We have ants. It’s as if the veil of reality has been temporarily lifted and I have begun to see that the whole house, which I thought was made of boards and beams and nails and tin and wires and pipes and screens and paint, is actually made up of ants. They are swarming in the corners. They are pouring up mysteriously from cracks in the floorboards. They are moving in angry semicuicular currents underneath the microwave and seething in the damp seam of countertop behind the kitchen faucet and the wall.
We are fighting back. Whenever we spot one of these writhing masses of shiny insect bodies, we place a clear plastic trap filled with borax nearby. Soon, they team around it, drinking greedily, antennae waving excitedly. They drink and drink. They are supposed to bring the poison back to their colony. It is supposed to end them. Soon, the clear liquid inside the traps is gone, converted into the dead carcasses of ants. But still more come. They come and come and come. They come to new corners of the house. They come to places that food could never possibly be. They crawl along the cabinet by the door where we keep our shoes and keys and wallets. They come marching under the door to an empty corner, just to show their strength. Their dead bodies litter the floor like dust. Industrious, aren’t they? Relentless. Determined. Busy with their tasks.
In my own life, I have been on an endless quest for the defining transformative moment. I like the idea of a big, grand, once and for all solution. I think most people do. It’s very human, or at least, very American, to assume that one day I’ll finally do the big wonderful thing and suddenly my life will snap together, like the satisfying click of the final puzzle piece.
I can devote huge amounts of energy to an overhaul project that promises to improve my life, especially if it involves my immediate environment. Eric and I have moved 23 times in our ten years of married life, and in each home, I’ve spent tremendous amounts of time making the house just so. Refinishing furniture, sewing curtains, re-organizing relentlessly. It’s the lure of never having another mess occur. It’s the idea that maybe, finally, everything will be put in order once and for all and I can finally get on to the real things. The real things I want to do with my life.
Joan Didion once said that she wrote in order to know what she thought.
Can that be done sporadically, on the rare days when there is no work, and the laundry is all put away and the baby is napping? One doubts it.
I think it must be necessary to marry the big push with the daily grind. You know the grind already, don’t you? The get up and make coffee and get dressed and drive to work kind of daily grind. It’s not my favorite, but it is part of life. It’s what the ants are doing. They aren’t thinking about much, they’re just doing what needs doing, what life demands of them. Ah, but the project. The project I love. I love the excitement of possibility. I love the surge of energy that flows into me- I become almost superhuman when there is a deadline to be met or a party to be thrown or a room to be painted or a suitcase to pack.
I’m not looking to routinize everything, to have a rigid schedule that I have to follow to clock my creative time. But I do want to find a better balance between these two parts of life so that my daily grind is not missing the creative and so that projects are not limited to home improvement.
How do you find a balance between your daily realities and your creative aspirations?