I sent Elida off to Italy today. She’s leading another group of artists through the Almalfi coast to tour and paint.

Elida is two-and-a-half years younger than me. We’ve always been close. And our kids are close. Her three children are of similar ages to mine; the age spread is the same — from 14 to seven. And she, too, is going through the transition from being a housewife to a career. It’s the first time for both of us to have all kids in school. For me, I cried. For Elida, she had all the wives in the neighborhood over to the house to celebrate with mimosas and scones.

Elida started drawing when she was four. She drew all the time. But she also loved to go places. And she loved people. And everyone loved her. She had a chronic problem of being late — a problem passed directly to her from my mother. Like my mother, she was full of so much fun and excitement that the minute she showed up everyone usually forgave her. Her teachers didn’t like it so well. But … she came up with a creative plan to get around that. She buttered up the secretaries with good chat and cheer and gifts so when she sailed into school late, they snuck her in to the microphone to do a couple of announcements, providing her with an alibi. Or … she’d bring doughnuts for the whole class. The teachers just couldn’t mark her tardy when they accepted a dripping, fresh-from-the-oven maple bar.  

Now, Elida is still charming her way through life. And it’s returning excellent results. She made a solid income being an artist in the midst of a recession as a single mom of three.

How did she do it?

She works hard. REALLY hard. Like constant all-nighters and diligent work, 24/7.

But she chose well. She works hard at being Elida. She works really, really hard at being herself.

If an outsider were to come and watch her — he’d be jealous. He’d think, “She just plays all day.'” Her agenda would look something like this: lunch with so-and-so. Run with Sandy or Susie. Volunteer in Caleb’s class. Teach an art class at the private school. Teach an art class at the studio.  Come home. Pick up kids. Run Caleb to practice. Meet with friend for tapas at Happy Hour. Run Emily to youth group. Dinner. Emails. Write up proposal for the grant. Paint a painting ’til 3 a.m.

The outsider would only see the fun parts — the meeting and greeting, the happy interactions of a gregarious person. But she’s also in the studio painting ’til 3 a.m. She’s also emailing and marketing and writing the proposals during the non-social hours. The pace she keeps is intense. But it’s who she is. She thrives on interactions, on being with people, on helping them and encouraging them — she gains energy from doing all that her outgoing personality wants to do. It’s a positive cycle.  

Elida’s a connector. She loves to find out everyone’s life story. Then, she shares those stories with others. Before you know it, at the end of a conversation, you know a person that you’ve never met better than many people you have met. She’s constantly connecting, connecting, connecting — an excellent attribute to have if you’re running your own business.

Elida followed Socrates sage advice to Know thyself. Elida knows who she is. She knows her strengths. She knows her weaknesses. And she plays to her strengths. Connecting, teaching, interacting, painting.

As someone who knows her well, I’ve realized that Elida has touched upon a magical thing: you can’t really tell when she’s working or playing. She hardly knows herself. If she were given a million dollars, you’d probably find her doing the very same thing at a slightly more casual pace.

She gets to be herself and be paid to do it. I want the same thing.

I think to myself, what do I do naturally? I’m always thinking. I take books to the bathroom. I listen to books while I’m doing the laundry, while I’m cooking, while I’m ironing, while I’m cleaning, while I’m driving. And if I’m not listening to books while my hands are busy and my mind isn’t, I’m hashing and re-hashing judgements and opinions about what I read. I go over passages I liked and decide what it is that made my heart beat faster.

Sometimes, I look at scenes and find the words to describe them. Always, always, I’m analyzing, wording, phrasing, admiring or dismissing, wondering or criticizing, memorizing, or swallowing pages in gulps of literary ecstasy. If ever I’ve felt addictive tendencies, it’s toward reading. In fact, I often have to go “cold turkey” on literature so that I don’t destroy my relationships with my family. After every book, I put myself through a sort of mini-rehab to regain a footing with my family.

I want to pursue a direction where the line between work and play is blurred. That, if someone were to give me a million dollars, I’d still be doing pretty much the same thing. I want to reach toward goals that I might never retire from — that I’ll pursue ’til I die.

Here I am. Writing a post. Telling my kids to sssshhh because Momma’s working.

It feels soooo goood.

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