Emily Gilman

Making Stuff Up and Writing It Down Since (Before) I Learned How to Write

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Taking It Easy

I’ve never been good at taking it easy. Growing up I was always That Kid: I wanted to read the longest, most difficult book, and I’d get upset if my teacher wouldn’t let me be in that book group. I’d want the most difficult spelling list with the longest, trickiest words. In sixth grade, when we wrote stories for English class and then were encouraged to submit them to various literary magazines for kids, I immediately set my sights on the one hardest to get into. In college I always went for the interesting essay prompt rather than the straightforward one.

This meant that I read a lot of cool books and learned a lot of interesting words. It meant that I was already serious about improving as a writer when I was in middle school, which led me to Alpha in high school, which led me here.

On the other hand, it meant I stressed myself out a lot. It meant that I first read The Two Towers for a book report in fourth or fifth grade, with only the old animated movie version of The Hobbit for background, because it was the longest, most interesting-sounding book available at short notice and hey, I’d read trilogies out of order before.

Yeah. Not my brightest moment.

In high school I started learning to go a little easier for myself — I let myself take an easier science course freshman year because I wanted to add a second language and keep doing orchestra; I let myself drop science and social studies entirely and take only a moderately challenging math course so I could double up on English and finally try theater arts — but even then I was going easier in one area so I could do something difficult in another. I was learning to prioritize, but I wasn’t really learning to take it easy.

The past few years I’ve been really bad about getting any exercise. I work in a school; it’s hard to find time and energy for other things around that, especially when there are so many things I want to be doing. Given limited time and energy, crocheting and playing music and writing and hanging out with friends and sleeping are all going to win out over exercise, pretty much every time. Especially when exercise involves going out somewhere, or wearing special clothes (which is to say, neither the clothes I wore the rest of the day nor pyjamas). Especially when exercise is boring.

But this year I’m working on being healthier. I’ve been using HabitRPG to hold myself accountable for going to bed on time and drinking enough water and eating healthier foods and doing some language practice every day. I’ve found a breakfast food I actually like for breakfast. (Apple cinnamon oatmeal with walnuts!) And I’ve realized that sometimes the easy thing is also the smart thing, like saying no to extra commitments that I’m not excited about, or buying school lunches because I don’t actually enjoy cooking and I do enjoy the salads that our lunch ladies make.

The other week I ordered a step aerobics platform, and this week it arrived, and today I stepped up and down at a reasonably brisk pace for about half an episode of Doctor Who. I didn’t have to go anywhere. I didn’t have to wear special clothes. It was easy. And that meant that I actually did it.

I’ve heard the word “resilience” come up a lot lately. It’s a professional hazard, if you’re working in a school right now, or if you’re friends with a lot of educators/therapists/social workers/et al. How do we help students/clients/whoever to be more resilient? What does resilience even mean?

I’ve also heard, and used, and delighted in, the word “adulting,” as in “to adult.” It comes up a lot when talking with friends my age, though I’ve heard some older adults use it, too. Adulting is hard. Some days adulting is extra hard. Feeling one has successfully adulted is often cause for celebration, even if that celebration consists of a Facebook post documenting said adulting. Sometimes one questions whether having mac and cheese for dinner counts as adulting if one adds peas (and feels validated when a number of friends respond that it totally does).

As I’ve been writing this entry and trying to figure out why, what my point is, I keep coming back to something Leigh Grossman told a couple of friends and me back when we were still in high school: he said that college was where a lot of people learned how to differentiate between the work that absolutely must be done (and do it), the work that was really unnecessary (and could be ignored), and the work that was not absolutely essential but would still be good to do (so you should do it if you could but also not stress out about it if you couldn’t). It informed a lot of my own approach to college (for better or worse), and it’s informed a lot of my approach to adulting and to trying to help students build resilience (in preparation for adulting later on). When is it worth pushing myself to do something even though it’s hard, even though I don’t want to? What can — and should — I get away with not doing?

Some of that I do think can be taught, albeit slowly over time. Some of that is about getting to know yourself, what your priorities are and what motivates you. It’s taken me a long time to learn to let go of some things, and even so there are days when I’ll call my mom because I need to hear someone else agree that I made the right choice and it’s going to be fine before I can stop worrying about it. (Thanks, Mom!)

But some of it is definitely about access to resources, and that’s the part that’s scary. Options that are easy cost in other ways, usually money. Even when there are no easy options, money can lower the stakes, can turn some “absolutely must be done” things into “good to do but not the end of the world if you can’t” things. Money means you don’t need to panic if something goes wrong, so you learn that you don’t need to panic when something goes wrong, so it’s easier not to panic when something goes wrong. And when you don’t need to panic, and the people around you don’t need to panic, it’s a lot easier to give and receive those less tangible social supports like the time and energy someone takes to reassure you that it’s going to be okay.

And right now, I find myself wondering if part of it is also cultural. I have been very lucky, and I have friends who’ve been as lucky or luckier, but I also have friends who have been less lucky. Friends who have less of a safety net. And even with a safety net I worry about how secure it is, how far it could stretch if it needed to. Is it big enough? Strong enough? For just me, or if need be could it catch a friend, too? If it fails, could someone else catch me?

Sometimes, even when it is smart and healthy and the resources are there so I might as well use them, easy still feels like cheating.