(Lincoln logs courtesy of my daughter Helen, age 2)
My first husband was an architect. We talked endlessly about public spaces that were created with people in mind – with the idea that people would enjoy themselves in them – from the curving stone paths of Rome (& piazzas where folks sip espresso while admiring a fountain) to the tiny restaurants that line San Francisco’s Mission District, Somerville’s Davis Square or Quebec’s Old City.
We talked about how good it felt to move about in these spaces and how different it felt to walk around big box retail and its adjacent parking lots.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about structure and how it affects us (both in terms of space and time). I think about it as a mom too because educators often say “children crave and benefit from structure!” so I try to understand what that really means.
I grew up on the North Shore of Chicago where it was critical to excel at academics and to do as many sports and extracurricular activities as possible in order to get into “a good college.” In junior high, I switched schools so I’d be “better prepared” for high school. In high school, I arose at 5:30am to start my day, completed my classes at 3:30, ran track, volunteered at a local organization and then stayed up long past midnight writing papers.
I believed that hard work would equal happiness (a.k.a. feeling bad now = feeling good later).
While there were many good things about about my education, there was also an accepted “norm” that forcing things to happen was necessary and that doing, learning, accomplishing more, more, more was always better.
Today, I don’t give up my happiness in this moment for a future goal, which doesn’t mean I don’t do the dishes, I just do them differently, as joyfully as I can (and not when I’m exhausted).
I also ask myself: What kind of structure would’ve served young me better?
Would I have learned more deeply if all my time wasn’t consumed with activity?
Would I have had more energy if there’d been equal focus on my internal landscape as on external outcomes?
As I ponder our big box retail stores and think about whether they were designed for us to be inspired by them or more with the idea of ensuring that we purchase a lot of things while keeping costs low, I think I know the answer. And they are successful in that.
But what happens when we apply this way of thinking to our internal life, when we are so focused on a bottom line or a specific outcome that we lose the ability to see the beauty that surrounds us in each moment?
In terms of the structure I create for myself today, I realize that I often do much better work when I get up and leave in the middle of something and watch a bit of a movie. Or if I take walks every few hours to clear my head before returning to my desk.
My structure looks more like freedom. What about you?
For me, having windows of time to work and write while my daughters are at school and eating oatmeal with them in the morning, these rhythms not only fuel my songs and my teaching, they fuel my life.
When I make feeling good a priority, I regain the beauty in my life whether I’m lying on the beach or not.
If I have no other goal than to make my day into the equivalent of a beautiful song, chances are that not only will whatever work I do be more vibrant, I’ll also be happier 🙂
What about you? What structures have served you best?
Which ones haven’t?
If your day were a work of art (maybe it already is :)), what would it look like?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below.