May is a busy time of year for everyone, always. This is especially true for people whose lives revolve around the academic calendar (so much to get done before you can do nothing), but it’s also true for everyone. May to the winter-weary is water to a dehydrated sponge; the hours are long, the days are (at least occasionally) sunny, Seasonal Affect starts to wane, and suddenly there are more things you want to do than you have time for.
This is compounded for me because my birthday is in May, and now my partner’s birthday is in May, so there’s extra May-ness to celebrate. For the last week, I’ve spent every morning after waking up doing this weird thing with my teeth* (it seemed normal before I started to write it out, but now I recognize that it’s definitely weird) as a way of counting and organizing the upcoming events. Luke’s birthday, New York, last week of school, thesis due, final projects due, end-of-year school parties, parents come into town, Mother’s Day, graduation, senior reading, my birthday, sister comes into town, more parties, clean out studio, THEN breathe.
These are all fun things. (Well, no. It will not be fun to clean out my studio. Does anyone have ample space to store large book-binding machines? No? Me neither.) But since they’re all happening one after the other, the celebration can start to look and feel a lot like stress. Fun begins to resemble an endless to-do list with innumerable sub-to-do lists. Everything must be perfectly planned, because if one straw is out of place the entire balance of the meticulously crafted May schedule will come crashing down.
I am a planner. I follow Bullet Journal accounts on Instagram and drool over charts about bottled water consumption in women’s notebooks the way other people drool over steak. I am really quite attached to my lists, and when I am away from them I wander around lost and full of sorrow and dread. I like compartmentalizing; I like any task that involves taking things out of a drawer and then putting all the things back in again, but in order. A lot of people like this kind of thing. There are multiple Buzzfeed listacles — that I definitely do NOT look at at 3 a.m. pretty much every night in order to distract myself from my nightmares about floods and sea birds — devoted to this particular kind of organizational pleasure. As I write about often, it feels nice to have control over things. Given how much in life we cannot control, organizing lists and drawers and time and jars is a rare joy.
There are, however, some major downsides to this kind of living. When you are constantly planning the next moment, you never really enjoy the one you’re in. And lest you think I am going to ask you to sit on the floor and breathe for an hour, like everyone with a blog and a Pinterest account tells you to do these days, hold tight. I’m just going to ask you to eat an apple.
Eat an apple, or take a bath, or pet a cat, or hold a cup of tea between your hands, or listen to a record, or smell something with flowers. This is not the same as reading a book or watching TV or having a drink, which are all things we associate with leisure that are actually more about leavING. This is a busy — but also a wonderful — time of year. And, usually, we don’t take even a moment to realize it before we’re on to the next thing.
The phrase “take a moment” is misleading. It suggests that you are acquiring something that wasn’t already there to begin with. Instead, I am going to offer the word “savor.” Savoring is what happens when you recognize in a moment that you are experiencing joy or pleasure or calm, and you let yourself feel that feeling without any interruption for a while. It’s so silly that we don’t all just do this naturally! We’re always seeking these things, but when they come, we’re supposed to move on as fast as we can. We’re supposed to associate joy with loss, because nothing good can ever last, so it seems like it makes sense not to relish anything at all.
Or you plan for the enjoyment. You turn in your thesis and you think, “I’ll feel happy about this when we have a party on Friday.” I, personally, save up all the nice feelings I get in May and try to cash them all in on my birthday. But feelings are a lot more like French fries than money: They don’t keep well in the fridge. Might as well enjoy them while you can.
And so, my simple proposal is this: Next time something nice happens, and you feel a deep sort of comfort that you don’t have the time (“deep comfort” is not on the schedule!) to feel, feel it anyway. Feel it all the way. Letting yourself be present with the good feelings means you’ll have practice being present with the bad ones, too.
It’s early morning; there is a rose-breasted grosbeak (!!!!!!) at my bird feeder. Or there was. I sat with him for seven minutes — and I sat with the feeling of seeing him for four — before I wrote this sentence.
* I click my tongue over each of my teeth while assigning it an event and saying the event out loud. Then my teeth can be like my day planner. What: no one else is doing that?