377: “A Handle On” What I’m Doing (Becky Chambers)

                “Despite these blessings, sometimes Dex could not sleep. In these hours, they frequently asked themselves what it was they were doing. They never truly felt like they got a handle on that. They kept doing it all the same.” -Becky Chambers, A Psalm for the Wild-Built

                A few days ago I was looking back and forth between a piece of writing I did about a year ago (nearish when I read A Psalm for the first time) and a piece of writing I did last month, and I noticed, huh. The more recent piece is happier. Lighter. More playful. That might be because last year I really worked to build community. That might be because of the mood I was in when I wrote each piece. That might be because the first piece was trying to prove something, and the second—well, the second’s trying to make something, too, but it’s less worried (though still worried) about what happens if the making doesn’t work. 
                It’s probably some of all three, and some of this, too: I’ve been wondering about doing. Sometimes I run through what I have to do in my head. I think that’s fairly common? For me it’s like a quick mental sprint across ‘have-tos,’ my mind bouncing from wash-dishes to get-sleep to grade-assignments to schedule-meeting. And for a long time I’ve sent my mind sprinting along those pieces pretty regularly. (I wonder how many times a day? It’s hard to guess). I think that’s useful. I mean, there’s a lot to do, and I’d like to keep track of it. But lately, sometimes, instead of running along the list of what I have to do, I’ve been trying to sit with what I’m doing. I’m doing dishes. I’m grading assignments. Doing one thing means I’m not doing another. Sometimes it means another doesn’t get done. Sometimes it means that I don’t understand the overall plan. I suppose this is the kind of thing that could be taken too far, but when I wake up in the middle of the night and it’s hard to fall back asleep—which has been rarer, lately—I get less worried about not sleeping. About what I have to do tomorrow. I try to notice what I’m doing. Laying in bed. Listening to my partner breathe. Feeling the weight of the blanket. At some point sleeping becomes part of the “it” I’m doing, and by that time, I’m not sure I need to have “a handle” on it. I’m not sure I need to understand. I have a cheek, resting against the pillow. A chest rising and falling. Another time I sit at my keyboard and type. Another time I go to the sink and pick up the sponge. This. This is what I’m doing.

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