Miss Prim arrived at the appointed time in the early afternoon carrying a tray of freshly baked cakes. After almost three months in the village, she knew that tea, coffee, or hot chocolate, fine pastries, and a good liqueur were essential to any social gathering there.
‘It surprised me too at first, but I’ve come to see it as a mark of civilization,’ said Herminia Treamont after thanking the librarian for her edible gift and inviting her to look around the tiny newspaper premises.
‘Really? It seems like a relic to me,’ said Miss Prim. ‘Who has time nowadays for these leisurely teas?’ ~ from The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera
The three of us tromped out into the cold, in stockinged legs and wool coats of blue and grey and Kelly green. My daughters, home from college, and I had been summoned to a post-Christmas tea at the house around the country bend. We made a merry parade, Emma toting a tea tin—dark red with an icy blue satin ribbon—and Maggie a basket of treats. As we walked single-file, trying in our good shoes to avoid the mud alongside the road, I knew what must be running through the minds of my normally zip-up fleece jacketed and leggings-wearing teenagers: Lord, don’t let anyone I know drive by.*
But Mama’s head was here: Why can’t we do this every afternoon?
Our two o’clock was precisely what the day was crying out for—a leisurely sit-down with three generations of women: my friend, her mother, our daughters. At table, for an hour and fifteen minutes, all was good and right with the world. Nothing else, save the sky falling, could interrupt what my daughters have dubbed my “house flurry” and put a hard stop to manic multitasking, delivering me from jeans to a skirt and a sweater, a uniform I much prefer.
Is it folly to want a do-over, the next day and the next? Is it greed?
Twenty-seven years ago, my husband, then beau, explained away in a letter the generous chunks of time we spent on the phone, on long walks, over meals: Sometimes, he wrote, greed is good.
Yet—we are just now wrapping up a month-long greed-fest, no? The Christmas cookies have been consumed, and the calendar has flipped to January, a season for resolutions and goal-setting, exercise and eating clean. After we vacuum up the glitter and pine, it is time to hunker down and devise a plan of attack.
I am not inclined.
Instead, I want to move to San Ireneo. Never mind that San Ireneo is a fictional town, the setting of The Awakening of Miss Prim, a “flourishing colony of exiles from the modern world seeking a simple, rural life.”
Consider the first order of business at a meeting of the San Ireneo Feminist League:
‘Our friend Amelia,’ Hortensia was saying, ‘is obliged to work hours that are unacceptable according to the principles we in San Ireneo hold dear’ … Herminia spoke in a clear, calm, and well-modulated voice. ‘… Not only is it impossible for her to have a social life while working such hours, but she has also been unable to devote time to reading and study which, as you know is one of the major principles upon which our small community is based… I still recall the morning when she entered my office, eyes shining with emotion and an old anthology of John Donne’s poetry in her hand. This was where she discovered that intelligence, this wonderful gift, grows in silence, not in noise.’
The other day, I read an article about what life coach Stacy Kim calls “The Lighthouse Method.” When she began coaching, bright but burned-out women streamed into Kim’s office, each of them wondering what in their worlds was… missing. But how do you map out a journey if you don’t know the destination?
Kim was stumped, so to stall, she advised her clients to take a break from figuring out an endpoint and spend some time doing one thing they enjoyed for a month. Lo and behold, taking pleasure proved a potent discovery route. The road less traveled—doing something that might on the surface seem frivolous or self-indulgent or eccentric—unearthed methods for melding gifts and money-making, joy and routine, delight and duty. Ideas were born. Lives were tweaked—or overhauled.
All because of a prescription for pleasure.
What would happen if we gave ourselves this kind of permission? If we stopped regarding all pleasure as guilty?
Note to self: This is what my January should look like, a quiet month of taking pleasure. Of seeing what happens. Of opening up to the notion that something as simple as pleasure could inform my goals, plans, and schemes for 2018—perhaps more intelligently than I can.
But I have formed a strange attachment to my Rifle Paper Co. planner, especially the blank pages at the back, which beckon for a blueprint. I am also fond of categories: to-do as opposed to down-time. Are my categories getting in my way? In which rigid slot does writing belong? Writing fits in the murky in-between, along with slow-braising and planting pansies.
What if self-care doesn’t always mean a hot bath or another Netflix episode? What if radical self-care can also be about being truly engaged, finding what puts us in a zone where time stands still but zooms by unnoticed?
There are, however, bills to pay, kids to carpool, refrigerators to reorganize. We are busy folk, terribly important. I wonder, though, if we have fallen on the sword of self-sacrifice, mistaking it to mean we are, as a rule, to toss out what we excel at or enjoy in favor of task piled upon task?
Have we created for ourselves idols, hard and fast identities: project manager, parent of the year, committee chair? Are the must-dos and must-haves as imperative as all that? Or are we hyper-focusing on what feels obligatory to the detriment of our imaginations, our peace, our wiring?
Six or so years ago, I was itching to do something with my hands—my fingers, specifically. We bought an old spinet from a man who kept pianos in his kitchen, and I hired a teacher so I could learn to play. Only it turns out, I was banging on the wrong keys. I had always wanted to write. One keyboard unstuck me for another.
I am miserable at the piano. It looks nice in our living room.
No one can tell you how to get unstuck, make a change, form a new habit. Ms. Prim, Ms. Kim, to whom shall we look?
But we can nudge ourselves, ever so kindly.
I have begun keeping a tea tray on the counter, at the ready. From the upper reaches of a cabinet, I rescued a jade-colored cream and sugar and my Brown Betty teapot. Here is a visual reminder to take pleasure, slow down, maybe bang on the keyboard or read a chapter of a novel.
Which brings me to the give-away. Enter to win a pristine copy of The Awakening of Miss Prim by picking this post—or any Golden Hours post you enjoy—and sharing it on Facebook. Send us a comment (below) to tell us you have done so, and you are eligible for the January 10 drawing.
*Addendum: After reading this post to Emma and Maggie, I stand corrected. The girls claim they were in no way shy about our quaint little hike to the neighbors’. And, “We don’t wear leggings everyday.”