I recently worked up the courage to watch Phantom Thread, a movie I thought was going to be scary because it had “phantom” in the name. Rather than walk away from the movie with the spook-induced goosebumps I had prepared for, however, (spoiler alert approaching; I’ll soften it so you can keep reading) I found myself mostly disturbed by the fact that I related to the way Daniel Day-Lewis’ character required “the stomach flu” (*wink*) to take a damn break.
I too need an external excuse to “stop.” I’m a triple-booker, an over-committer, a massive over-obsesser. When I feel a hint of a cold coming on, I avoid it with all my might. I’m busy, I have this thing, I must keep going. This is my way of upholding adult responsibilities. I can be sneezing in bed, or I can be sneezing and productive, I have previously told myself. But when a real cold hits and my head balloons, everything halts. I turn into a five-year-old who lets herself sleep and relax and be cuddled. It allows me to say “I can’t” with far less guilt than I normally wrap around such a statement. Sort of like Daniel Day-Lewis as the creepy couturier. (If you’ve seen the movie, note that I stress the sort of.)
In the reverse direction entirely, although I do see them as connected, I also tend to need an excuse to say “I can.” To really let loose, or to relax when I do let go a little. When I assigned myself a story where I would “live like my childhood self would have dreamed” for Dreams Month, part of me wonders if I wasn’t looking for an excuse to work through my own frustration around feeling like I’ve unraveled recently. Since the start of September, my apartment has been a near-permanent mess. My gym routine, usually pretty strict, has been sporadic at best. I’ve been staying up later than I know I should, eating a lot of junk food, eating almost literally zero vegetables, forgoing a lot of the grooming that makes me feel polished and sleeping in on the weekends. I have told a few friends, “I feel gross.”
But if it’s for a story — now, that’s an entire thing entirely. Suddenly, there’s an order to my madness. Suddenly, I am exactly on track with what I’m meant to be doing, even if what I’m meant to be doing feels like pandemonium.
During my month that was meant to be just a week of “living like my childhood self would have dreamed,” I used the subtle threat of a deadline and a blank screen to give myself, as Dr. Phil would say, “permission” — permission to chill the hell out, to stay up as late as I wanted (knowing full well the consequences), to crash, to not wash the dishes (like, at all, until it got dire), to leave clean laundry in not-put-away piles, to be a little cranky and self-indulgent, to be a mess, to make and keep a mess, to watch way too much television, to eat whatever I wanted.
Want to know some of the things I ate, just because the list is fun?
– Two kinds of pie — pumpkin and pecan — mid-day on a regular old Tuesday, not a holiday. Pie has always been a holiday food for me.
– Fast food burger and fries, on top of a The Little Mermaid plate. (More childhood-dream than this special occasion plate was regressing back to my 7-year-old-self and asking if we can get cheeseburgers for dinner., then being given the thumbs up.)
– A massive bag of choose-your-own candy that I filled up and bought while heading to the 1 train for no reason at all other than: OH LOOK, CANDY! After sharing with the office, I ate the remainder of this of candy way, way past my bedtime because I wanted to catch up on shows and realized that I technically could if I wanted to.
– Cinnamon buns with extra icing — “buns,” plural, because there was one past the point of physical comfort, plus the additional laps my finger took around the ol’ container of extra icing. Made extra sweet: this was eaten during a weekday sleepover.
– An (oat)milkshake of a latte thanks to Leandra, who was simultaneously on her sweet drink kick — and I don’t even like sweet drinks, but I know my childhood self would have been all over this stuff.
– Cereal, because Harling’s cereal story meant there was a box of Frosted Mini Wheats in the office (until I ate all of it). There were no sugary cereals in my house growing up, so even though these taste like sugary cardboard, this felt like sweet rebellion in honor of my childhood self.
– Pizza, a recurring theme. (Even more so than burgers, is there anything more childhood dream realized than asking for pizza rather than the planned leftovers, and getting a yes?) The best pizza I had, however, was the one I consumed before a pretty “nice dinner” because I was starving; I knowingly ruined my appetite, and I still don’t regret this decision.
– A terrifying amount of baby Twix bars, eaten while carving pumpkins with friends (and spiked cider, but leaving the “spiked” out of this given the childhood context). P.S. Highly recommend getting back into pumpkin carving.
– Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia frozen yogurt, eaten out of the pint while watching Despicable Me, since I’d never seen it, on a school night.
– Van Leeuwen mint chip vegan ice cream (real ice cream makes me sick; not sure why froyo does not), picked up purely because I saw it and wanted it while walking home from work. I waited in line and everything.
– Cookies. I think I ate a cookie every single day this month. Ate it right before bed some nights.
– Juice. When is the last time you had juice? Maybe always, but I drink it never because forever ago I read about how it was loaded with sugar and I’d rather get that elsewhere, but oh my god, orange juice?? It is delicious!
And in full honesty, I didn’t feel entirely great during this so-called experiment: My comfort zone is deeply rooted in routine, in tidiness, so I resented the piles of crap, literal and metaphorical, that piled up. My body and brain feel better when I work out, when I wake up early to meditate, when I eat healthful meals as opposed to globs of cheese and cups full of sugar, so I could hear it asking me, “What the hell are you doing?” I can hear it right now as I type this, in a voice as stern as a mother’s, looking at the mess I’ve made and asking, “Young lady, when do you plan to clean this all up?” After all, I am writing this in bed, amid a pigsty of a studio, and my house rule is that work-from-home-work must be done at my desk, inside a clean apartment. There is a half-eaten toasted cinnamon raisin bagel with butter (on a weekday, by the way, which is like, me just going absolutely wild — normally bagels are a “weekend only” food) sitting on a plate next to me. Crumbs are obviously therefore IN MY BED. It is disgusting!
But it is also okay.
If there is one thing this near-month of acting like “childhood me would have dreamed” taught me, or reminded me, it’s that things don’t actually fall apart when you let yourself live a little. And I don’t mean “live” as in, the only way to experience the real fruit of life is to eat all the junk food you normally salivate at but pretend doesn’t exist. I mean “live” as in, give yourself (or myself — I’m not going to mom you!) a break. I essentially gave myself a hall pass for a month to do whatever, without all my usual strict, self-imposed rules about everything, and it wasn’t even until I started writing this that I realized how much I needed it.
This may come as no surprise, but I actually did get sick at the end of all this, the likely culmination of a million things, not just because I stayed up past my bedtime to watch cartoons (albeit ones “made for grown ups”), or because I had cake for breakfast one day, or because I had a playdate on a weekday when I really should have gone home to do chores, or because maybe I washed my hands a little less. The “why” isn’t important, because either way, the cold caught up with me, knocked me out and once again forced me to stop. Recenter and reevaluate. Breathe. (I can’t actually breathe right now, but you get it.) After this bagel, it’ll be all chicken and veggie soup and ginger for a few days. Because I’m staying home today, and when I finish writing this, I’m going to pick up my apartment a bit. And when I feel better, it’s my plan to find a better compromise between the unnecessarily regimented me and this unsustainable “no parents, no rules” attitude. To start, tonight, maybe I’ll put on a Halloween movie — something spooky, but not scary — and let myself fall asleep during it.