The Constant Convert
"Things are . . . O.K.," but I'm Ready to Care, Again
It may be that the hallmark of the modern moment is a certain demi-pleasurable drift—the timeless unspooling of information and entertainment on the Internet, Twittering, partial employment, life spans getting longer (even as the economy shrinks), no end to the reproductive years, midlife reinventions, TiVo-ing everything, four-day-week job furloughs—accompanied by a free-floating melancholy. If the last century crashed into the forces of urbanization, fragmentation and world war, this one seems to be on an endless murmuring skid. Things are . . . O.K. You know. They're O.K. Click, click. There's so much time, at least for some people, but it's filled with doubts about what, exactly, to do. We can often be a bit frictionless, here at the end of the first decade of the new century. When we're not feeling postapocalyptic, we hover, paralyzed by choice and what can seem a lack of final consequences.—Stacy D'Erasmo, The New York Times Book Review, June 27, 2010
D'Erasmo writes what may be the best description I've read of culture today, and puts into words a gut feeling I've had, but have been unable to express: "I'm O.K. Click, click," melancholy aside.
I embarked on motherhood in the year 2000, loving every pound I gained, kneading my bread dough by hand, and imagining all the songs I would sing to these children I had not yet had. I cooked my husband breakfast in the morning. I plucked the weeds from my garden. And occasionally, until my belly grew too rotund and then little fingers interfered with my bow, I still played the cello.
It's a good thing I began with such gusto, because I have counted on the inertia from my first swing at the plate to keep me going for all of these ten years, not without diminishing speed. One by one, certain cares of mine have fallen to the wayside. Purchased bread is a major convenience when one has five kids. The garden reproaches me every time I look out the window, but I'm O.K. Click, click. There was so much I had planned to do.
My cousin has a beautiful, clean home in a charming urban neighborhood with lots of fun restaurants. Sometimes, when I visit her, I struggle with envy. On a recent visit, I asked her how she manages to home school, cook delicious, mostly whole and organic meals, and still have clean baseboards.
"It helps to start with something new, or a fresh coat of paint," she said, "and then you just care enough to keep it up." I had hoped she'd admit to relying on some sort of wizardry that would put those clean baseboards out of my reach, like having a closet support staff or a weekly cleaning lady. Then I could chalk it up to her life being different than mine, or special, and I could go on not giving a rip about my baseboards.
But if the difference between her clean baseboards and my dirty ones, her home-cooked meals and my last minute improvisations is just a matter of choosing to care or not care, then I really have no right to my envy. I should not expect my baseboards, which in some corners of the house have not been addressed since we moved here, to look like hers.
And if I don't care about the foods going into my mouth, I can't really be surprised when the jeans are snug. Such has been the case since we returned from vacation. After a year and a half of watching my weight, I got tired of caring for a few weeks. The first two weeks, nothing really changed, and I started to think that after a lifetime of battling my hips, I could somehow now eat whatever I want and not gain weight.
But weight, like dirt, is tricky. The first few days or weeks, it can go unnoticed, and then suddenly, it's there . . . five pounds of it. And one either begins to care, immediately, slow down on the food, wipe up the dust, or one says, "I'll do it tomorrow," which really means, "not for a long time."
I remember a Confession I made many years ago, which was notable not for what I confessed, but for what the priest told me, which is that I need to care enough to come back to Confession frequently, and to examine my conscience every day. "If you sweep the floor often, the dirt doesn't have a chance to collect. And if you sweep it every day, it stays quite clean."
I've grown a bit tired of my slacker posture. Saturday afternoon, not looking at the clock until 6 P.M., and darn, I've missed Confession again. I look at pictures on Facebook or blogs of the beautiful meals other people are eating for dinner, and I smirk a bit to myself about how they haven't captured for all of posterity their child misbehaving, or a fight they've had with their spouse. No, they've captured the sun shining on their ethnic cuisine. Well don't they have it good? They must have their stuff together. I don't have my stuff together, but at least . . . I'm approachable—right? I'm O.K. Click, click.
And yet, by my apathy, I am nowhere near where I want to be. Who cares about whether or not I make my own bread or have a clean home? I do, actually. At least I once cared very much. I'm ready to start caring again.
Elizabeth Duffy is a freelance writer and author of the blog, "Betty Duffy." Her writing has appeared online at Faith and Family, the Korrektiv Press Blog, and numerous other venues. She and her husband live in rural Indiana with their five children.