My husband knows, or can figure out, every aspect of remodeling—calculating board cuts and window openings, using a level and terms like “on center.” He also works harder than any person I’ve ever met, and with our long days of light, puts in twelve construction hours a day, while I’ve been working about eight.
Our only excursion last week was a drive Thursday onto the Kitsap Peninsula for dinner at a brewery before we shopped Costco, Trader Joe’s, and Home Depot. I was dragging Friday. Even with ibuprofen, arnica pellets, and Traumeel cream, I couldn’t muscle my way through. My neck and shoulders have been overworked and cranky for weeks, but how could I quit? I wandered through the room feeling an inner grumbling while I vacuumed sawdust.
My mother and stepfather have been building a house for years, living first in an RV, and then in the unfinished house, while making metal sculptures to sell at craft fairs, pouring patios, and planting gardens. They work until dark, eat dinner, watch the nightly business report, then drop exhausted into bed. When I call, my mother always groans about her many chores and projects.
I don’t always have sympathy for her overwhelming self-imposed to-do-list. You’re choosing this, don’t complain is my unspoken response. So Friday when I wanted to grouse about how much work loomed in front of us, I reminded myself that I chose this house and this dream of offering a writers’ retreat, and if I was overwhelmed, it was up to me to reframe my days, the way my husband reframes windows and doors, choosing a structure and configuration that is proper and durable, not simply expedient.
I asked myself, what’s the worst that can happen if the suite isn’t finished when my good friend arrives? She can sleep in the basement family room, on the queen bed that’s waiting to move into the writers’ room. And if the room still isn’t ready when my mother and stepfather visit in July? Basement, again.
There was a time when I would’ve been disappointed stepping back from a deadline, even one I set myself, judging that I’d somehow failed. I’m glad my mind let go more easily now, but my body still needs to learn to lighten up and relax.
Muscle tension is lifelong for me, and even though I know I don’t need to clench my shoulder muscles to my ears when I lean from a ladder with a paintbrush, my body isn’t so sure. Being engaged and alert kept me physically safe for years. So how do I let go?
“Practice gratitude,” my new acupuncturist told me this morning. “This is a work in progress. We need to find a way to help your body sustain this endeavor. When your shoulders feel tight and the work seems never ending, take a deep breath and remember that you live in a house you love and you’re creating beauty.”
“And take an Epsom salt bath, every day if you can.”
I thought about her words as I lay on the table, needles in my shoulders and legs. I pictured my run-down yet fabulous house and garden that I am bringing back to life, devoting myself to its healing, and wondered what humane work schedule might bring healing to me as well.
My husband needed our car in Seattle today, and dropped me at the clinic on his way to the ferry. On my bicycle ride home—my first on the island—I struggled up steep hills in the wind, took a wrong turn that added a mile, and peddled the edge of The Grand Forest in the rain. Fifty-five minutes to ride what was supposed to be four and a half miles. My legs felt mushy, my heart beat loud, but I also felt energized.
I ate lunch in our dining area with carpet that smells worse the longer we live here, pet and other odors rising from thirty-year old fibers that were last steam cleaned in December. Then, I did what I’ve wanted to do for months— not because it was a chore on a list or something to show off to friends and family—I began to rip out the carpet.
I pried up tack bars, yanked and cut carpet, vapor barrier, and disintegrating burlap pad from the floor, one small area at a time, revealing not hardwood, as I’d hoped, but rough plywood. I listened to Krista Tippet’s On Being podcasts while I worked.
Last week, I would’ve stopped for a quick snack and pushed on until I finished or was too exhausted to continue. Today I worked for three or four hours. I quit when my husband came home and left the room unusable.
We sat in the living room and ate salami and chevre and drank Washington red wine. Later I soaked for thirty minutes in Epsom salts, relaxing with my head underwater, pulse thudding in my ears like a marine engine, the first bath I’ve had since we’ve moved in.
I toweled off and decided to write, for the first time in weeks. This. A day like today just might contain the components for a sustainable rhythm that honors both my body and the creative spirit.