This morning, the sun was shining. The birds were chirping. And by some supernatural force, morning DJs on local radio stations were playing music.
But not just any music. As far as I was concerned, they were playing all my favorite songs and artists. A veritable litany of meaningful-to-me tunes for the entire duration of my commute.
A car to my right made some desperate maneuver toward an exit on my left, and I braked ever so graciously, with all the patience and equanimity in the world.
Now that I think of it, the skies might have been gray. I wouldn’t have noticed. Nothing could get in the way of my joy.
Last week, on the other hand (at precisely moment I was officially running late to work) I spilled broccoli-chicken-cheese casserole all over the kitchen floor in an attempt to grab something else out of the fridge. And if you don’t know from experience (God bless your innocence), broccoli juice is really gross to clean up. I yelled at my mom, my dad, and my husband for reasons I can’t recall. Perhaps the singular noble thing I did was notify my sisters that I was in a sour mood so they wouldn’t cross and inadvertently anger me more.
I swore under my breath and honked at a different car making the same maneuver (because let’s be honest, no one ever expects a left exit) and spent my commute frantically switching the radio station to hear anything other than the end of some overplayed pop song.
A few weeks ago in Minnesota—in mid-April—we got 20 inches of snow. This put a serious kink in my floral-dresses-and-bare-legs plan, to which I am particularly attached. More significantly, this put a kink in any motivation to restart or refresh routines. I had been waiting for spring to prompt me, for sunnier circumstances to activate my willpower. Stefani totally nailed the way that each season has a mood of its own, so it’s not really my fault that the winter just kept encouraging me to stay inside rather than go to the gym; that the early dark kept encouraging me to nap; that the cold air kept encouraging me to cozy up with a good book and eat whatever my latest pregnancy craving demanded instead of checking something off my to-do list.
In addition to a never-ending winter, a few months ago we discovered that our new apartment had some phenomenally disgusting plumbing issues that resulted in us having to break our lease and move out. (I will spare you the details. You are welcome.)
The extremely casual way my husband and I had been looking at homes to buy in the next year or two became desperate and urgent, because suddenly I found myself five months pregnant and living in my parents’ house. In my old bedroom. With my husband.
The intensity of our desperation for a home of our own was matched, unfortunately, by an equally intense real estate market. So we sought houses below our budget and offered well over-asking. We extended our close date to accommodate sellers. We started to adjust our criteria, looking farther outside the neighborhoods we originally wanted. We even entertained the possibility of a fixer-upper and a newborn (this was a short-lived mental exercise, as we are not very handy people).
We made many offers. We got none of those houses. My stubborn attempts to remain hopeful were taking gut-punches with every rejected offer and every inch of snow.
Maybe you know this feeling? Breaking-up when everyone else is moving in together or getting engaged. Losing your job at the same time a friend gets a promotion. Getting waitlisted when you planned on graduate school for the next few years. Moving out of an apartment before you could even start to settle in. It’s that experience when the one thing that seems like it would tie everything together—the thing you most want to work out—slips away; becomes unreachable, maybe even impossible. The experience of standing still when you should be moving forward. Of having a closet full of floral dresses and no sunshine in the forecast.
This is not an attempt to elicit pity or whine about the times when things don’t go my way. Our situation has not been tragic or even trying in any real sense; I recognize how lucky we are to have family, food, shelter, work—even if we don’t have the luxuries and conveniences of the life we’d imagined for ourselves a few months ago.
But it must be admitted that there’s something really taxing about hitting a rut at the precise moment you thought you’d be hitting your stride. It kills motivation and zaps pride. The chaos caused by these ruts makes it hard to keep priorities and habits intact in other areas of life. It becomes hard to believe spring and sunshine are just around the corner when there’s a fresh 20 inches of snow on the ground. It becomes hard to keep hoping there will be a house, a significant other, a job, a 2-year plan, when the one you’d been working toward slips from your fingers.
When the beginning you’ve been anticipating just won’t begin.
My sister always says, “if not change, movement.”
That’s a good motto for ruts. I recommend taping it to your bathroom mirror.
I don’t have a clear solution for escaping The Rut™, but I’m not sure that’s the point of them anyway. They will certainly continue to exist, and I could stand to get better at acknowledging when I’m in one rather than squinting one eye and trying to wish them away. I’m beginning to understand that the only way to survive (even if not escape) these seasons of circumstantial inertia is thoughtful action—doubling down on the things that are in your control. If not change, movement. I can’t, for example, make houses come on the market and I can’t make sellers pick our offer, but I can learn new recipes, purge my closet, drop off donations; I can do things that will prepare me for a home I’ll have someday.
I’ve found that it helps to focus not only on what’s in my control, but what this particular season affords me the ability to do that, if we get a house, and when we have a baby, I won’t be able to do. Right now, I can read more books. See more friends. Save more money. Sleep through the night. Attend my nieces’ recitals and sporting events. Read the small print on those inordinately dense kitchen appliance brochures… and other things that are equal parts dreamy and domestic.
Because believe it or not, the snow will melt and there will be a sunny day, when neither the world nor the morning radio DJs seem to be conspiring against you anymore. The rut will be a distant memory that you either made the best of or succumbed to. Either way, sooner or later, your favorite song will start playing. Humming to yourself, you might even notice that the snow is starting to melt.
Ellen likes reading and writing and thinks homebodiness is a virtue. She has her MA in religion from Yale and works as the head writer & editor at a research institute dedicated to understanding the inner and outer lives of young people. She has one plant, one tattoo, one baby, and an identical twin. Contrary to all conventional wisdom, she regularly brings up both religion and politics at the dinner table.
BY Ellen Koneck - May 7, 2018
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.