Work and Play

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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4 Comments

  1. Danielle,
    I recently discovered your writings via Facebook, and I am loving re-connecting with you through your stories!! This one about your sister is wonderful. One thing I always loved about Elida was her contagious smile and her bubbly personality. I especially loved you recalling how your mom was always late. I remember your parents driving seperately to church, and your mom slipping in 15 after service had started.
    I myself am working through the transition from stay at home mom, to finding something else I loved to do pre-baby. Please keep us posted on your journey, and shed some light on the path for me.
    Love,
    Krista Fenton(Walcott)

    Like

    1. Krista,
      It’s so good to hear from you. If you have time — share a bit of yourself with me. Tell me about your transition from stay-at-home mom to what you loved to do pre-baby. Tell me where you are on your journey!
      Love,
      Danielle

      Like

  2. Danielle,
    It’s so funny because what you’re writing is so what my husband and I are feeling. Steve, my husband, just resigned from his job at US Bank after 10 years as a commercial lending officer in the Seattle market. The job, while it paid well, was highly stressful and offered very little emotional reward for him. So that being said, we feel we are on our own personal journey to discover our dreams again. It seems that when you(we) are younger, we get into a sort of survival mode of work, live, raise family, pay bills…etc. I am 38 and Steve just turned 40 and we took a long hard look at life and realized how unfulfilled we were. Not in some weird, emotional sense: we both love God, and our families, but life is so short. If you view life on a time line-birth being one point and death being the final point….where are you between the two points. It dawns on you that you are closer to the end point, and it is scary and makes you put your life into perspective.
    The saddest point for me is that in my young adult years I was so scattered and rebellious, I didn’t really have a lot of direction. I look at you and am envious because you have a dream to go back to. You were driven and focused enough to get an education to support your dream. I don’t have that-I feel a lot of regret and sadness for time not well spent. However, I don’t want to dwell there, so I am trying to figure out what are my dreams. My kids and husband are the most important thing to me, so what am I willing to give up time spent with them for?
    I love the visual I get when I see us selling our overpriced house in the suburbs, and heading across country in a cramped motorhome on an adventure. My husband is so crazy and spontaneous that he would do it if I asked.
    That is why I don’t ask: I am afraid!!
    Why don’t you do it, and I will just read about your adventure:)
    Keep writing you inspire me!!
    Love,
    Krista

    Like

    1. Krista,
      It’s so good to hear from you.
      About you pursuing your dreams — does it have to be time away from kids and husband to do it? I’m not sure what your dreams are, but is there a way to include them in your pursuit? I think kids feel resented if we give up things to care for them. I think they want us to keep seeking and not martyr ourselves for them. They’d rather join us, if possible.
      What do you think? Share your dreams and let us brainstorm about it.
      Meanwhile, I’ll keep writing about what we’re doing.
      Love,
      Danielle

      Like

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