I'm a project person. I have the type of mind that only releases its anxiety after I make sure the checkboxes are filled in on my daily TO DO list. Throughout my incarnations as a filmmaker, mother, graduate school student, therapist and non-profit administrator, I've achieved varied amounts of success with this coping skill. The completed items on my lists laid the pathways for my ambitious quests for vertical advancements on a spiral stairwell fueled by a need for upward mobility. When my ideologies changed and I became enveloped by the need to learn how to become (and teach my teenage daughters to become) self-sustaining, my lists lead me out of the city and settled me on my current rural hot bed of activity. Equipped with realistic expectations learned from years of self-guided mental regulation, I now find myself with daily lists that rival an incumbent presidential candidate, without the staffers for delegation.
Oh, what to do? Or what not to do is the real question. It's early summer in Vermont. School is ending and summer planning has begun. The garden is 90 percent planted and is currently under seige by cucumber beetles, ants and weeds. Requests for coverage at my per diem job at the local mental health hospital could employ me 7 days per week if I wanted. My GSD dog is shedding his winter coat and his furry tumbleweeds are rolling around the cool concrete floors of my house. The meat chickens are getting dangerously large and the layers are beginning to realize how super exciting it would be to fly over their run's fence and become free-range explorers. The exterior of our newly built house needs a second coat of Linseed Oil and we have a retaining wall to build (an item which fell off of a list while we were under construction). The tall grasses in the meadow are overcoming my fledgling fruit trees. Sigh.
As I sit here to gather my thoughts and gather steam to finish the garden, I ponder the true power behind my To Do Lists. Has the foundation for my tried and true path to accomplishment become my tormentor? Truthfully, after one year, I am now embracing the reality that learning how to become self-sustaining is, no doubt, the most challenging path in life I have yet chosen. To do for oneself takes time and effort and the learning curve rivals the size of the Milky Way. I never finish all of the daily items on my lists, not because I choose to skip them, but because items 1-3 take about 5 times longer than I had budgeted. I'd be lying if I said that I haven't fantasized of the ease of city life where I worked one 9-5 job, my daughters walked themselves to school and my family enjoyed rambling week ends filled with a balance of fun and chore. That is, until I walk outside of my mind's bubble and focus on the sound of wind rustling through the white pines, causing their teardrop leaves to dance with joy. I see the blue robin's egg safely nestled into the pile of straw that we abandoned in the field, distracted by some other task that took precedence. I watch my furry, golden dog rolling around in the grass, unharnessed and free, and I remember why we are here.
Although the most difficult path I have yet chosen, learning to become self-sustaining is teaching me how to re-balance my strengths and fight the fear that shields my weaknesses. It's teaching me to be active in my life, both emotionally and physically. Every day, I learn something new, usually unexpectedly and through experimentation (I just learned that onion skins and radishes deter cucumber beetles….yahoo), usually from an activity that never even made it onto the daily list. Creative minds are always churning and new tasks are always arising. I've never felt more alive… as I learn to unharness my self and deviate from my self-created, static lists of expectations.