This year is coming to a close. It's getting to be time for me to wrap up this year's practice, and come up with a new one—if I am going to have one. I'm not sure it makes sense, and I'm not sure it doesn't. The first year I wrote my Never Done blog, I found it to be an enormously meaningful experience. I linked every day, each new activity, to the middot (mides) that it related to, or of the week we were focusing on. I crafted essays that held together as little gems of writing (or I aspired to.) I explored the activity. I related it to thoughts, activities, memories, experiences from my past. I explored the difference between planning to do something I'd never done before, and coming upon a moment in my day and realizing—as part of an awareness practice—that I had a choice to take the path less traveled. I explored the role of return alongside the role of new/never done, and discovered that you really can't be All New All The Time, and that return is important, valuable, essential even to a meaningful, ethical life. And you know what? This practice and writing took A LOT of time. By the time the year was up, I was very ready not to not blog every day. I took a year off. I became quite unhappy.
Was I unhappy because of external factors? Was I unhappy because the work I had done, trying to stave off my fears of having a diminished second half of my life, to be expansive and exploratory, turned out to be essential to keeping my focus positive, and without it I was sinking into depression? Did I miss the (implied) contact with my friends and the few non-friends out there, who are my readers? (The word implied is in parentheses because it often felt one-way. During that year, my friends often told me that they didn't feel like they needed to talk with me or write to me, because they knew what I was up to. And because I was writing so much, I didn't have as much time to write or talk to friends directly.) I decided to start the blog again, this time with a new focus (pure, selfish joy) and a warning to readers that I wasn't going to be spending that much time on the posts—that sometimes they would be quick impressions of the pure, selfish, joyful thing, without the associations, craft, or delightful turns of phrase.
So I did that. The practice was fantastic. My happiness increased exponentially, even when things were sad, disappointing, and stressful. I developed a completely new relationship to my days. It turns out we don't necessarily have moments of joy in our days, or at least moments of seeking joy, because finding joy is more tenuous still for me than actively seeking it. And that carving out the space every day to do one thing—5 minutes, 30 minutes, 2 hours—is a complete paradigm shift. The usefulness of the blog is the public accountability piece. I truly don't think I would have been as diligent without the public accountability of the blog. At the same time, despite the fact that the blog was much less developed, insightful, or crafted, it still hangs over me as a writing responsibility, and one that I often fear takes the place (time, focus, energy) of my writing screenplays or essays. (Or maybe that's an excuse.) And despite telling people from the outset that this wasn't going to be a year about the quality of the writing, I felt vaguely bad every time I jotted off a post that was the equivalent of a postcard from summer camp. Dear Mom, It's nice here. The lake is cold. I'm a pollywog now. Please send more candy. I liked the Mary Janes the best. Love, Jenny PS! I spent 30 minutes just gazing at the stars, all alone, contemplating my place in the universe, and realizing that while we seem insignificant, we are actually each essential to the fabric of the world!
And here I am, on the precipice of a new year, a new practice, a new blog, and I am not sure what I'm going to do. I'm leaning towards making the blog itself be a valuable writing project. By valuable, I mean creatively satisfying and also lucrative. I've considered choosing one of the 613 mitzvot (mitsves) which is actually how this blog even started, because in the mussar practice, in addition to practicing the daily middot (mides) we also have an ongoing practice, of practicing to one of the 613 mitsves, and examining the ways it's easy to practice it, the ways it's difficult, and exploring why. All as part of a Jewish ethical practice. Long-time readers might remember that I started my Never Done practice based on my misunderstanding this part of the mussar practice; I thought the idea was to have a long-term daily practice of something meaningful to me, but I didn't realize it was "supposed to be" one of the 613 commandments. So maybe it's time for me to find something meaningful in that list? By the way, number 1 is "know that god exists." Which I don't. In fact, on erev rosh hashone, I was invited to do a reading from the bima, which is something I have definitely never done before. I hesitated before realizing that the correct answer to that invitation, regardless of whether I had not brushed my hair after swimming in a most beautiful lake, and regardless of the wrinkled hippie dress I was wearing, was, "I would be happy to. Thank you so much for inviting me." So I got up there, and the first words I was supposed to read were, "Eternal God." I pretty much never say "god" outloud. Ever since I was a kid saying the pledge of allegience. I just don't believe. And here I was, and I had said yes, and I was up there, and I was quick quick like a bunny trying to do that thing that we non-believers do, where we try to make sense of god in some other way. (Nature! Music! The goodness in ourselves!) And so I said, "Eternal One" and went on to do my reading, which was about prayer. Maybe it's a year of discovering just how god exists? Or, pick a number, any number! (194) Not to send away a Hebrew bondman servant empty handed, when he is freed
from service. Sigh. Maybe I'll take a walk every day.
Feel free to let me know what you think.
And oh yeah, did you catch that part about the swim in the lake? It was not just any swim in a lake. It was a swim in the lake with my bestie from Chicago! Josh and I picked up Karen and Andy at the airport, went to get lobster, clams, shrimp, haddock, and potatoes for lunch, and then drove straight to the lake. Where we swam, bought a house in our minds, returned them when the mowing got to be too much of a responsibility, bought another, swam some more, and generally basked in the goodness of 3+ decades of friendship, and being great swimmers, and being in a beautiful lake. Maybe I'll swim daily. Maybe I'll travel every weekend. Maybe I'll interview all my neighbors. Maybe I'll get a sponsorship to walk across the country and talk to people and write their oral histories. Maybe I'll go to the Galapagos. Or Hawaii. Maybe I'll read over all my posts from this past year to see which things brought me the most joy, or the most consistent joy, and do that thing daily, 4 hours a day, for 7 years. If my math is right, that's 10,000 hours, which according to Malcolm Gladwell, is what it takes to become deeply successful/skilled/expert. Maybe.