I spent last Spring in a playground called New York City. My brother and sister-in-law had this great apartment in TriBeCa with huge windows and a doorman. As newly jobless, apartment-less, boyfriend-less- New York City felt like the perfect place to spend some time and get to know myself again. I had lost all of my “identifiers ” and it was time to get in touch and adapt. It was truly a treat staying there while I reconfigured what my life was going to look like. My brother spent most the week in Boston teaching at MIT and Estee worked full-time, so I had this great little cube in the city to myself a lot.
My only responsibility as a guest there was to walk the dog, Lilly. Lilly was cool. Sweet and low maintenance, she was happy to spend day after day sitting on top of the heater with me and looking out the window to life below. I wrote, read, and occasionally played music super loud and danced alone in the living room. (One day I danced “the Dougie” too hard and exhausted myself for a week) If anyone were watching from the building across the street, it would have been quite a show. Lilly sometimes barked at a dog below or a UPS man unloading boxes, but mostly we just watched. It was a perfect, small existence for me at that window. New York City had a way of making me feel intricately connected to the pulse of life, even though I was sick and on the outskirts, and my only participation was mostly observation from the 4th floor. I never felt isolated in New York. Sometimes I ended the day feeling like I had interacted with so many people and in fact I hadn’t actually talked to anyone. There’s something so involved there, that even as a spectator I felt implicitly a part. I would watch the people walking their dogs or babies in strollers, laughing or yelling on their cell phones, entering restaurants and hugging friends hello, and it all made me feel incredibly human again. I could watch life from that window all day and never get tired of the sights. And most days, that’s all I did.
I really had to get used to the “free time.” I know that sounds like an illegitimate complaint, but going from working to not was hard to navigate. To strangers it sounds fun..”You’re so lucky! You don’t have to work.!” But that’s kind of like telling someone in a wheelchair “You’re so lucky, you don’t have to walk!” Truthfully it can be extremely lonely and isolating having absolutely nothing but time on your hands, but possessing none of the means in which to do the things you used to. It took me a long time to adjust to not having a typical day schedule to follow. Such is life. We notice things more once they go missing.
It was surprising how responsible I had to be with my free time. You can’t just do nothing. Nothing is the gift you give yourself after you’ve done something. But if you’re not actually doing anything, the nothing part becomes completely sad. You have to be responsible. It occurs to me now how much security and diligence there was in my fulltime job. A schedule is basically simple. Follow the rules 5 days a week, get paid, go home. There are things you say in an office and things you don’t say. Wear and don’t wear. I worked at that gallery because that was the progressive step after college. It was safe there. I knew exactly what was expected of me and I was good at what I did. And on the 1st and 15th of every month I was paid 1,060 dollars for following the rules and doing my work dutifully. There was a time work began and ended. And there were two entire days a week you had to yourself. It didn’t matter what you did on those days. It only mattered that you showed up on the right days and were on time if not early. Then all that was left was following the rules. Performing tasks. I do miss the stability of that old life. The one where at least I felt like I knew what I was doing and where I was headed and what was coming my way. Now there is none of that routine or structure. There isn’t really anything expected of me now. No tasks to check off, no paycheck twice a month. There’s no real order, and it’s a strange thing to very quickly lose something like that. There is ease in order.
As easy as it is to complain about work, to dislike your boss or co-workers, there is something very essential in human beings that gets fulfilled in just getting dressed and going to work every day; contributing to the “whole” some way and getting paid to do it. Even if the work is mundane or repetitive. Even if your co-workers are punks or your boss is a turd-sandwich, there’s something gratifying about good old fashioned compensated labor. Life becomes pretty different without it.
Part of my biggest adjustment in getting sick has been surrendering to a schedule that I can’t control. I don’t know how I’ll feel one day to the next, what I’ll be capable of. I don’t know if Ill sleep at night for 12 hours or 10 minutes. (Or if I’ll be up at 2 am writing this blog like I am now) So in a very bizarre way, the illness has literally forced me to live one day at a time. One moment at a time. What am I capable of right now? OK, I’ll do that. It has become that specific. And I think after nearly two years of no “real” job and crashing my siblings couches, I am finally understanding and accepting life without schedule, rules, tasks, and order. Or what I was perceiving to be order. The funny thing is now I see that even in my highly organized, scheduled life, I still wasn’t in total control. It only felt that way. It looked that way. I still got sick. Life still “got to me.” My life is no more or less in control now than two years ago. It is truly, just perspective.
My brother Nick encouraged me to read while I had so much downtime, and that was good advice. Here I was writing all the time, but never reading what was done before me. And you need context in everything, especially literature. I still have a ton of reading to do, but I’m really glad I discovered the real joy of it. Growing up it always felt like labor– a requirement that didn’t interest me. Now I find real freedom in it. There is nothing like getting lost in a story. I admit it’s more fun to read than to write. There is anxiety in me sitting down to write. But there is total surrender in sitting down and investing in a story.
Anyway now that I didn’t have a schedule to adhere to or specific tasks to perform every day, I was now up to my own devices. I realize that sounds like a really spicy thing to say. But mostly it was me in and out of dreamworld on the couch or sitting on the heater, looking out that window, and drinking coffee with Lilly. Every once in a while we mixed it up. Like when I dressed her up in my hat.
Or put her in my laundry basket.
Or if it was a healthy day we’d walk to the piers and watch the joggers and boats.
As nice as our walks were, I think I was most content at that window. In general, I am happiest by windows. I gravitate in every house to the room with the most light. I like to see outside. Hopefully one day, I won’t be the girl at the window, but the participant outside. The subject of someone else’s observation. But truly, I ‘ve become happy with this spectator form of my life. I don’t think it will always be this way, but it has granted me a unique perspective. It has made me step back and examine. It’s given me stillness in a very fast world. Even sick in bed, I can still examine life, ask my questions, read and write for the answers. None of this could happen in my old busy life. There was simply no time for it. There was work during the week, and sick recovery on the weekends. Now I have a new kind of work. It doesn’t pay well (as in, it doesn’t pay) but my boss is cool (that’s me) and every day is “Bring Your Dog to Work” day. Maybe the best part is, I am never too far from a window. For me, for now, that is enough.
“Participate with joy in the sorrows of the world.” -J Campbell
Health, Happiness, Windows
My friend Gabe took this picture of me at the NY window at night. Thanks Gabe!