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Too much juggling; not enough existing
For more than a year now, life has been ass over teacups. (What’s that saying? Ass over teakettle.) Kettle, cups, whatever—life has been a bit of a mess, and I’ve been struggling with the lack of a consistent routine.
My friends say, “Well of course—you made a huge international move.” And yes, moving 5,679miles/9,139km away to a different continent/country/culture will definitely throw a wrench in whatever well-oiled works you’ve had a habit of spinning.
But the disruption started well before the relocation. My routine got blown to smithereens early in 2020 when “lockdown” and “online schooling” and “full-time remote work” became permanent fixtures in our collective vocabularies.
Suddenly all the (fairly) orderly buckets that had contained my life were sloshing their contents all over the place. Boundary lines blurred until I could barely tell if I was working or parenting or partnering or housekeeping or arting or all of the above or nothing at all. I was home, always, and everything was happening all the time. I felt fairly unsuccessful at anything I attempted because all my tasks were interrupted, unfinished, and unraveling. Ass over buckets.
Some might thrive in such chaos. I floundered.
Now here we are on the other side of a global pandemic and an international move and I still don’t know what I’m doing.
Last September when Filha started school (out of the house for the first time since March 2020) and I picked up my freelance writing duties, I had an idea that I could break my week down into orderly rectangles, color-coded on a calendar.
I went so far as to make such a calendar, pulling out Filha’s markers to color the thing myself. I taped it on the wall with all my best intentions. But by the end of Week One, I might as well have lit it on fire for all the good it did me.
Didn’t matter how neon the colors or symmetrical the rectangles—there was no groove that my life could slide into. Reality was too untethered. A plethora of unpacked boxes in the living room, fresh from the shipping container. A school that shut down overnight. A temporary home. A bout of COVID for Marido & Filha, and quarantine for me. A return to the States to pick up a parrot, to check on my parents.
Those were the big things. Daily realities were made up of a thousand small tasks that required us to navigate a new language; unfamiliar grocery store aisles; systems and customs and social norms that were utterly foreign. There were mid-morning coffees in Setúbal with brand new acquaintances and late-evening zoom calls with years-long friends back in the States.
In and amongst it all, we laid the foundations for our life. We shopped for a car, we shopped for a home, we shopped for tools and furniture and linens and lamps with type C plugs—all the things we needed to replace what we left behind. We never shopped so much in our lives as we did the first six months in Portugal. It was exhausting. It was necessary.
And all of these things—the big and the small, the bureaucracy of immigration and the learning curve of a different culture, even the forging of new friendships—it all takes a great deal of energy. It’s helpful, actually, for me to write all of this down and see for myself that I’m not making up the effort and the chaos.
We’ve met other immigrants here who are are retired or supported by passive income or their kids are grown or they don’t have any kids at all. The way they do life in Portugal is very different from the way we do life. From a polite distance, it looks more like an endless vacation with languid mornings and lingering evenings.
Sometimes I side-eye their breezy schedules with jealousy. But we have made different choices and we are in a different stage of our lives—in most cases, we are a decade or two younger than the folks with wide-open calendars. So comparing realities is unfair and unproductive. This is what I remind myself when I rein in that side-eye.
We moved to Portugal in search of a slower pace of life (among other things). Less work. More time to just live. And I think I am working less, overall. But the daily jumble of responsibilities to home and child and partner and land and pets and friends and work and art is too snarled and discordant.
Most of the time the days just… effervesce; evening cool eclipsing afternoon heat before I’ve gotten a grasp on the morning. I go to bed wishing for 12 more hours of daylight. Or for a clone.
I know the arguments about how “routine kills creative thought.” But without some sort of routine, without some better method of organizing all these duties and distractions, I have zero headspace for creativity and I despair of ever finishing my memoir or writing poetry or just writing for my sake alone.
I don’t want to recreate any sort of pre-COVID or pre-Portugal life. I just want to find a way to untangle the threads of this new life a bit so I can enjoy what I’m doing in the moment instead of stressing about all the things I’m not doing. I want to stop juggling all the balls, all at once, all the time.
Maybe this is still part of my capitalist deprogramming. That would make a lot of sense.
We have been in Portugal for 11 months now. Most of the massive upheaval has subsided. We have our home at Oliveira do Paraiso (which is a glorious distraction all on its own, as spring has remade itself to summer nearly overnight.)
It feels like perhaps it’s safe now to plant both feet on the ground and settle in. Perhaps I can make another attempt at that color-coded calendar.
In the meantime, I have big plans for creative writing in June—I’m participating in #1000wordsofsummer in which, for two weeks straight, I’ll write 1000 words a day together with writers from all over the world. My friend Shayna in Philadelphia is doing it with me so we can keep each other accountable to both word count and writing habit.
If I come out of the next month with my regular writing-for-myself routine re-established and even just a few of those juggling balls contained in orderly buckets, that would be amazing.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
Copyright © 2022 LaDonna Witmer