloween costumes. How did our credit card bill get so high? I can’t find my bra. How did I lose a bra? Mr. B is “cleaning” the table, which means I need to now clean the table. Someone (Husband) likes to use a new dish towel every time he walks into the kitchen. Someone else (Husband) likes to throw wet towels into the damp basement to see what kind of mold develops. Today is going to be 85 degrees, and I just put all the summer clothes up in the attic. I thought I needed new jeans. I bought new jeans. Now I hate those jeans.

I am so busy “getting and spending,” I lose the source of my power, the things that bring me pleasure and invigorate me: music, art, writing, walking through the city on a cool day. It’s simplicity that I crave, and yet it seems so scarce these days. (I also crave quiet, but the myriad barking dogs in my neighborhood have taught me that is a much too selfish desire.)

I couldn’t remember the end of Wordsworth’s sonnet, but the first too lines were important enough to help me out of my stupor. I realized that he, too, must have felt overwhelmed by his newly industrial world, so full of transactions, when all people really want is a bit of reverie.

When I got home, I looked up the rest of the poem. None of the lines were as inviting as the first two, and the rigid sonnet form doesn’t appeal to my modern sensibility. (If only those Romantics had known the beauty of free verse.) Still, his message—one that’s always resonated with me—is simple. Imagination is important, essential, for a healthy heart and mind. A flower or mythical story can bring us joy (dare I say, merriment?) amidst the drudgery that more often tends to fill our minds. Perhaps a little poetry or music, a letter to a friend, a rest in the sun, can make my trips to the supermarket less soul-sucking.

So I’m going to imagine, right here and now. Mmm. There she is, glittering in the breeze. A personal assistant. Oh, no. Seriously? She wants to make my kids’ lunches. She insists. “Okay, well, fine,” I say. “If you really want to.” Oh, wait, and…she wants…to stand at the deli counter and watch them slice two pounds of American cheese. Oh, you dear delightful fairy. And she says…she even wants to replace the toilet paper roll. And she’s pushing me toward the bedroom, where she’s prepared tea and chocolate cookies and spread out a vast array of books.

Dear God. I’m in Heaven. Thank you, William Wordsworth.


For your reading pleasure….

THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
          Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
          Little we see in Nature that is ours;
          We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
          The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
          The winds that will be howling at all hours,
          And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
          For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
          It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
          A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;                         10
          So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
          Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
          Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
          Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
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