Part of my problem was that it became too easy during COVID to shy away from people. We delayed meetings (“just a week”) and put off answering emails (somehow that became allowed) or meeting for walks. I think we (my friends, colleagues, and I) are mostly past that now, but back then, I needed a nudge but didn’t know it.
And I wonder how many other nudges–or maybe kicks–I needed to get me centered and didn’t know about. Or received without being grateful for. Probably lots and lots. Probably giving those nudges, receiving them, and choosing how to react are big parts of what joins me to society.
The specific problem I’m thinking of is that I wanted to be alone to write. We have a large house, but my husband doesn’t go out much.
Why did I want to be alone? So I could step away from the computer, maybe even for an hour, and do anything but write: garden, sponge cabinets, carry items back to where they belong. I like doing those put -the-world-in-order things sometimes. But wanted to be able to do that while staying in my writing zone, rather than while putting up some defense because I was likely going to run into my husband, who’d either say “hi” or he wouldn’t, but I’d feel I had to say “hi” because otherwise, I was being self-indulgent. After a disturbance, it can take half an hour—and longer–to get back in that zone, but I love to be there; I love to write.
So I didn’t get a chance to be home alone much, and when I was, it was for short periods. I could have rented an office, but that would have been costly (and self-indulgent. That old circle of worries.) We have a cabin–but I couldn’t be alone there, either. Why not? Because it’s in a remote place, has no phone service, and it gets dark at night.
The nudge: I told all this to a woman I met while both of us were working on a forest trail. She informed me that she lives on a remote farm and used to be fretful about being there alone, until one night when she decided not to be fretful about it anymore.
That was it. I’ve spent two overnights alone at the cabin since then with no fret at all. I just needed the nudge.
Her name, she told me, was Bernadette. And before you think of any bad puns, it’s not that Bernadette had gone away somewhere I couldn’t find her (as in the novel and film, Where’d You Go, Bernadette), it’s that I had stopped making an effort to find my Bernadettes. (In fact, deeper significance: I tried to change my name to Bernadette in 7th-grade French class because there was already an 8th-grade Bar-bar-AH in there. But it didn’t stick. Where am I, Bernadette?)
Friends nudge us all over the place, in bad ways and good. I reached out to Bernadette to thank her and tell her of my success (through a series of emails because I only knew her first name). She wrote back that it sounded as if I’d already known how to solve the problem. That’s true; I did. We often do. We know what we should do, but just don’t do it. Until we get a nudge.
So many personal examples come to mind. A new grant opportunity came up once, but my plate was already full. I moaned all that to everyone with a locker near mine. All I wanted was someone to say I didn’t have to write the grant. But alas, everyone said I did. My hearts’ desire was not validated, and unfortunately, I wrote the grant. Bad nudges. Bad acceptance of bad nudges.
And the better example was when I asked a friend, wistfully, if I might someday join her book club, and she said maybe. I then mentioned it to my former partner, who said, “How could you possibly find the time to be away one night a month?” Bad nudge. I heard what he said and knew what to do–and many years later, I’m still in that book club. That group of women has been my lifeline many times. Once a month, we all make statements about our situations that put everything—everything—back in context. Small worries that I’ve let escalate in my private mind are dampened. Large worries that I’ve dared not see come into focus. And even the act of coming together displaces that in-my-head chatter with joy. Nudge. Good nudge.
I am one speck who lives within our amorphous culture. Alone, I can go way off-center. Nudges help shove me back toward the center—if I already know, deep down, that center is the place to be. And if I don’t think it is, the bad nudge challenges me to figure out what I really believe and to act on it.
And back to book club. Even though COVID is a more familiar obstacle now, we still tend to put off our monthly meetings (“just a week”). I think we learned to relax a little, tone down the unneeded rush. Nudge. Good nudge.