Sausal Creek

Palos Colorados Trail

I made a commitment to myself to walk three hours a day this week, and I managed it. I’ve been taking longer walks for two or three weeks now, actually. It’s been a gradual progression. I’ve always loved long walks. But I never attempted them on “work days.”

Lately, I’ve given myself permission. To walk. To wander. On work days.

I’ve discovered I’m ridiculously well-trained by corporate culture. I’ve gotten exceedingly good at chaining myself to my laptop from 8 to 5, even if I don’t need to be, even if my work is “done,” my deadlines met.

That’s because technically work is never done. There’s always more to do, more to read, more to think about. They want us to “ideate.” To offer solutions for improvement of all kinds. How can we do this better, they ask. If we have any free time, we’re supposed to read books on our industry, on business, on process, on innovation, on “getting things done.” It never ends.

The trouble is, the business books I’m “supposed” to read interest me not in the slightest.

I want to read… just about anything else.

And I’m getting serious about reading again. I discovered the stunning Maria Popova and her Brain Pickings website, and it excited me all get out. She’s turned me on to all kinds of books of poetry, philosophy, memoir, fiction, and history. What could be more important?

I’ve also been taking classes through the English-language bookstore I used to visit in Buenos Aires when the kids and I lived there six or seven years ago. When the pandemic hit and everything went online, I was suddenly able to afford the most incredible writing and literature classes. Classes that cost me $450 at The Writing Salon in Berkeley (I could only afford to take one every four to five years) were suddenly affordable. Way affordable. And I have availed myself fully of this incredible opportunity.

Right now, I am taking three writing classes: poetry, “writing across genres,” and a workshop, and they are all the high points of my week.

Interestingly, since I’ve taken charge of my own schedule and allowed myself to break away from my computer to take a yoga class (in the middle of the day!), take a walk, or even two walks, start a chicken stock, bake scones…, I’m doing better work. And faster. Much faster. My “stakeholders” are noticing and saying nice things.

Incredible that it took me an entire year to wrest my life from corporate… what… culture? and make my life my own. I think it’s too nice to call it “culture.” Rather, it’s fear. Dire fear. The need to toe the line so as not to get fired.

I really hope I can retire and enjoy some years before death arrives to feel life, to feel what life is like when one isn’t forever under the threat of Damocles sword. It’s exhausting and stressful.

One year when the kids were small, when they were really little, like 4 and 7, we went to family camp, but as I was freelancing and had to take work offered whenever it was offered, I had to work. I went every day to a hotel on the Russian River that had good internet to write blogs for Hewlett-Packard. When I look back on that now, I feel sad.

Yes, I was doing the right thing. Of course I was. Money was needed. I was the breadwinner.

But kids deserve to have their parents near.

I had it much easier than most though. At least I was able to take my kids to family camp and enjoy some of the time with them, as my work could be done on a laptop. I was able to do something very special in fact: stay home with my kids for more than a decade while they were growing up. I worked strictly from home. I brought them to school and picked them up from school, and I am eternally grateful for this.

But, God. I am so tired of feeling afraid. And furtive.

Well, recently, I stopped. It’s taken months of pandemic time, but I now sleep until I wake—no alarm, thank you very much. The dawn wakes me, and it’s usually plenty early, by 7. I schedule nor accept meetings before 9 a.m. I take yoga classes during the day when I wish. I budget time on my calendar for walks. I work from 9 or so to 3 or so, but it’s focused work. It’s not fidgeting guiltily beside my computer for hours out of fear.

At least, I’m trying not to.

I never should have in the first place, is the honest truth.

When does our life become our own? When are we “allowed” to wrest it back to ourselves?

I choose now.

The fact is, I am suddenly, though dimly, aware of a tantalizing possibility. That maybe, just maybe, I get to call the shots of my own life.

I have never felt this way before.

And I am 53. That is sad.

My son, who is only 22, is very different. He will tell you plainly he does exactly what he wants when he wants. He has confidence in spades, something he was born with.

It’s been harder for me. I was tongue-lashed by a mean, drunk mom for years, and that took its toll. But I am becoming cognizant that my life is mine, that I get to decide.

You decide what’s right. You decide what’s true,” as Stephen Sondheim assured us in Into the Woods.

I’m embarrassed to say it’s taken until my fifth decade to figure this out. But figure it out, I have. And it’s going to make all the difference, I can tell you.

I want and wish for all sentient beings to have the same freedom and sense of possibility.

That is why saving money is so important. A little planning. Putting a little money away while in your 20s can make all the difference.

It’s too bad I began repairing my financial situation in my 40s instead of my 20s, but the fact is, I DID fix it. And I am making progress.

I can be proud of that.

I don’t know why I named this passage Sausal Creek, except that that’s where I walked with Daisy today. We were on concrete for a while. We went up and over the hill, and then down to the tunnel that leads into the woods.

We slipped into the woods. We followed a muddy path. We stopped to watch tiny green leaves unfurl from papery jackets. We stopped to examine a bright yellow mushroom bursting from an old stump. We stopped to marvel at the famous “red sticks” of the Palo Colorados trail and indeed they were red sticks, rearing up from the forest floor, impossibly tall and willowy and red and tremulous.

The fact is, I need these walks. I need them for my 53-year-old body which is getting cranky and stiff, and which I know from my reading is getting weaker as diminishing amounts of estrogen and maybe other hormones weaken my once-sturdy bones. I need them on the emotional and spiritual levels too though, maybe even more so. I need beauty and nature now, more than I ever have.

Most of all, I need something from myself. Permission to be. Permission to be… me. Permission to like me. Something I never granted, something I never could grant.

It’s taken five decades, but it’s coming. I can feel it.