Finding a Sustainable Pace

It’s Sunday night of Thanksgiving weekend, and I’m in my cozy spot, sitting on the couch sideways, with my feet up and my back leaning against the arm nearest to Richard, who is comfortable in the teak easy chair next to me. This is our last night at home for a while, and I should be staring at the piles of work in my office and thinking about what I need to take with me for our Denver “residency.” Instead, I’m getting in my couch time while I still can.

Ten months ago, I sat here and wrote a blog post about finding sustainability in my work life. What I meant by sustainable work was measured, I said,

“…in terms of my personal energy budget. (In terms of its impact on the planet, my work is pretty green: I work at home in a house heated by the sun and soon to be powered by solar electricity [more on our coming photovoltaic system in a future post], I do most of my errands on foot, recycle almost all of my “trash,” and do my best to make planet-friendly purchases.) The sustainability I’m aiming for is balancing the work I do in a day with the energy I have to do it.”

I made some pretty good progress on that effort to find a sustainable pace of work, and to work in a way that nourished me as well as nourishing the planet. For a while. And then my memoir, Walking Nature Home, was published and I went into a flurry of activity getting the word out, and just as I was breathing a sigh of relief and gearing down to a more sustainable pace, a couple of article assignments came in at once, so I went into crazy-busy mode again to power through those, and just as I was taking a deep breath, my previous book, Colorado Scenic Byways, won the Colorado Book Award, which generated a string of events, and when I got through those, it was almost time to prepare for the two-week artist/writer residency Richard and I had been awarded, but I also had a workshop to prepare for…. Does anyone see a pattern here?

Looking back at the year up to August 28th, when Richard began hallucinating hordes of birds, what I see is that I was talking about finding a sustainable pace for my work, and writing about it, but I was not actually doing it. Since the day when our lives took an abrupt turn into the world of neurology and neuro-oncology, I haven’t had much time to contemplate how to find a sustainable pace. Yet something very odd has happened: In the midst of the craziness of hospitals and tests and surgery and consults with various doctors and the weekly commute back and forth to Denver for all of the above, with my mother ending up in the emergency room in Denver twice, one of my freelance article deadlines suddenly being moved up from “whenever” to “the end of November”…. In the midst of all that, I’ve somehow found a pace that works for me.

What happened? With Richard’s health crisis, the focus of my life shifted from “earning a living as a successful freelance writer” to “living each day as it comes, and appreciating what I have.” That’s a pretty fundamental change. (And there I am in the photo below, appreciating some of what I have: my dad, my mom, and my sister-in-law, Lucy, at my folks’ place for a get-together the day before Thanksgiving.)


Once I finish my current assignment for Audubon Magazine, I’ve resolved to take a break from magazine journalism (for a long time my bread and butter work, at least such bread and butter as the average freelance writer earns, which is, well, a bit more generous than working at Wal-Mart) and instead work on the projects that speak to my heart. I don’t know what that’ll mean for my income, but right now with Richard going into months of treatment for brain cancer, income is, perhaps oddly, not my biggest concern. Yes, I know money’s important. (It comes in so handy when you need to pay the bills.) But here’s the truth I’ve learned again in this journey with Richard’s health: It really is only money, and it really doesn’t buy happiness.

When it’s all said and done, I won’t care how much money I earned. I will care how much time I’ve had to hold Richard’s hand, to admire the blossoms of our Christmas cactus (photo below), which bloomed extravagantly this year between Halloween and Thanksgiving, to watch the moon rise over the hills, to cook a big pot of lentil soup, one of Richard’s comfort foods, using some of the last spinach and tomatoes from the garden, to listen to the creek burble past, to read a book, talk with friends, and to put my feet up on the couch and just be.

Tomorrow morning, Richard and I head to Denver to begin his grueling course of daily radiation along with daily doses of chemotherapy drugs. We don’t know what’s ahead. But I know this: tonight I’m appreciating couch time. Tomorrow will be what it’ll be, and I’ll take the day as it comes, holding my honey’s hand all along the way. That’s as sustainable as it gets for me.

Think of us, please, and envision Richard whole, healthy, and happy, and me, getting my couch time and writing what I love! Blessings to you all.