Illustration: John Ritter
A friend once told me about the Buddhist concept of pain without suffering; it's a notion that fascinates me. I mean, is it really possible to say, "Yep, my stomach aches, all right, but I don't have to add insult to injury by letting that pain run amok: I can decide to skip the part where I moan, 'Now I can't meet my friends at the movie and I'll probably miss work tomorrow, which means I'll blow my deadline, lose my job and die penniless and alone, never having seen Dreamgirls.'"
Calming a frantic brain in the face of high anxiety is a pretty tall order, especially for a woman like me who tends to operate on two basic emotions: panic and barely suppressed panic. But assuming one can actually achieve pain without suffering, where else might this dynamic be applied? Is there such a thing as anger without brooding? Sex without strings? And the real question—my current obsession—can a person feel unbelievably busy without feeling unbelievably overwhelmed?
Lately, I seem to have this constant sense that I'm just keeping my head above water. I'm forever trying to catch up, stay in touch and be where I'm supposed to be when I'm supposed to be there. I bought a new pair of jeans in November, but I've never worn them because I've never had a chance to get them hemmed. The last novel I remember curling up with is Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret—and that was in sixth grade. I floss while sorting mail, while defrosting lamb chops, while searching for Mrs. Weinstein, my 3-year-old daughter's stuffed platypus.
But this is not just about being a single mother (though I do spend an ungodly amount of time wondering why my daughter is not on a first-name basis with her stuffed platypus). Almost everybody I know—whether they're wealthy or struggling to make ends meet, whether they're bachelor girls or celebrating their 25th anniversary, whether their kids are grown or toddlers or nonexistent—everyone seems to be suffering from some sort of culturally induced ADD. Our brains are swamped and our bodies are tired. Blood pressures are up, serotonin levels are down, tempers are short, to-do lists are long, and nerves are shot.
Here's how I spent last Saturday...see if any of it rings a bell:
I am awakened by the sound of Julia's voice. "Mommy, Giovanni picked his nose and it bleeded," she informs me. "Good to know," I murmur. "Now go back to sleep before Mommy kills you." Somewhere in England, the Super-nanny is appalled.
I have to pee. My bladder used to be legendary. As God is my witness, I could go three, maybe four months without ever needing the ladies' room; I could drive from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters sans bathroom break. But I'm 46 now, and believe me, it's a whole new ball game.
I live in mortal fear that the slightest movement anywhere in the apartment will wake Princess Bunny Pie. I will not move. I will not move. I will not move.
I will move, but I will move in stealthy, gazelle-like silence.
Here's the thing about stealthy, gazelle-like silence—it's doable only if you don't step barefoot on a Lego.
Miss Cuckoo Pants insists it's time to rise and shine. I offer her a check for $260,000 if she will sleep for just one more hour. But the kid sees through me like a bar of used Neutrogena and reminds me that I still owe her 85 grand from the time she tasted a parsnip.