Clean Slate

In September I buy a new calendar. It’s a habit left over from years of going to school, and later of working in schools. In September the schedule changes, life shifts into overdrive, and time must be managed and arranged rather than simply experienced. At least, that’s the way it used to be.

In reality, things won’t be very different for me this month than they have been for the past three months. But I’m not sure my brain understands this, because something keeps waking me up in the middle of the night, agitating me, poking me, inciting me to get up and get moving because time is a-wastin’. Even though my new fall calendar pages are about as empty as my old summer calendar pages were, my head is filled with lengthy lists, all those things I planned to accomplish this summer, most of which I didn’t. They are nagging me now, wagging their reproachful fingers in my face.

Don’t be fooled with all my recent talk about living in the moment and accepting things as they are, about being patient and present, about living a more mindful and grateful life. Those are wonderful and admirable things, and for about five minutes of every day I catch a glimpse of myself in the act of one or the other of them. It’s rather like walking down the street and seeing your reflection in a store window, wondering for a moment who that very attractive woman might be before realizing it’s only you in your Sunday best, looking all spiffed up for a change.

For most of the time, I’m the same person I’ve always been. I fritter away precious time with things that don’t matter and then reproach myself for my lack of accomplishment. I get impatient with people who don’t see things my way, or behave the way I expect them to. I want more than I have, even though I know I already have more than enough of everything I need. I worry about those blank squares on my calendar pages, wondering if I’ve pared my life down farther than I should.

These are the thoughts that wake me at 4:00 a.m.

Or 3:00 a.m.

Or sometimes even 2:00 a.m.

I know better than to let myself be ruled by these kinds of thoughts, especially now when there really is no good reason for their existence. My life is enviable by any standards, and certainly by my own which have always touted time and independence as major priorities for happiness.

But standing still is not in my nature, so perhaps what I’m feeling is less nagging over what’s undone than a nudge toward forward motion. “The best remedy for anxiety is concrete action.” How often I forget that sometimes I have to get out of my head and actually live in the real world. Grab a pencil and fill in the blank spots on my calendar, one activity, one action, one event, one moment at a time. Go for a walk, a bike ride, a yoga class. Get a haircut, get some groceries, make some meals. Play the piano. Write. Read.

It doesn’t have to be like Septembers of old, in the days of juggling two jobs and three musical groups along with the responsibilities of family and home. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

It doesn’t have to be perfect.

It can just be one thing, one baby step, one calendar square at a time.