I swear I will not let the holiday season take me down this year. Each year, I have every intention of slowing down, planning ahead, and taking time for myself……and every year, I whiff that plan and end up having a meltdown in some inappropriate place and soothing my soul with Doritos.
At this time of year we are all busy, so busy. And it is generally the woman of the house who is in charge of managing and accommodating the expectations of multiple branches of the family tree. This supposedly joyous time of year can be like a ticking time bomb for those who play the role of producer in this drama. But if we recognize the difficulties up front, we have a better shot at circumventing them and replacing them with some sanity.
In December, it is more important than ever to find places in each day to slow down and relax, take a breath, get centered. We all know this, right? Is there really anyone out there who doesn’t already know this? And I’m guessing that most of you have the best of intentions, too, like “starting tomorrow, I’m going to block out 15 minutes at lunch to meditate” or “starting tomorrow, I’m going to read People Magazine during piano lessons instead of returning emails.”
Tomorrow. Always tomorrow.
And even if you do start tomorrow, that little promise to yourself always manages to fall away after two or three times, like something that is just too slippery to keep.
Why is it so hard? Why does it take such strength to do something so simple? Part of it is the pull of all the tasks that need doing and part of it is that we simply don’t know how to do nothing anymore. It’s a skill that evaporates with age and responsibility and the intrusion of mobile devices. This is the burden of the modern era.
So part of my self-care plan for this holiday season is to banish the modern era for just 20 minutes each day. Remember when you were a kid and you hung out in your room for hours with no wifi and no laptop and no freakin’ to-do list? What were you doing in there? Were you coloring? Reading? Stamp collecting? Arranging your Barbie shoe collection? Maybe you were counting the ponies on your wallpaper?
I was listening to records. I only remembered this when I read a passage in The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron’s now-classic guide to unlocking your creativity. She suggests, as a creative activity, listening to one full side of an album without interruption. Remember when albums had “sides?” Her suggestion seems dated given that I read it in the age of streaming and downloading and “no sides” and, let’s be honest, does anybody download a whole album anymore? Do they even make whole albums? If they do, I apologize to the music industry because I have only singles stacked up in my phone. But, stated as such – “listening to one full side of an album without interruption” – it struck a chord with me because that is how I used to listen to music; in my room, uninterrupted, NOT multitasking, not as background music or workout music or cleaning music but as an activity in and of itself, lying on my bed examining the album cover. It started by dropping the needle onto the outer edge of the record and I didn’t get up again until it had followed the groove all the way to the paper center….. where the music ended.
Could this be the salve for my savage brain?
So my challenge to you is to identify an album that you know and love from beginning to end, an album that is so familiar that you can hear the next song in your head before it begins to play. Maybe it’s a record you listened to in your room as a kid or maybe it’s something your parents enjoyed in the living room after putting you to bed, unaware that their music was wafting up the stairs to your room, lulling you to sleep.
Then set aside time each day to recline and listen. Put it in your planner as “Listening Break.” It doesn’t have to be relaxing music or meditative music – it can be Mary Poppins or Saturday Night Fever – the point is to disconnect from your task-oriented, forward-moving life and settle into the moment. Don’t check Facebook or watch cat videos or make a grocery list while you listen; the point is to give yourself the gift of true downtime, the gift of not accomplishing anything for just a minute. Turn your alerts off on your devices and then hide them in the closet. It’s only 20 minutes and nothing bad will happen, I promise. Just be. For just 20 minutes, be.
It will take practice. And willpower. And it might feel awkward at first, even pointless. But over time it will connect you to a time when you weren’t utterly available to all people and all their needs at all times.
Now that is a gift we all need, isn’t it?
For the best results, you should call your mom and see what records she still has in the basement. If they were all purged in that 1988 garage sale, then make a list of your childhood favorites and pick them up online or at the nearest record shop (they really do exist!). I rarely spend more than $4.00 and sometimes as little as a quarter. Then pick up a simple, portable, inexpensive turntable that stowes easily in the linen closet. Target, Urban Outfitters, and Amazon have models in great colors for as little as $69.99.
Although you can certainly stream your favorite album on your phone, making the experience tactile, in it’s purest form, helps divorce us from the digital firestorm that keeps us on the hook all day long.
Just one side of one album could save me this holiday season. And, in advance, I’d like to thank Michael Jackson, Dolly Parton, The Bee Gees, Andy Gibb, John Denver, The Monkees, Fleetwood Mac, Abba, Neil Diamond, Hall and Oates, Prince and, of course, The Beatles. Wish me luck!