5 Things I'm Gonna Kick Your Ass For If You Post Another Article About Beating Stress on Facebook: The Life Cycle of the Suburban Artist Housewife Anxiety Attack
It crept up like the crap that piles up around the dining room--just want to clear the table for dinner, dammit! Stick it over here and we'll sort it out later! But week or so of that--suddenly, as if through some dark magic, there's this teetering, veritable wall of crap: unopened mail, catalogs, schoolbooks, papers and forms to sign, school neckties and sweaters, shoe polish tins and stain removers and rope and violin rosin and first aid kits and dirty napkins and old cookie boxes. Eating a meal becomes like living in some crumbling, filthy crevice of the San Andreas fault.
It's getting to you, little by little...
That's IT, you think. I'm gonna clean that shit up.
And so I did--an entire Monday morning sifting through the detritus like some slacker archaeology dig--sedimentary layers of papers, last Monday's mail, and used Band-Aids, a lunch box with slimy half-eaten peach inside, 63 open safety pins, and the school notice that all parents were required to sign and return with attached form (missing) last week. But man! Look at the clean-ness! You kind of want to bring your blankets and pillows down and live in the dining room!
Because it's rather depressing to leave the dining room. To navigate the cluttered byways and hazards of the steps to the converted bedroom that serves as your "office" or, perhaps, if you're feeling arty, your "studio." You know--even with the newly-exposed, dusted surfaces in your dining room gleaming and with Lemon-fresh Pledge in your nostrils--that there are women out there--women with kids and real jobs, jobs they actually have to get dressed for and go to--that still somehow manage to keep their dining rooms from becoming structurally unsound biohazards and their families off the school principal's shit list.
I haven't had a "real job" in 20 years. And, while I was a disciplined writer with a growing body of published work, calling it a "career" still seems a bit of a stretch. When you're coming at it from the "outside"--a non-writing degree and no initial experience or contacts in the publishing biz--you've got to be some blazing, brilliant star that burns through the unsolicited piles of proposals and manuscripts on an editor's desk, or you just keep plugging at it for years--punctuated with spasmodic success--until the economy tanks and everyone's circling their wagons and defending their own hard-won turf. Go blog something like the other obscure workhorse wordsmiths hoping to get discovered by the Huffington Post; can't you see the shrinking advertising pages??
Anyway. I didn't see the blazing, brilliant star thing happening now.
Yes, I've kept myself busy. I make more money, more consistently at eBay and Etsy than I ever did as a writer. And those spawned and provided capital for Witch Hazel Farms and for Hippik, a design endeavor that is interesting (to me and maybe 14 other people), but has metastasized the clutter from the abstract closets in my head (and my dining room) and into full-fledged dimensional piles, filling up actual closets in my actual house.
Anyway! Mid-way through stitching a sidesaddle habit from cannibalized thrift store fabric, I ask myself the inexorable question of any middle-aged housewife starting a design brand: "Exactly what the FUCK are you doing?" Or worse: "What the fuck do you think you're doing??"
And then, the anxiety is off and running--an over-caffeinated rat on an electric turbine wheel that feeds into itself.
Because that's it, isn't it? All this thinking.
I mean, I could justify it all--the importance I put on staying home to take care of kids, be a writer, be an artist, the examined life and other bullshit, create a sustainable online business--but the "kids" are now 16 and 12, (which I'd always knew they eventually would be if I was even only somewhat on the ball as a mother), and they're not really in need of me in that 24/7 way: standing by while they fall down and off of things over and over, or cut their sandwiches in triangles, or wash the sticky black gunk from between their fingers anymore. They learned to pick themselves up or not climb at all; they actually make their own sandwiches and wash their own hands. They also do their own chores and I don't even have to remind them to do homework or practice their instruments. So I'm pretty much resting on some serious laurels in that particular department. Interestingly, laurels aren't really all that comfortable.
So I'm back to figuring out what the hell I'm supposed to be doing, which takes a lot of soul searching. My soul kind of resembles my dining room pre-Monday morning.
Like many of my under-employed writer peers, I've been haunting social media sites and Pinterest like some verbose wraith, aimlessly "Liking" and clicking on posts about "7 Things Successful People Do That You Don't" and "20 Awesome Ways to Wear Raggedy Vintage Handkerchiefs if You Weigh as Much as a Popsicle Stick," hoping that--I don't know--we'll magically have some deep insight on the nature of the internet that hasn't been written about to death yet, or that some editor will contact me through LinkedIn, begging me to write a TV concept for the Food Network. Or, at least, hoping that my life's purpose-conundrum would spontaneously just work its way out.
So I click and read and "like" and comment. And, as the Anxiety (I had begun to think of it with a capital "A") spiraled upwards, I decided to fleece Facebook for "5 Things for Beating Anxiety."
And, in the unwritten rules that I'd just thought up, I was gonna do them:
Are you really?
Yes. I'm still breathing. Otherwise I would be dead.
You're not being sincere about it.
Fine. I'm Breathing. Capital "B" Breathing...
You know, you really should be working.
Not listening! Breathing here!
There are 5-year old balls of dog hair under this desk, you know.
Lalalala! Still Breathing.
It's really nasty. You might feel better if you actually did something useful...
Fine! I'll sweep up the dog hair!
Where was I???? Breathing. Breathing....
You didn't get all of it...
I can't feel my hands.
#2: "Get outside. Take a walk."
The dogs are overjoyed to go outside.
But they are dogs. That's where they poop. Going outside and pooping are their favorite things! Everything is their favorite things!
(Facebook posts also love to say, "be more like your dog." I always wonder if that includes pooping outside.)
They don't like to sit still for the leashes, though. Leashes are not particularly their favorite things!
On the farm, I never bother with leashes. The bitches bound around my knees and lunge out the door. I would probably just let them run around while I go out and hoe an actual tough row or something. Lead literal horses to water. Shovel literal piles of shit. Make literal hay while the sun is literally shining. But I'm not there yet. Noooo. I have to earn enough actual money to do that. Instead--I'm walking down my little cul-de-sac with little baggies full of still-warm dog crap, thinking, "I've got to get back to work so I can make enough money to shovel shit into big compost piles and not carry it around in little sacks!!"
Anyway, I go back to work.
In fact, it's taking up a life of its own. I'm starting to call her "Ava."
Ava is very tall. She's one of those girls that roll her eyes at everything you say and do.
My hands have started to shake and sweat. Ava rolls her eyes and taps her foot. Very unsettling.
I can't trust myself to cut the one-of-a-kind, vintage cashmere fabric or do those teensy little stitches, so I think--"Maybe I should do a blog post about it instead!" I sit down to do the blog post and I think, "No! You should at least do some eBay stuff and make some money and clear out some of this crap!" So I do that. And after an hour of describing hems and cuffs and collars and fiber content, Ava's contemptuous voice sneers: "You should really be editing that last book, or blogging or writing proposals--you should be at least trying to get writing work again! You're not even trying!" So I sit down to blog and I remember that I haven't taken any photos of anything, anyway. And anyway, what have I got to say and who the hell would care?
By Tuesday evening, my stomach is in a roiling knot.
Ava has a suggestion.
Ice cream. Yes. My old friend and nemesis, the icy, Cream-and-Sugar Jezebel. Preferably something smooth and boozy that I can suck down with a straw before I know what's happening: a golden cadillac or a grasshopper or a brandy alexander. Does anyone drink those anymore?
Curiously, drinking alcoholic beverages or eating vast amounts of ice cream with alcoholic beverages blended in to mask one's feelings is not in any of the Facebook articles on dealing with stress.
#3: "Do something for someone else."
I've been saving up kids clothes, maternity clothes and little hotel bottles of soaps, shampoos and lotions to drop off at the shelter for abused women. But by the time I buzz the security door at the shelter, I realize that all they see is a pale, sweaty, shaky-handed woman with some raggedy-ass boxes of god-knows-what.
"Thank you very much," they say carefully. "Just leave the boxes there, we'll have someone get them."
They hand me a nail file with a hotline number discreetly printed on one side.
#4: "Call a friend."
Friend A: Retired. She's on her way to an art lecture, or maybe it was a tennis game, or maybe it was a volunteer thing. She lived through the Great Depression--the one with the capital "G.D." She worked at a job she hated for twenty years before she met her second husband and then she hated him for twenty years, but the travel benefits were better. She's sympathetic, but the whole concept is completely foreign and, frankly, a bit self-indulgent. If she were less polite and tactful, she might have said, "suck it up."
I can't disagree. But I'll be damned if I can find a straw big enough for that particular ice cream drink at this point.
Friend B: Working single mom. She's doing a conference call; she's worried about her corporate job being outsourced to a team of 6 people in India. "Can we schedule a call for next week?" She's appalled that I would consider food or alcohol as an emotional crutch. She suggests: "Go for a nice run."
Yeah. That sounds nice. Ava is such a sarcastic bitch.
But I did it.
I leashed up those dogs again and dragged them down the street again. I'm 48 years old with arthritic knees and hips. It's obvious that I'm no runner. But sometimes I run because I usually hate running more than I hate anything else. I run like there's something big chasing me with a sharp stick. And at this point, Ava is about 6-foot-8. But I keep having to stop and double over from a sharp pain--as if being stabbed with a sharp stick, coincidentally--wishing a giant fart would just blast me to smithereens. The dogs aren't having any of this stop-and-go bullshit in the middle of the day. What is wrong with this bitch that she can't nap like any reasonable creature should at 1 o'clock in the afternoon?
Friend C: "You sound like shit," he says after my foaming-at-the-mouth hello. I thought I was holding it together. "Oh, poor you," when I'd given a rambling, 'oh-nothing-much-I'm-just-sort-of-feeling-out-of-sorts-and-in-the-middle-of-a-anxiety-attack. "What the fuck have you got to be anxious about? It's not like you're doing brain surgery or anything."
Fine. He was maybe the wrong person to call. And although I couldn't articulate it at the moment, I'm quite certain that a career in brain surgery wasn't even a remote possibility for either of us when we got our SAT scores in 1984.
Turns out nobody drinks ice cream drinks, either--too many calories, too early in the day, too retro, too sweet, too girly. It's all wine, wine, wine these days.
But it did clarify something that had been nagging at me all along: what the fuck DID I have to be anxious about?
And that is, in fact, the nature of Ava, the allegorical Suburban, Work-at-Home Artist/Housewife Anxiety Attack--a useless, Starbucks-latte-fueled-bitch-on-a-gym-treadmill, food-shaming-for-using-food-as-an-emotional-crutch, road-rage-in-the-school-car-line, if-you-drove-your-Toyota-Highlander-into-a-tree-even-if-it-caused-a-sonic-boom-people-would-just-roll-their-eyes-and-pull-forward state.
I'm sure there is a fifth thing. There's always a fifth thing. It's never just 4 things. There's probably "adopt an attitude of gratitude" in there or "watch funny animal videos" or "meditate," or "journal your feelings." If someone were to tell me that last one, I'd kick them in the shins. I really would.
I need fewer feelings and I certainly don't need to give the ones I have any more attention right now, thank you very much.
By Wednesday, I was bent over in a sort of crouching, fetal position in Publix soup aisle, feigning wild-eyed interest in the multi-packs and family size cans. Trying to look all, just another day in the soup aisle, hum-de-dum.
Friend D texted. "If God had wanted you to meditate during a panic attack, He wouldn't have invented Xanax."
She's a mom and an artist--a good one. But she gets it, this kind of solitary work that everyone says is important, but then acts all puzzled when you actually do it. Anyway, she packed a little fistful of modern maternal relief for me in an envelope that read "Chill."
And it wasn't so much the tiny, bitter, subtle pharmaceutical relief. Maybe it was the chill of the golden cadillacs.
Which I do not have a picture of.