On a morning walk our first full day in Scottsdale my mom said I should do exactly what I wanted to do this week away, not feel pressured to write. It was, after all, a vacation. She was right, but I considered it a vacation from the obligations of home – the pick-ups and drop offs, the groceries, the homework, the dishes – an opportunity to write at a relaxed pace and get a lot done. Essentially I’d be replacing pressure, with a more desirable, less-pressured pressure.
But I took her suggestion to heart, and after writing Into the Desert we went to two bookstores, one independent, the second old and filled with used, musty first editions and turn-of-another-century Raggedy Ann books; a huge antique shop where I contemplated buying a large rusty metal donkey; a curio shop where the owner offered me a free book I didn’t want if I could do as many push-ups as he could, then dropped to the ground and started pumping while chattering about how Canadians love his stuff; and a pile of art galleries, most filled with over-priced, tacky, paint-by-numberish canvases that in their rendering of canyons displayed significant talent in the use of colour to affect light. We finished the day at an excellent Thai restaurant.
Like my time in grad school, whenever I take a break from writing I’m left feeling there’s something else I’m supposed to be doing. But material is everywhere, and one needs time for experiences. Or so I tell myself as I pull on a third snug and unflattering dress in the change room at Marshall’s.
Relaxation and its close relative, vacation, are desirable but barely achievable. I’m bad at both. I’d like to believe it’s the creative spirit, the drive to write, but I suspect it’s the glue holding me together that’s responsible – guilt.
If I’m lying in bed reading, I feel guilty that I’m not writing, getting groceries or tidying. When I’m writing and the kids are in the basement doing their thing, I feel guilty that I’m not playing with them. I even feel guilty bailing on a party to which 50 people have been invited. When I’m out socializing I feel guilty that I’m not home writing. You get the point. It’s a stressful way to live.
So what to do? Embrace it, laugh it off, attempt to change myself through therapy or meditation? I do fear all this guilt and stress will cause some serious medical malfunction. They say stress underlies the diseases I prefer not to name.
But right now my mom and I are in Arizona on holiday – the two of us. This time is a gift – an entire six days under the desert sun. We haven't had this much time alone together since I was one and had no siblings.
So many of my friends have lost their moms over the past few years and I am blessed to have this week. I will do the best my nature will allow to push aside feelings of guilt and pressure. There is nothing else right now that I am meant to, or would rather, be doing than hanging out with my mom, laughing at ugly clothes and bad art, wandering through scrubby bits of beautiful desert and looking up at cacti that seem to be giving us the finger.