Guiding Principal

I’m struggling to write here lately. I’m not sure what to say. It all feels jumbled: unfinished ideas, stray thoughts that don’t fit, non-sequitur topics. I start posts but can’t finish them. I return to posts only to abandon them yet again. I’m not sure what my purpose here is anymore.

As life took me farther and farther from my original blogging purpose, and the community I held so dear slowly faded into the ether, I found myself writing for different reasons. I also found myself reading profoundly different blogs. Now I would say that more than half of what pops up in my reader is not from personal blogs — the vast majority of the people I once followed have stopped writing — and is instead from spaces that focus on a certain idea, promote an ideology, or espouse a way of life. I like these blogs well enough, but I am beginning to register the shift in the balance between those kinds of posts and the ones about life in general, has left me feeling like my own space lacks a… I don’t know… coherent narrative? A specific message?

I know I don’t actually need those things. That is not why I started blogging and was never my reason to continue writing. If anything I wanted to be a dissent voice in the presentation of parenting and marriage as perfect. I wanted to speak truths society mostly kept silent. I wanted to speak my truth.

But it’s harder now. My kids are getting bigger and I find much of my own path through motherhood so intricately entangled in their own journeys that I’m not sure how to tease out my thoughts in a meaningful way. My marriage is decent right now. My work woes, as a teacher, seem nontransferable to women in other professions. I’m increasingly embarrassed to publish posts that seem little more than an admittance of of my white, upper-middle class, cisgender privilege. Can I really add anything of value?

There is no life philosophy I have been able to embrace wholeheartedly. My life feels like a smorgasbord of attitudes and outlooks. More than ever I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing.

The other day I was talking with some friends about the entrenched, systematic faults of San Francisco’s public school system (and the serious failings of California’s public education in general), and the problems with Prop 13 came up (as they are wont to do) and suddenly we were talking about how when you do work on your house they will reassess your property’s value, and back-date that appraisal to the day your permits are issued.

Suddenly, instead of pondering the very real failings of my child’s school system, I was thrust back into an inner-monologue I’ve endured a thousand times. That means that if we incorporate our in-law unit as a master bedroom, not only will we lose our rent, and spend insane money doing the renovation, we’ll also end up paying thousands of dollars more a year in property taxes.

This again?! You are probably wondering, annoyed and exasperated that a topic I’ve assured myself, and all of you, was no longer under consideration is rearing its ugly, obsessive head once again.

I feel you, my friends. I really do. Because I feel exactly the same way.

And as I was reconsidering (for the millionth time) whether or not incorporating our inlaw unit should be a goal, I found that my primary frustration was not the uncertainty of the situation, but my lack of a foundational philosophy on which to manage the uncertainty. If only I were committed to an overarching mindset, I would know what to do!

Except I am not committed, to anything, it seems, at least not for very long. My views are as constantly conflicting as the divergent messages I get from the blogs I subscribe to, the articles I read (and the commercials embedded in them), the personal stories people relate and the vague remnants of “how things are” lingering from my childhood.

Here is a sampling of what goes through my mind every time I consider incorporating our in-law unit:

A master bedroom! A SECOND BATHROOM! We NEED a second bathroom, even if we’re okay sleeping in the living room for the rest of our lives.

But people all over the world survive without ANY bathrooms. And families all over this city share smaller bathrooms with more people!

But everyone I know has a bigger house than I do! And two bathrooms! (Or at least once and half!) I’m not asking for too much if I want those things too!

But TINY HOUSES! People are happy in 400 square feet!

It shouldn’t matter what anyone else does or doesn’t do, this is a decision for you.

We’ll never save enough money to pay for inside stairs anyway. STOP THIS MADNESS.

But we could take out a loan against our house. Everyone does that to remodel.

But THAT IS A BAD PLAN! At least that is what all the financially savvy people say.

But you are NOT financially savvy, so you can follow the herd and go into more debt. You’ll never pay off your house anyway, you might as well enjoy it more while you’re making insane mortgage payments.

But, also, if you live in that space you can’t rent it. That’s $15K a year you’re willing to just give up?

But we only have one more year of child care, that costs more than $15K a year! The math works perfectly!

But savings! And retirement! And college funds! And traveling with the kids! And job flexibility!

OTHER PEOPLE HAVE SPACE LIKE THAT, WHY CAN’T I?!

Don’t buy into the message that you need more, just because most other people you know have more. You don’t need more. You are happy now. You don’t need that space, or the bathroom.

Well, maybe you need the bathroom. Maybe adding a half bath is the answer… I wonder how much that would cost.

OHMYGOD THIS ISN’T EVEN ON THE TABLE RIGHT NOW STOP WITH THE INCESSANT MINDFUCKERY YOU CRAZY BITCH!

(Lather + Rinse + Repeat) x Infinity = I AM GOING TO LOSE MY EVER LOVING MIND!

When I untangle my frustrations, I recognize that the final result with all these different mindsets at my disposal, is I have more choice. My exposure to different narratives informs me with different ways to approach a problem. I consider myself lucky to have access to these different perspectives. But it’s also hard when I don’t have my feet firmly planted in any one of them. Even if I did want to commit to a certain course of action, there are tons of possible scenarios and I could never know what might ultimately transpire. I know this. And yet, it seems like I’d be better able to manage that uncertainty if I knew if fell within the confines of a committed belief system. Without a guiding principal to direct me, I feel completely and utterly lost.

And, obviously (I hope!), it’s not really about the in-law unit. I feel like I’m missing that guiding principal in so many areas of my life. Sometimes I wish, more than anything, that I prescribed to a certain worldview so strongly that it easily influenced every big decision I make. It would be so much easier to navigate through life, if I knew, not necessarily where I’m going, but which belief system to follow so that I might get there.

13 Comments

  1. First of all, your school posts are what helps me understand any public school system better even though every state is different. AND, the struggle of 2 parents working full time while raising 2 young kids is universal for all of us doing it. Yes, we are all privileged to be able to do it and have the things we need/want, but its still hard.

    The house thing….well we are entering that arena as well and it’s different but the same. We have to move to get out of our exceedingly white neighborhood and I don’t want to. I can totally relate to the push/pull mental struggles of trying to figure out the best thing to do.

    1. I’m glad someone can relate. I look at that mental dialogue and think I must be crazy, but maybe it’s more common than I think.

  2. I wouldn’t at all say your career posts are unrelatable. Or rather, even though I can’t completely relate to your exact struggles, I appreciate learning more about the world of public school teaching and the types of things you have to deal with. That is one reason I love personal blogs—getting an inside, un-edited look at worlds that may be different from mine. It helps us understand and appreciate each other more, I think.
    I do get what you are saying re: “guiding principle” but I don’t think most people have such a cut and dry worldview that every decision is easily made. I think those people who build their entire lives around minimalism or frugality or whatever are rare—which is why they tend to write popular blogs—the whole concept is aspirational (which apparently is not a real word or I’m spelling it wrong).
    I love reading your evolving and incohesive thoughts, much more than I enjoy reading someone with only one, repeated, never-deviating from the message thought process.

    1. Ha! Chrome seemed to think “foundational” wasn’t a word but dictionary.com assured me it was. 😉

      I will admit that the blogs that just say the same thing over and over do get really boring. I guess knowing exactly how to live one’s life is awesome in practice, but super repetitive in a blog. 😉

  3. I enjoy the real life situations you talk about most of the other blogs I follow glaze over issues or some huge life altering issue comes up. I still want to know how these people afford to live and do life without working or working on one income (it seems). We also had to move recently, life with three children under five, two full-time jobs and the DC suburbs are expensive. Our house was falling apart and while the land was worth a lot a failing house with no means to pay for it was restricting. we sold. currently we rent and while I am happier – my husband feels like we are failing at life. I need some financial direction in my life. Something we are just not good at 🙁

  4. I have the same kinds of dialogues.

    My job sucks! I’m so stressed right now! So much on my plate! What’s your problem? Some people work three jobs and can’t pay the rent! People in Syria are fleeing their lives!

    I dunno. It’s good that we acknowledge our privilege, but we can also feel frustrated about the stresses in our lives.

    My kid is in the California public school system and I prefer to think of it on the upswing—Brown has restored a lot of the money that was cut, and at least where I am, we have a great new superintendent (3 yrs) who has turned around the ship after years of bleah leadership, and our school has a new principal (2 yrs) who is just fabulous-really.

    Oy prop 13. I was in elementary school then. My takeaway as a kid was the field trips suddenly dried up.

  5. Just change the topics a little and I have exactly the same conversations in the privacy of my own mind. For example:

    Private school v. public school

    Kitchen remodelling v. save money for college/private school tuition

    New couch and refinishing the floors v. pricy vacation

    Buy a summer place v. save for college and private school tuition

    My guiding theme is (sad to say) money. It really is all about the benjamins. I can do anything I want, but I can’t do everything I want. And that’s hard.

  6. OMG! The pure humanity and reality of what you write is huge. And, helpful in grounding me in normalcy. Thank you for each and every post. We all chase our own tails around and around and in what you write it becomes human not individual madness. And, understanding the reality of living in SF with two incomes and two children and the constant costs and pressures…. well, it helps and is grounding.
    Please keep writing.

  7. I like that you are so honest. Even if some of the content is not directly relatable, it’s interesting to see how you work through things, since those thoughts often ARE relatable.

    Your conversation about renos is the same one I’ve been having internally (and externally with my husband!) about having children. My therapist suggested setting a deadline for deciding (in my case, the deadline is 33 yrs old), which gives me time to “warm up” or “cool down” to the idea. Then I have a deadline and will decide by that date.

    This article has been something I read every once and a while. Although not directly relevant to your renos, I think the spirit of the article may be useful.

    https://onbeing.org/blog/courtney-martin-the-right-decision-is-the-one-you-make/

  8. I also find your posts interesting. I like the window into your mind.

    About the bathroom debate. Most, if not all, of my friends with kids have more than one bathroom. But I do not know a single person with kids who lives in SF. Every single person I know who at one time lived in SF has had to move away due to high costs. There is usually a dramatic facebook post about how expensive SF is when announcing the move. And these people are lawyers for the most part (and don’t work at nonprofits).

    And most people I know in NY had to move out of Brooklyn and Manhattan when they had kids.

  9. Your writing is real and that’s important and wonderful.

    On the great “how much room do we need anyway?” debate: we made peace with less over a couple of years. We talked it through and decided that our clutter habit had to go and for us, less space means less junk we can fill it with. It made the choices easier to decide we wanted fewer things. I also think it helped me personally to stop second guessing myself every time I made a decision and to just accept it was done and there was no going back. The acceptance bit is a struggle but such a relief when I convince myself it’s truly beyond my control at a certain point.

    We have had 1 bathroom & 4 people plus the feline for almost 2 years and it’s doable. Our next place still has one bathroom and it will be fine. It isn’t maybe the most fun but it isn’t worth the added expense or space for us.

  10. I think your guiding principals are more complex than some, but you do have them and they’re threaded throughout your post. Complex principals may be less convenient but they will often yield better results and fewer mistakes (or at least less consequential ones).

    One thing that was helpful to me, was learning there has to be an end point (to the analysis) once I’ve made a decision so I don’t drive myself crazy. If I feel like my thoughts are swirling, one of my guiding principals is “this is not a good time to decide.” Once I’ve decided not to decide, I stop myself from thinking about it for awhile. Patience is a virtue here, because sometimes for projects like this you need months or years to decide if there are competing needs and wants.

    Having a mind that notices many things and can think through complex scenarios and project outcomes can be exhausting sometimes. I’m learning that I have to be discriminating about what I’m going to pay attention to at a given time so I don’t get overwhelmed and stymied.

    By the way, the next time you decide to dedicate energy to this topic, you could talk to the Assessor and find out what the approximate impact on your assessment would be (then apply the mill rate in your town to get the new property tax amount). Or you could have a realtor or 2 in to give you an idea of which option(s) would increase the FMV of your home more (and of course when you do decide to move you’d give them a shot at pitching their services to you). You could also get an estimate from a contractor or 2 or have an architect in to give you some ideas.

    If your bath is adjacent to your bedroom, may you could have a door put in so it has an en suite feel. Or maybe there are other smaller changes you can make now that will make you feel better – upgrading the sink, faucet and/or counter top in the existing bath room or doing something to make it feel more spacious.

    Finally, if you don’t currently rent that in law space out, maybe you don’t want tenants? Or maybe you want to rent it out for x years to save for the renovation?

    I hope this helps. I think you’re doing great, by the way!

  11. Hi – I sent you a What’s app but I don’t know if you still have that platform. I’ve found the book Playing Big by Tara Mohr to be hugely helpful in this regard. In it, she talks about an Inner Mentor, and how we as women often get told to ask external mentors for advice, yet we all know what we really want to do. I have found this to be so powerful – the idea of an Inner Mentor, who is our future self, who we can ask for advice. I’m not describing it well but it’s amazing. Lots of other good stuff in this book as well. Highly, highly recommend. Hugs.

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