The (unlikely) power of unfulfilling
Where were we
Where were we? Oh yes, in the pit of despair.
Last time we talked about a favorite power (or focal point, or approach) of mine, the power of non-zero.
In other words, when you feel very stuck and seemingly cannot do anything, you do not fight with yourself. Instead of trying to force yourself into doing the things, you just aim for non-zero effort.
Non-zero effort: a smallest something, a not-nothing. And it helps.
Sometimes even much more than you expect it to.
Today we are talking about an even less likely power, the power of unfulfilling, and maybe it needs a new name, but we will get there when we get there.
I did my morning hour of kitchen “jogging” yesterday, and it was unfulfilling but I just did it anyway.
Some days it clears my head, some days it is therapy through movement, some days I enjoy watching the sunrise.
Some days this time of quiet, repetitive figure eights is revealing, and what it reveals really depends, a depth of anger and sadness that I wasn’t previously aware of, for example.
Other days it just feels good to be in motion.
Some days I do it just because I know that it loosens up my joints and helps with back pain. And most days I do it because it’s what I do in the morning.
It’s what I do
Yes, it’s the first thing I do upon waking, after hydrating, dry brushing, brushing teeth.
Okay, and sure, you could also say that mainly I do it because my tiny house on a trailer does not have central heating, and it is simply too cold to remain still once I bravely exit the bed and into the front room where I turn the space heater on.
But I also do my morning kitchen jog (“jog”, a very generous term) for reasons related to ritual and steadiness. A way to calm myself down, clear my head, help my ADHD brain entrain itself into a more steady rhythm…
A more steady rhythm
I do it for my anxiety and for my lack of focus, and as a way to start the day, a bookend of my day. It helps that when I wake up, no matter how high my anxiety, at least I know what’s happening next:
It’s time to kitchen-jog.
Most days it feels good, or at least minimally revitalizing.
And yesterday it was unfulfilling, but I did it anyway.
Taking a small break for for clarifications
As some of you know, my biggest and most ridiculous (and therefore also reasonable) fear is the fear of being misunderstood.
The fear that launched a thousand ships. If by ships we mean parenthetical asides and explanatory clauses. So here are mine.
So, just to clarify!
When I talk about the good within the unfulfilling, or the power of do it anyway, I am not by any means encouraging or advising you or anyone to stay in a shitty situation. God forbid.
If you are stuck in an unfulfilling job or unfulfilling relationship or a situation that is really not working for you, I am cheering on your exit strategy, even if it exists at this point only as a kernel of an idea. Here’s to all the possibilities for Something Better.
Truly, I am lighting a candle for your sweet escape into that Something Better. May it be so. I am calling in all deus ex machina powers, all the support you could possibly need.
So please don’t let this musing on the power of [Unfulfilling] be a reason to stay in a not good for you situation, or to keep forcing a ritual or practice that used to give you something but isn’t a good fit now.
Everything changes, and that is as it should be. Yes? Okay, great. Onward!
There are many things in the category of [Mostly Good, Sometimes Unfulfilling, I Do It Anyway].
For example, this morning my coffee wasn’t great for some reason (a word my phone very appropriately changed to treason!), not-good coffee really is treasonous.
Sometimes yoga and stretching feel good, sometimes they are unfulfilling, but I do them anyway.
Same for slow sun salutations which I can only do on days when bending doesn’t make me dizzy.
Same for writing. Same for cooking. Same for my ten minutes of practicing Arabic.
Anyway, whether these rituals and practices, or aspects of daily life, are fulfilling or not, I keep doing them. Though sometimes I need to make them fancy.
I toss a chiltepin pepper into my morning hot caffeinated beverage, because sometimes I need life to slap me in the face a little, but in a good way. A little heat is good for this desert cowboy assassin.
A favorite mug helps. Homemade cardamom fennel simple syrup helps. A colorful cloth napkin. Light a tea light.
If I wipe down the table first as if I am an honored guest, this helps too.
Similarly, with all the other things that are sometimes fulfilling and sometimes deeply unfulfilling, they can sometimes be improved with music, a candle, a warmer sweatshirt and so on.
But if they are still unfulfilling that day, IIWIMI (It Is What It Motherfucking Is), and we keep going.
What is useful (or could be useful) about these situations of I do the things I do because they help but some days they are just unfulfilling and I do them anyway…?
In some ways I find it vaguely reassuring that it simply does not matter whether the thing that helps is pleasurable or meaningful or fulfilling that day or not.
Some days it’s bliss, some days it’s tolerable, some days it’s medicinal.
That’s fine, actually
There is a certain maturity to being fine with it all, a wisdom of having been alive long enough to know that the same practice, ritual, habit or [anything] can vary wildly from day to day.
Some days it’s engaging, some days it’s a struggle.
You do it for the reasons and you do it for no reason.
I am going to turn forty seven this year, if the gods are willing and luck allows, and I quite often have the perception that I do not even slightly have anything figured out, I am barely functioning at being an adult, I do not have it together in the most basic ways. I am, as my monsters say, an entire mess.
But this is the place where I can see some hard-earned wisdom in my life, and that gives me hope for other areas. I can let the things that help be unfulfilling sometimes, without fighting it.
Of course we can also play
For example, what I said before about making things slightly fancy, improving the view…
For example, making something 3% better (or any other non-zero amount)…
Or adding some spice, the ongoing work of Operation Winter Cheer…
This week I spent a lot of time considering the relationship between the power of unfulfilling on the one hand, and Slightly Fancy on the other.
Slightly Fancy, or possibly cosplaying as royalty?
Royalty, for example
This is an idea I got from Hannah Goldfield, New Yorker restaurant critic and general smart person, who, in an otherwise bummer of an interview about feeding her children, gave me a lovely clue:
“I sort of need to cosplay as the Queen of England if I’m going to make breakfast exciting.”
I am so very glad that I don’t need to convince a four year old to eat vegetables, especially one who changes their mind daily about how said vegetables need to be cut, which might actually be all four year olds, this is extremely not my area of expertise.
What is my expertise though?
Honestly it’s enough work getting some vegetables into me each day.
And to be clear, I admire both Hannah’s commitment to her kids and her four year old’s strong certainty about the exact correct way cucumbers should be cut in order to make them palatable as a snack, but that’s not the point.
The main thing is that I really latched onto this mission of how can we make breakfast (or anything for that matter) more exciting than it currently is…
That’s actually something I’m pretty good at.
Even more exciting, even more enticing
Whatever it takes, even knowing that some days it might be unfulfilling, and we keep it moving.
What helps? What adds some spark?
And what is the comfort in knowing that sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t work, and either way, breakfast happens and Havi Is Fed…
These are the thoughts on my mind this week, the power of letting things be unfulfilling sometimes, and also small tweaks and additions, adding a little fancy to the ritual, in case it helps…
Maybe it will still be unfulfilling, and that’s okay, and also we tried something, so points for effort.
A Mini Friday Chicken (Check-in)
It’s been a minute since we did a Friday Chicken, naming the hard and good things in our week in the interest of noticing the passage of time and how we felt about it, being present with what was, even if it was unfulfilling. Maybe even especially in that case.
So here is a small one.
What were the hard things this week?
This week’s hard, for me, included:
- A scary power outage, not something I enjoy in the cold of winter
- A miserable experience attempting to get vaccinated — one pharmacist hadn’t heard of Novavax, the other didn’t know where they kept it, no one masked, one pharmacist sneezed into her hands then tried to hand me a pen (luckily I already had one), they kept me waiting for over half an hour for no apparent reason
- Oh god, the deep, awful loneliness, like it’s always there a little but when the big waves hit, it’s so bad
- Feeling helpless and scared, and it’s so boring to still be in that loop
- Itchy skin stuff
- Anxiety and more anxiety, both over specific small things in my life, and about the hostages who are still being held by Hamas, and about all the many heart-breaking things in our world…
- And someone I love is in the hospital and there is just no way to help or get solid information
- It is so cold and so grey, and I cannot believe that there are months more of this, how do people survive winter, I don’t get it and I want a plan…
What was good this week?
I did the things that help, even if they were unfulfilling.
And I did my morning jog and evening jog, non-zero stretching, non-zero sun salutations, fed myself vegetables, sat down to write, kept on keeping on.
In good news, the girlfriend of the person I know who is a hostage in Gaza was released, the two were taken captive together from Be’eri. I am hoping she will have some reassuring news and that L will return soon, but mainly I am just happy for her and her family. May peace, comfort, protection and healing/rehabilitation make their way into this painful, awful nightmare, for everyone in Israel and Palestine, amen.
I am lighting a candle for peaceful solutions, humanitarian aid, miracles all around.
At long last, successfully boosted with Novavax, that’s been on the list for a while and is one of the things that keeps me up in the early hours, so I am glad it is done, and so far feeling okay, no noticeable reaction.
Made a very good chocolate cinnamon banana bread that made up for the not-quite-right coffee.
How about you?
Grateful for each day that I have some focus and energy, for each good song on the radio, for all small moments of hope, for the lovely and thoughtful comments people left on the last post (thank you!), for porch breaths, and for all the moments of calm steady grace. How about you?
What are your wishes? How was your week! I am lighting a candle for all of it.
Thank you, everyone who reads, thank you to porch breaths, to the winding path, to the many clues that land when they land, and the tiny hope sparks that we keep cultivating, one breath at a time.
Come play in the comments, I appreciate the company
You are welcome to share anything that sparked for you while reading, or anything that helped or anything on your mind. Wishes you are wishing.
Or anything you’d like to toss into the wishing pot, the healing power of the collective is no small thing, companionship helps.
You can wish any wishes that come to mind (come to heart?), or echo “Oh wow, what beautiful wishes!” for my wishes or anyone else’s.
I’m working on bonus material on how I relate to time, if there’s stuff you want me to cover, let me know!
Anyone who gives to Barrington’s Discretionary (see below) will get these by email when I finish edits.
If you received clues or perspective or want to send appreciation for the writing and work/play we do here, I appreciate it tremendously. Working on some stuff to offer this coming year, but between traumatic brain injury recovery & Long Covid, slow going.
I am accepting support (with joy & gratitude) in the form of Appreciation Money to Barrington’s Discretionary Fund. Asking is not where my strength resides but Brave & Stalwart is the theme these days, and pattern-rewriting is the work, it all helps with fixing the many broken things.
And if those aren’t options, I get it, you can light a candle for support (or light one in your mind!), share this with someone who loves words, tell people about these techniques, approaches and themes, send them here, it all helps, it’s all welcome, and I appreciate it and you so much. ❤️