My 4×6 Future

Last week I enjoyed two unexpected “freeze days.” A relative of the snow day, the freeze day came into being last year with the polar vortex and the deathly cold that overtook the land.

Last year the school board made us wait ’til the eleventh hour, refreshing web pages, scanning online forums, and reading articles from the union demanding school closure, before sending out the robo-phone announcement setting us free. Last year I jumped into Drew’s arms at the news.

This year, the days fell into my lap, effortlessly floating down from the hands of the gods, or at least from the desk of a Chicago mayor up for reelection. No clenched teeth or fists,  or advent expectation.

As someone living with an anxiety disorder, snow days change everything; they are get-out-of-jail-free cards and dispensations of jubilee. I should take vacations to Hawaii on snow days, because I am never more ready and able to relax. For sick days, vacation days, and I-just-can’t get-out-of-bed days, the world moves on without me, leaving me stumbling after it with two left feet and a chest cold.

IMG_1850For snow days, the world stops; due dates freeze like the icicles clinging to the porch roof. Even calories seem free as we mound our plates with cinnamon rolls and strips of bacon and drink oversized mugs of hot cocoa as if preparing for a winter-long hibernation, or at least a Y2K-esque apocalypse.

The first freeze day passed as a dream; I reveled in my free gift from the universe and Rahm Emmanuel. I went to a creperie with friends, bundling up with most of the items that we keep in our “winter stuff” box. I wanted to dress warmly to further emphasize that the day’s weather warranted a freeze day, in the same way my sister and I are sure to cough and wheeze and act extra sick on sick days. It has to do with protestant guilt, I think.

The second day dawned with the same hope and possibility; I snuggled with Drew, who had decided to take the late train. In the rules of consecutive snow days:

yesterday was a freebie, but today the real work started.

My imagined self reared her ugly head, and I started down the treacherous way of “all I could get done and should get done.” These conversations with myself rarely go well and quickly get spun out of proportion. If I were dating this version of myself, I would want to sit me down, treat me to a latte and tell me that we are bad for each other and should break up because she brings me down, and I’m better than that.

I promised myself I’d get out of bed by 9:00 a.m, but I only got a cookie and a coffee…

…and returned to bed.

I dozed and read and got jealous on Facebook, and then I heated up a small portion of leftover pasta…

…and then returned to bed.

Then I fell asleep reading. Got up to go to the bathroom…

…and you get the idea.

As my tenure in bed inched towards 1:00 p.m, I read a section of Bittersweet about toughening up and writing when you don’t feel like it. It made me want to yell at Shauna Niequist, to tell her to shut up and leave me be. I longed for a chapter on being gracious with yourself, or a narrative about eating blueberries in Michigan, but I got stuck with the tough love chapter, further ruining my perfectly terrible freeze day.

Why do I share all of this? To premise why this revealing resolutions series is not a self-help anthology. If I knew how to help myself, well, I wouldn’t be in bed at 12:30 sending frantic text messages to my husband about my overall failure at life and impending panic attack on a freeze day.

When I reach the point of freeze day two, I am unstoppable. I am a toddler trying to untangle a mobile above my crib that I can’t reach. My mind grabs at immediate stressors and then I run out of hands while all the other items keep swinging around my head.

When it comes to mental disability, I excel at the long jump and the pole vault. I start at worry about the grocery list and suddenly am flying high over reality, flailing my limbs and landing in panic about whether I would be a good parent to a transgender child.

In these moments of existential frustration, sometimes I leave the tangled mess of should’ve, could’ve, and didn’ts behind, and I just do something, anything. I sum up my future dreams on a sticky note, set it aside, and try moving first.

On this particular freeze day, I got up and moved my computer from the duvet to the table. I warmed up leftover beef vegetable soup using the same pan and bowl from my mid morning pasta snack. I removed the dried end of the French bread I ate like candy on the eve of the first freeze day and sliced off a few pieces. Not perfect, but a start (too many refined flours to be perfect).

Because I can feed my stomach hungry for lunch and move my computer to a better place to write. I don’t have to launch myself from the fulcrum of today’s anxieties into the problems of the rest of my life. Like the potential parenting of transgender children.

There are things I want to be and become, desires for single sheets of writing to be stacked across the table as a manuscript. There are problems I think I’d rather deal with than my stray chin hairs and dusty sink. I dream of opening my home to foster kids, to learn my ukulele, and paint a pistachio rectangle above our couch. I have a lot of dreams.

In a self-help series, I’d probably tell you how to dismiss the you of twelve years from now. To ask her to leave, and then to stand on a desk and carpe diem, sound your barbaric yawp, and other Dead Poet Society things. Problem is, I don’t know how to. I mean, I know a lot of ways how, involving praying, scripture, rain dances, and swallowing water with your head upside down (or is that hiccups?). But for now, I still carry great fear and worry that I’m not doing it right, failing, will always fail, and so on and so forth.

Revealing Resolution #2: Put up a Frame

To fight the nagging future, I suggest hanging a frame on the wall.  An empty one. Small so as to take up little real estate and to compact all the craziness into a small place.

That frame is a place to imagine what I might want a picture of in 3 or 4 or 20 years. It’s to realize that I don’t have the picture yet, might not be in the place the picture will be taken, or even know the people in the picture. That’s ok and might even seem kind of cool. Especially on the FIRST freeze day.

FullSizeRender-1The future remains intangible, but the frame can be held in your hands and traced with your finger. You can stare at the wall and focus long enough to sketch in a solitary moment.

I don’t want it to be a photograph posed by a wedding photographer or the staged moment of a handshake from a college president. I want to fill out the textures, colors, and forms of a scene from everyday life a few years from now. I picture the face of a child who is with us, at least for a while, beloved as a member of our family. I see faces new and old gathered around the table, and a front door that might as well be revolving, to let in and out our extended and extended-again family. I see giant slices of watermelon, and sticky hands held in mine. It looks something and nothing like today.

But then, all I see is a 4×6 blank space, and I continue living in the present, knowing the picture will be there when I’m ready for it. I say a prayer of release, or maybe a blessing, or just an exhale, and I go about my day.

Put up your frame. What do you imagine might be there in a few years, or in a hundred? It’s ok to dream a little.

Show me your frame! #revealingresolutions #my4by6future