Last summer, a barred owl settled in on my neighbor’s property. He was the talk of the block because his nocturnal cries were unbelievably loud,* and would often wake my neighbors. We were all fascinated by this nighttime nuisance. I heard him, too, most memorably on a twilight walk with Tilly. I almost couldn’t discern the sound’s origination, as it projected and filled the street. Unlike birdsong, it did not blend into the background, a pleasant canopy. Rather, it pierced, a reverberation in equal parts wild and domestic, in some ways resembling human speech and in others, an alien call. I scanned the trees, now a trick of shadow in the crepuscular light, and saw nothing. I recalled the only thing I know about owls: that they see you well before you see them. I felt small and trespasser-like in my own neighborhood, in this borrowed suburbia. The street lights seemed to give way to a landscape that preceded us, and I imagined instead the mature trees, the sloping hills, the nests of barred owls as they might have appeared before pavements and postboxes and patio decks.
This is the thing about interruptions:
Like weeds, they are just plants we do not think we want.
But sometimes they offer us ways in, or out, of our own melancholy or habit or preoccupation. Sometimes what we dismiss as “bugs” are actually “features.”
This summer, I intend to accommodate what passes my way. I spend too much time coiling against intrusions and huddling away from the impromptu. Why this instinct? Or, rather, how have I come to live with such narrow margins? I know how, truly: it is the cluttering of schedules and the chaos of living with young children and the rush of the modern world. All the things we believe are novel to our generation but have probably been around for many. (If you read any fin de siecle authors, you find already the fast pace, the quick sketch, the ennui that “modernity” can engender.) Still, the sensation of over-fullness and over-busy-ness is real, and I am doing my best to unwind myself from it. I recently read a fabulous essay by Buru’s founder, Morgan Hutchinson, in In Kind’s newsletter, in which she talks about the moment she realized she had gone overboard, and possibly lost her center, for her daughter’s birthday party. She concludes:
I’m not suggesting that I don’t believe in striving for perfection. No need to shoot for the middle, when you can shoot for the stars—but, and this is a big but, you must pick your perfect.
The myth of the perfect mother is that she does all things perfectly. There is no such mother. However, there are countless mothers who do a few things perfectly. To these women, I raise a glass. They picked their perfect. They lean into what they know well, and they execute.
This resonates profoundly with the notion that we can only do a handful of things well at once. Marc Randolph put it similarly: “One of the most important skills for any entrepreneur is focus. There will always be hundreds of things broken and on fire — but you only have the resources to do two or three of them well.” Only, this is true not only for entrepreneurs, but for anyone living with purpose. You have space to do a few things well, or at least with intention: what will they be?
It might seem strange to begin an essay talking about accommodating interruptions and to end it imploring myself to live with focus, but there is an important thread that binds, and it is about uncomplicating my life so that I can be open and present. It is about making space for receptivity. Laying the mat for it. When I am “at capacity,” or overstimulated, or busy to the point of distraction, I find myself putting the bread in the fridge and the butter in the cupboard and telling my husband, as I did a few nights ago: “I love how it’s getting late darker and darker now.”
I want to see where the interruption and inconvenience and impromtu take me this summer.
After all, far be it for me to reclaim this neighborhood from the barred owls that lived here before us. There are entire worlds of meaning to discover, and they are waiting on my doorstep, if I can find the patience to listen.
*You can hear a barred owl’s call here. By the way, I’m obsessed with this entire Cornell Labs project — they have an app called Merlin where you can record your surroundings and the app will identify which birds you are hearing. Unbelievable!
+Imprints of a new (suburban) lifestyle.
+OMG but how cute are these striped shorts?! Dig as pool cover-up shorts or paired with the matching button-down or a white tank.
+This VW wagon for kids is SO extra and SO adorable.
+This little top is on sale for around $20 and darling with white/ecru pants/jeans.
+My kind of everyday dress. 20% off with code YOURULE.
+My favorite pull-on wide-leg crops are 40% off. I own them in white and adore. Wore them recently with Chanel espadrilles and a striped tee (details here), but I’m telling you that all you need is a good white tee* and some fab sandals and this will be your go-to drop-off/everyday outfit. Nancy Meyers approves.
*On the tee front: these u-necks from Uniqlo have totally grown on me. I was impressed with them the moment I purchased (initial impressions here), but I find I have been reaching for mine as soon as it’s out of the wash. They launder well and have a great polished look to them. I just ordered two more in white. Take your true size – do not be tempted to size down.
+Currently tempting me from the Net-A-Porter 70% off sale section.
+This $5 girl’s dress looks like Hanna Andersson!
+Love this new pattern from Mille.
+Currently reading. Perfect before bed indulgence.
+Isabel Marant’s Birkenstock-inspired sandals have been SO trendy this year. This pair is 40% off and selling fast.
+These inexpensive jelly slides are perfect for moms who spend a lot of time at pool / splash pads / have any chance of getting wet! Not jelly, but I did just buy this similar and inexpensive pair of metallic slides.
+Those metallic slides would look great with a breezy long dress — and I just saw Saks marked down a bunch of SPECTACULAR dresses from Hannah Artwear, including this striped one and this blockprint one.
+These structured belted pants are SO fabulous. Selling fast!
+Adore everything about this asymmetrical patterned dress. The color is really calling my name!
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6 thoughts on “On Interruptions.”
I’m just here to comment on the joy of reading “crepuscular” – one of my favorite words!
I have a soft spot for that word, too 🙂
Hmmm… while a part of me *gets* this sentiment of “pick your perfect”, I’m not sure I agree with the wording. Admittedly I could not find that exact essay by Hutchinson, so I may be missing a great deal of context here. But there’s something about the word “perfect” that feeds into this potentially harmful narrative and the expectation of society towards women in general, and mothers and teenage girls in particular.
I remember when I was struggling with writing my dissertation, when I just felt almost paralyzed and simply could not write it (and yet I completed a number of other written products during that rough patch in my academic career, that was not my dissertation — to the point where it just baffled my dissertation committee). I heard this many times: “strive for excellence, not perfection”. Yes, aiming for excellence places high expectations on us, yet allows us to make mistakes and be human.
And I also remember hearing a lot of this: “don’t let ‘perfect’ get in the way of ‘done’ or ‘good’.” I heeded that, and got it done.
Hi Mia! I totally agree. Perfect is impossible! Hutchinson is more or less agreeing with us both — basically saying, it’s impossible to do everything well, just pick a few things to focus on.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used the phrase “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough” — with my team, with myself. I find it easier to accommodate this notion than most because I believe myself to be — fundamentally — a pragmatist. Have we talked before about this notion that the world is divided into two types of people, purists and pragmatists? It’s an over-simplification, of course, but I find it SO helpful when navigating interactions with folks who are more on the purist side of the spectrum. It’s easier for me to identify “aha, a purist, I get it and know how to approach this subject with them.” The classification also helps me keep my own emotions/frustrations at bay because I think, “This is just how they operate! We’re coming at this from such different places.”
Not what you asked, but such an interesting subject matter for me.
Love your work. You should check out this fantastic small business in Portland called Ground Up. Amazing nut butters and the business employees women who are down on their luck and have trouble finding work. delicious!
Thank you!! Will check this business out!