On Repeat

My life is pretty simple these days.  On Monday, I get all my etsy orders from the week ready to send off.  On Tuesday, Remy and I hop on the bicycle (I hop on, Remy hops in his carrier) and we ride to the post office.  On Wednesday I do laundry and join my neighbor to do cross-fit.  On Thursday, I get ready for Friday.  On Friday, we hop on and in the bike again and ride to the store to get bananas.  Saturday we try to go on an adventure with all of us.  Sunday we teach five little munchkins at church and come home and lay on top of our bed in the sunlight while Remy spies on kids out the window.

 I just read through that list at least four times, and I am totally nervous to put it up because it makes me sound as if my life were insignificant or shallow.  This is my list of the 'big events' of the week, but it looks so silly to me because I feel like the thoughts that swim around in my head -- the way I looked at Remy while he was bathing in the kitchen sink today and thought my heart might burst, the things I read in Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's new book that are turning some of my thoughts up-side-down-in-a-good-way, and the ways in which my faith in myself and in life is challenged and restored a hundred times daily -- are not, nor ever could be reflected in that wee little list.  Maybe the point is then, our lives are made up of the simple things we do repetitively, but we are a product of things of a more internal nature, if we choose to be.  Our simple, daily acts do not have to define us, but we also don't have to fight with them.

My days and weeks are made of repetition, in fact, they would not exist without repetition.  There is task-oriented repetition, which can at times be dull, but at other times, can be confidence boosting and satisfying. There is joyful repetition too.  For a long time I thought that childhood was the only place where repetition brought real joy, but I was wrong.  Engaging with repetition as a mom, a wife, a writer, an artist in my adulthood is starting to show me that making enough marks of the same kind requires a great deal of imagination and play, and I believe those are two places where joy is found. There are many hours spent in the sandbox; pages of books read, both of my own and of Remy's, we know the words and pictures by heart; words written and re-written and re-written again; paintings; late nights sitting on the floor with Carl and talking; so many dishes washed by hand; callalillies bloomed; snow pea plants that grown at least four inches; leaves swept off our patio; cookies baked; dinners made; floors vacuumed; Remy and Remy and Remy, crawling and making a mess and clinging to the bottom of my dress.

I used to think I was too good for repetition.  I used to think that I was so adventurous and spontaneous that mundanity would never catch up with me, it would never even be able to find me.  To some degree, I was right.  For most of my life, until Remy came along, I was pretty free-spirited, as in, I didn't quite grasp the concept of consistency and its benefits.  I don't feel less 'free-spirited' now, but I do feel the necessity of slowing down and repeating as I teach someone else what their little spirit is capable of.  I am enjoying, more than I ever thought I would, this simple, simple life.  Yes, there are times, (you can ask Carl) when I go wild and feel like a trapped canary, but even in those moments, I know the the whole of me is happy, even when parts of me aren't at the end of a long day when I'm thinking about getting up early and starting over.

 I think the most significant thing I've learned from the temple painting series I've been working on is that repetition is well, repetitive, but that doesn't mean the doing over and over is without meaning.  Temples are made up of pattern.  Small pieces woven together over and over to make a whole.  Sometimes as I am drawing and painting the parts of a temple, I can't even imagine how it could all come together to make something meaningful. But then again, I never imagined that a bath, a blanky, and a song every single night at 7:30 would be the makings of a meaningful year.  I never imagined how important it would be to me, even years later, that I walked out the front door of my apartment every single day of my mission to do the same thing I did the day before. In work we do, same story. I've also found though, that there is variation in repetition.  I think I knew this in theory, but it didn't quite make sense to me until I sat for many hours moving my hand in nearly the same motion, but not ever exactly the same.

All of this reflection on the repetition that constitutes my life these days makes me wonder if my life always had this capacity for this sort of simplicity.  I'm also wondering what made me so resistant and nervous to even try it out in the first place.  I'm not advocating for mundanity.  Doing things exactly the same way always, is boring.  Maybe I'm advocating for a little more acceptance and peace in the things that simply have to be done over and over and over.  I think that I was so resistant to a schedule because I assumed that my ability to think critically and smartly would diminish if I were to engage in the minuscule things that construct the life of any person who cares for anyone else, or works, or has kids, or goes to school, or has a house, or a pet, or teaches, etc...  I realize now that I was wrong in thinking that my desire or ability to think critically have been diffused.  They haven't.  However, my will to find the right forums in which to think critically, or just really hard, has been challenged, and that is still something I am working through.

I know I've been one to make my life more difficult and complicated than it needs to be.  I have a friend here in California who is so calm.  She has four kids who are home-schooled and whenever I go to see her, she is peaceful.  I asked her about it, and she said she is careful not to schedule herself for things that don't matter to her.  She doesn't have to be anywhere but where she is.  I know that we all have to work, go to school, stay at home, do a million different things in a million different ways, but I do think that all of our lives probably has a greater capacity for simplicity.

I think that we all get so scared of our lives being 'normal'.  I think we easily pick on repetition as being against us.  As I've been pondering on this though, I think back to the women I knew in Uruguay.  I loved and admired them so much and their lives were testaments to repetition. They knew they built families on repetition because if they didn't keep things together, no one else would.  If you've never hand-washed a load of clothes with a bucket and some bar soap, you do not know repetition.

One of the best women I ever knew worked in the fields picking whatever fruit was ripe for the season.  She had probably done this for forty years.  One day she said to us, "I was picking strawberries and thinking of Jesus, when I reached in a strawberry plant and accidentally grabbed a snake.  I thought of Jesus again, and knew I would be fine.  I put the snake down and it slithered away."  Of all the stories I brought home from my 18 months in Uruguay, this is one that comes back to me so often.  I don't know that it is Jesus we all need to be thinking of as we go about our daily's, though I'm sure it wouldn't hurt, but the point that strikes me every time is how deeply engaged in meaningful thought this simple woman was as she did the most routine of things, bending to pick strawberries out of a plant for 8 hours at a time.  I love her for many things, but I love her for reminding me that a simple life can be a good life, and that while repetition may not make a person famous, it will make a person strong.   


Ashley said...

I had a meeting in Salt Lake with some fellow designers during Alt Summit. I felt so silly being there because I was the only stay-at-home and not a professional designer. Everyone was talking about books, movies, TV shows, and blogs that I didn't even know existed. In the past this would have totally bothered me and I would have been completely embarrassed because I wasn't in touch with the latest trends. But instead I left feeling grateful. I realized that even though on the surface my life appears simple, it is filled with what matters to me the most.

j cubed said...

You are incredible Ashley. I love everything you wrote. Such great advice from your friend in CA, "She doesn't have to be anywhere but where she is."

Tonight I had the radio playing on my little ihome in my room and the boys and I were dancing on our big bed. I laughed and teared up all at the same time because this is truly the greatest joy in life. We weren't doing anything "spectacular," we were no where fancy, but at the same time I felt on top of the world. So fun to see the world through these little boys eyes :)

We love you and look at your paintings everyday! We have the LA Temple Painting right near the fox and every one asks about them when they see them on our wall. We tell them how amazing you are!

Can we have a phone date soon?!? Miss you!

melimba said...

beautiful words, ashley.
amen. amen. amen.

LJ said...

This was one thing I really needed to read today. Thank you so much for writing this.

Deja said...

I have about a million things to say, but mostly, thank you. My life looks different from yours. I'm working, commuting into Boston every day, busy, always a million things to do, and I still feel like a trapped canary, if it's any help. Your days--that beautiful list at the beginning of your post--sound deep and sweet to me. And they give me hope that someday being at home with my children--something I worry about a lot--will be as deep and sweet. I've also been thinking a lot about what it would mean to accept routine tasks and not fight and buck against them so much, or perhaps worse, think that not doing my dishes means I am somehow not good enough for life (this also happens). Two things that have contributed to my thinking: an old memoir written by an Austrian woman who kept house for a year in a 10X10 hut in the arctic and wrote about it. It's called A Woman in the Polar Night by Christiane Ritter and I think everyone in the world should read it: it's becomes sort of a crusade of mine. And the other is this article a friend shared with me about family work in BYU Magazine. I think you would love it: http://magazine.byu.edu/?act=view&a=151

Thank you again.

Mike and Emily said...

Deja sent me a link to your post and I ate it up. These are things I've been thinking about too, as a stay-at-home mom and a writer. Thank you for your insight. And for writing it down for the rest of us.

zlb said...

You are living my dream Ash. I feel trapped by the constant motion of my life. I just want it to. slow. down.

ashmae said...

thank you guys for your comments and insight. Deja, thanks for the other stuff too, I am going to look up that book.

Lanée Jensen said...

Reminds me of a quote from Aristotle: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit." I liked your comments about the temple, when you look at the church and its programs, it's essentially founded in habits and repetition.

L.R.L said...

reading this post was exactly what I needed today.

thank you.