The Level Ground

It’s interesting to me how many areas of my life are intersecting during this season – one of the side effects of so much introspection, I suppose. I’ve been reading a book that Kristin recommended, Writing from the Inside Out, by Dennis Palumbo. As a former Hollywood screenwriter and current psychotherapist, Palumbo has a unique insight into the writer’s life, and I have found this book very useful on many fronts.

He talks a lot of going the distance with writing, of not being in it for the rewards, but rather, for the craft itself. In a section he titled, “Inspiration,” Palumbo paraphrased author George Leonard from his book, ‘Mastery’ –

Leonard contends that the peaks of achievement, whether in the arts, sports, or any area of endeavor, come from a love of the day-to-day practice of the thing. Because the truth is, in any consistent endeavor, you spend most of the time not on the peaks but on the level ground, where you rarely see any noticeable improvement. If you just live for, or get pleasure from, the peaks, you never grow. Love the craft, the practice of your art, and the peaks will come.

There are many monotonous aspects to being a stay at home mom. Many days my time consists of coloring, cartoons, time-outs, and poop – things that don’t exercise the brain, but definitely exhaust it. Sometimes – even though there are more bright moments to being a mom that I can count – it’s difficult to stay motivated under piles of laundry.

Three weeks ago I wrote about a new routine I was trying out, and so far it’s been going well. I think it’s the perfect ratio of tasks to white space, because I’ve had busy days where I’ve had to shuffle things around but I’ve still managed to get it all done by the end of the week. Busy days and projects are my biggest distractions to the mundane tasks because I’d rather re-organize a closet than wash that same damn pair of pants again.

When I read the above passage in Palumbo’s book, it resonated strongly with me concerning the day to day chores of my life as well as with my writing life. It is true that life is lived on the level ground. Sometimes we despair, and sometimes we soar, but we always come back to level. At least we hope.

Having my work defined has freed me to live more in the moment, to have fun, and to adjust for spontaneity (yes, Bryan, I can hear you laughing from the basement – you can say you told me so). It has even allowed me to find a little bit of joy and sense of accomplishment in the mundane. Having a vacuumed rug, a clean bedroom, and a pleasant smelling bathroom is very rewarding.

And it means that when Ruthie, who has turned into a chatterbox overnight, relays stories and memories of her trip to the children’s museum on a bus with Bryan (because she sees a bus driving in the lane next to us), I am amused and in awe of her memory and vocabulary and ability to communicate her thoughts and make connections. I don’t turn up the radio and ask her for quiet time, but I engage. Because I’m learning to embrace the level ground, I am discovering peaks in places I once dreaded.

And even now as I’m writing this essay, I recognize the significance of this passage in my Recovery – especially when it says that the level ground is ‘where you rarely see any noticeable improvement.’ It’s like spending every day with your children, not realizing how much they are growing because you have no perspective. Then one day their pants are too short, or you stumble across an old picture, and you suddenly see them differently, and you realize they are bigger.

Recovery is a lot like that. Just when I think I haven’t changed a bit and I will always live in a funk of bitterness and anger, I read an old post or some notes in my recovery journal or a friend reminds me of how things used to be, and I suddenly have perspective. I see that I have changed.

The level ground is where it’s at, people. I’m convinced of it. The sturdier the ground you’re standing on, the stronger the rush when life peaks.

3 thoughts on “The Level Ground”

  1. Hi Jen,
    I don’t comment very often but I read regularly. Thanks for this post. It says so much of what I am experiencing personally. Thanks for keeping writing – I find great value in what you put out for us to read.

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