When I recall early days of nesting with a newborn baby, I remember the bad and the good. I think of the sweaty exasperation I felt, waking up every two hours in the night with engorged breasts and jumping out of bed to meet my crying, hungry infant at her crib. I recollect that sad moment when I sat down to solve a logic puzzle while the baby napped, only to realize my underslept brain couldn’t handle this hobby it once craved. Those are the moments you fully realize your pre-parenting life has perished. In hindsight, I see it was more of a wintry, cyclical death; my mental capacity bloomed again once those good sleep nights eventually returned. At the same time, it is true that motherhood marked the death of an old way. Those catastrophic (if temporary) shifts in daily rhythm hailed the transition.

Something that helped me grieve my more easygoing pre-parenting life was identifying my new sense of purpose. In many ways, nesting with an infant appealed to my introverted self. I was thrilled that I’d quit my grocery store job a few weeks before I gave birth. “I don’t need to leave the house to do anything. It’s okay I only got three hours of sleep, because I don’t have to drive anywhere and clock in this morning. My only job is to nurse this baby, change her diapers, snuggle and play with her, wash her occasionally, and put her down to sleep. That’s when I rest and eat. Rinse. Repeat.” I didn’t always enjoy this itinerary, and felt gobsmacked by how much activity revolved around my boobs. Then I got used to it. Watching this tiny human’s growth explode in response to my labor felt so satisfying. I still chase the sensation of that clear sense of purpose, though I know I’ll never experience anything quite like it again.

Yet I feel a similar vibe now, at this very strange point in my existence. For the past several years I’ve viewed myself primarily as an anti-capitalist organizer. Since quitting my local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (in short: I filed a harassment grievance / it’s been tough and sad / I needed to step back), I’m not exactly sure what “organizing” entails for me at this point; I only know that if I continue, I wish to do it very differently. Stepping back has given me lots of much-needed perspective — on how difficult this work has been during a pandemic, and how often it felt like I had to maintain a white knuckle grip on my sense of goodwill for fear of just completely losing it with my comrades. I don’t mind admitting this, because I suspect others feel the same way. In any case, I’ve found that mood unsustainable.

The funny thing is that even though I’d been unhappy with my organizing work for so long, I was terrified of quitting because I thought I’d lose my sense of purpose. After all, the world is burning! Millions are suffering! How can I feel whole unless I’m fighting every day, doing my part to win the class war? How selfish would it be for me to be “just” a mom, a writer, a person with hobbies, when there is an entire world to win? I don’t have these feelings anymore. I don’t feel desperate or guilty. Leaning into my sense of pleasure, being more present for my family, and caring for my physical and mental health have helped me embrace the fact that I always was and always will be one of millions who’ve dedicated themselves to mass movements throughout history. My contributions have mattered. And at the same time, the movement can and will move forward without me. I find that comforting.

Like a new mother, I find my daily life has shifted dramatically. Except instead of feeling inundated by a daunting sense of responsibility (literally holding another person’s fragile life in my hands), I find myself liberated — from meetings, outreach lists, 1:1 conversations, hard asks, and that gnawing sense that all this effort would never be enough. In place of that, I have time. And when I have more time and less obligation, I find I’m quite curious. When I strongly identified as an organizer, I felt like I was in an almost constant state of analysis and critique. This was also connected to my Twitter addiction (which I overcame by quitting my account at the end of last year). To be a chronically on-Twitter activist is to be constantly asking yourself whether this news/ person/ organization/ discourse is good or bad, and why or why not? That’s not a negative thing in and of itself, but for me it felt very out of balance. I felt constricted and too often in a grumpy mood. Since quitting both DSA and Twitter, I find I’m less interested in analyzing and more interested in learning. 

And that’s the starting point of my new sense of purpose. It hit me one day when I sat down to meditate, just out of the blue. My big goal right now is to learn, observe, and practice. I learn about anything that naturally appeals to my sense of curiosity; currently this includes trees, Mediterranean cooking, Pilates, the cyclical aspect of nature, pagan holidays, and humorous works of fiction. I observe by taking long walks, journaling, paying attention to art, practicing mindfulness, and sometimes just pondering when I have quiet moments to myself. I practice what I absorb through meditation, fitness, writing, cooking, how I relate to others, and by tending to a small Norfolk pine tree our cousin sent us at Christmas. 

Oh, that tree! Our relationship got off to a rough start. It lost some soil in transport. And then we let it shrivel from underwatering. I felt so upset at the start of the new year — being immersed in this maddening grievance process and feeling adrift without my organizing home. I coped with that pain by taking long walks around my neighborhood and learning about the various conifers that keep this region so green in January. Then it occurred to me I had my own little malnourished conifer sitting right there in the dining room. Perhaps with some internet research and a proper transplant to a bigger pot of soil, I might save it. I think the effort is working. Every day I see its little branches unfurling just a bit more. That Norfolk pine is my baby now.

I’m settling in and finding satisfaction in this very different new life. I’m benefiting from plenty of healthy inspiration — from EMDR to music to time spent hanging out with my beloved little family. And since I’m forever obsessed with pop culture, I’ve found particular inspiration in three different media sources that have really helped guide me in my quest to learn, observe, and practice. The first is an online fitness program I’ve subscribed to since last fall, Jessica Valant Pilates. The second is a book by activist and author adrienne maree brown called Emergent Strategy. And the third is a short form Adult Swim sitcom, Joe Pera Talks With You. This odd media combo just happens to be my perfect self-help cocktail as I get grounded in my new existence. I will write about all three, and other forms of inspiration in the coming weeks, so please stay tuned! I look forward to sharing more of this odd journey with you.

The author with her baby, early 2012

One thought on “A Clear Sense of Purpose

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