The Soft Animal Of Your Body,
I don’t go on vacation. I often joke about it and say, “I don’t know how not to work.”
My parents straddled the silent and boomer generation–traditionalists who valued hard work, frugality, and discipline. I watched and learned, my friends. I’m an excellent student.
When I went from married to single mother, I knew what to do. Save money, pick up another job, and keep going. My Boomer slash Gen X–style affirmation of
“Slow and steady wins the race” makes me laugh when I compare it to the currently popular
“I embrace rest, relaxation, fun, and play.”
Without being asked, my inner voice volunteers, “But, like also keep working, right?”
I write this from a café in the south of France where I’m teaching writing. I will soon go to Paris and teach there as well. In between workshops, I’m trying des petite vacances. Amidst feeling curious, relaxed, and joyful, there are flashes of guilt. That familiar and not unfriendly voice in my head whispers, “How’s that to-do list, Ann? Checked anything off lately?”
I don’t want that voice to disappear, but I wish it would stand down and let me enjoy this baguette. FFS
Then I read the Mary Oliver Poem: Wild Geese and the Titanic shifted course a meter or two.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Now, with these words, I put away this note, and for those of you that need it I say to you, “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”
PS. (Gone fishing)
PPS. (Let’s be real here. Gone shopping.)
I really enjoy your blog, and I love this message.
A little jealous you’re in France. Enjoy. And thank you.
I’d be sick of me and all my france, France, France…so I get it. I’m glad you’re here though. Thank you. 🙂
“Let’s be real here. Gone shopping.” Baha!
Miss you. Come home. It’s time. Safe travels.
Thank you for the reminder, Ann, of how important it is to take care of ourselves and being candid about how it’s still a process for you. I can completely identify with that! Knowing I’m not the only one trying to retrain my brain is encouraging.
Coffee. Check. Breakfast. Check. Read email. Check. Finish painting the bathroom. Whose list IS this?
I think you get to rest now…
It’s an ongoing process that I will never master. I guess that’s ok. I like challenges. xo
It’s nice to know I’m not alone.
Do I get to put reading this blog on my to-do list so I can check it off?
FFS cracked me up too!!
I’m so glad you like it and yes, check of reading this blog, sitting up, closing your eyes again and sighing. That’s 4 checks!
Just like everything you write, this is marvelous. Block that To-Do-List out and revisit it in September. Shopping sounds like a fabulous thing to do…in France especially! Enjoy and savor the baguettes! Hugs and Love to you…for being YOU!!
Loved Mary Oliver’s poem. Loved your thoughts too! I am happy you are in France. I would like to see some pictures when you come back as I am mostly an armchair traveler. I am of the baby boomer generation, and when my parents friends came back from trips they always showed tons of slides and we kids could eat popcorn in the dark. A lovely memory.
HI Anne, I recently discovered Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”. For many years, I’ve tried to tame the inner task master. At some point, I finally made peace with my drive to “do” and accomplish and also to breathe and enjoy life’s moments. I’m jealous of Paris, though!
I was going to suggest you could keep working at still go on “vacation” but you are doing it. You are teaching and writing in France. Change of scenery, new sights, new sounds, new smells, new food. After the work day you can take a walk on a new path and explore new things, new feels.
I know about the slow and steady. That’s the path I choose, yes, as a boomer. But nothing I was taught by my parents who are children of the Depression, both born in 1929 and both having lived through WWII. They started their lives together in the post-war prosperity. My Dad never embraced my becoming a teacher because “there is no money in it.” And he was right. But my sister and brother chose the path of private sector and are both working. I’ve been retired for 7 years and loving it. Because I planned for my retirement from the start, I have 100% of my salary as a pension, plus I get a small COLA every September. It doesn’t cover the real COLA but it is something. I also have a little in a Roth and a TSA. My house is modest and not in the greatest neighborhood but the value has increased 500% since I bought it.
I’ve taken vacations but have planned them well also. Usually about once every 10 years and I’ve tried to manage them so I don’t spend the entire time thinking about what I could be doing if I were home. I’ve enjoyed them. I’d planned another but opted to get a new puppy instead as I just couldn’t bear the silence after my Ramses passed. I rescued a sled dog girl from a shelter in the desert, knowing that with the two of them I would never have another vacation until they both have passed and I’m fine with that. They bring me joy and it is a bargain I made from the start.
I may be retired but I still have work. The fence needs repair, there is always yard work, the last shaker left a few cracks in the plaster, the garage door opener quit working. It’s always something. But I still manage a “vacation”. I take a day off and spend it reading a book or pack up the dogs and spend the day 20 min. away at my parent’s house. I will attend a local watercolor workshop for a week. Sure I sleep in my own bed but I’m out of the house painting by the ocean.
Because I lived a life of frugality and discipline I have the freedom of choice. I can work or not. I could get a part time or full time job and continue or I can stay home and choose when days are filled with tasks and when days are spent relaxing with a book or just watching TV. I can go to the discount movie matinee and have frugality and “vacation” at the same time.
I do not feel the need for a vacation because the very act of retiring relieved me of the burden of the alarm clock and I allowed the soft animal of my body to settle into its natural rest pattern. I stay up until 2am and then I sleep until 10am. It’s always been my natural cycle and has been denied my entire work life. Now that it has been given what it wants, I am free to do whatever I want wherever I want. I don’t need to relocate for a “vacation” to get that rest. I can do it right at home and still get the weeds pulled.
For me, it was Don Marquis’ The Lesson of the Moth.
Thank you for gifting these words. I’m going to look up the moth right now. xo
Something in your emails/blog always hits a note with me, and I truly enjoy reading them!
This time, your lovely reference to Wild Geese hit the spot! It brought me back to a poem I wrote in 2018 (inspired by Wild Geese). In contrast to traveling and soaking up France (which sounds incredible, kick those feet up and eat those baguettes), I was watching the news at the time and children from Mexico were being locked up in our country. So my poem ended up taking a sad turn. Hope it’s okay for me to share it here (otherwise it just sits in the digital land of 2018 never to be seen again).
You do not have to be good enough.
You do not have to seek refuge
from your own kind or caravan from dangerous place to next in search of peace.
You are free to fly where you wish, borderless.
Tell me about despair, and I will
tell you mine.
In comparison, are my despairs
indulgences in grief?
Meanwhile, those who are trapped in between worlds suffer.
Meanwhile, the geese fly freely
to their homes, wherever
those may be.
Meanwhile, the caged watch and
imagine they are free.
I love this. Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s lovely.
I’ve enjoyed your IG posts from France!
I’m so glad! Finally something more than a chair in my house.
I let myself rest at the end of the weekend I did a triathlon, then got a a white leather sectional on Craigslist and dyed it teal. In retrospect, my Great Depression parental voice questions if I really earned it and why the faded thrift store sofa I’d had for 20 years wasn’t adequate.
Have so much fun in Paris. Do they still close down Boulevard St. Germain for Sunday afternoon skating?
You took me to a somewhat different place with this poem. The bits where Oliver goes to shared experience to combat the loneliness she is addressing caught my attention – “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.” and “…your place in the family of things.” – and brought to mind a recent quote from Bonnie Raitt that I keep on my bulletin board. “We just gotta take what makes us cry and get together about it.”
I wonder if the better anodyne to loneliness in a “meanwhile” world is letting the soft animal of our bodies love one another?