Personal Writing

I now have the time, so what’s next?

“I do not claim to have any particular genius. But sometimes, I dream that I’m sitting in a dusky room at a kitchen table across from another version of me, who sits, unbound by time, quietly drinking a cup of tea. ‘I wish you’d visit more often,’ she tells me. And I wonder if that searing middle-of-the-night pain that, at times, settles like dread around my solar plexus may not only be because there’s so little unbroken time to tell my own untold stories, but because I’m afraid that what may be coiled inside may not be worth paying attention to anyway. Perhaps that’s what I don’t want to face in that dusky room I dream of,” writes Brigid Schulte in her article “A Woman’s Greatest Enemy? A Lack of Time to Herself.

I loved this article so much because I am in an extremely rare, and new to me, position as a young, middle-aged woman: all of my parents (and between us we have six still living) are in excellent health and living fabulous, independent lives, and my son, a mere eight months out of college, secured a spectacular position with Boeing before he even graduated and is living with his girlfriend, only three months out of college, in Los Angeles, where she has also recently started a job in her absolute dream career. In short, no one outside of my husband and my pup really “needs” me.

That means that enormous tracts of time are mine. And to claim them, I don’t have to stay up long past my preferred bedtime or drag myself out of bed at 3am to attempt to make time and space for myself.

But of course it wasn’t always like this. In fact, it has never been like this. The only time I ever lived by myself was between early October 1995 until the day Quinn was born, three months later. And I wasn’t really alone then, was I? I just hadn’t yet met the little upside-down person I was baking up amidst a cacophony of angst and sadness and fear.

Since Quinn graduated this past December, I have been marveling at this enormous sense of freedom I feel. Of course Dr. Marry and I started adjusting to being empty nesters when Quinn went nearly eight hours away to college; we really got a taste of what the rest of our lives could look like. But, for me, building a relationship with my college-aged child was more about adjusting the way I actively parented than what we are currently working on.

Most importantly, however, for me personally, is that until he graduated, Quinn was at the very top of my mind just about every second of the day. Probably from the moment I discovered I was pregnant, May 27, 1995, until I watched him drive out of our driveway in January of this year to make the long trek to Los Angeles, Quinn John Del Val was where I put my focus, my energy and my hopes.

But now he’s beautifully launched. I did my part, and he did his. In fact, many people did their parts to ensure Quinn had opportunities that far exceeded what people might have expected of his very humble beginnings.

So now it’s basically just Dr. Marry and me, and Dr. Marry needs very little active care taking—he’s unbelievably smart and independent and able to look after himself, which is a big reason I am so dang drawn to him—he doesn’t need me; he has chosen me. And I have chosen him. And that’s pretty darn swell and not something I take for granted.

But all of this independence and choosing and freedom means that for the first time in my entire adult life, and really maybe my whole life, I can think about what I want for me (ok, I thought a lot about “me” during college and while I was pregnant, but it felt very different then). I can pursue opportunities that benefit whatever direction I want to continue moving. And most importantly, I can dream great big dreams about what is next for me.

Because of my deep interest in history as well as my incredulity that in most of the world, the United States included, women have never had and continue to be denied real equality, I often try to imagine the true lives of women before my time.

No access to birth control, so no real control of your own body. No access to college, and in many cases really any true education. No access to owning land, a house, your children or your own body. No access to legal assistance if your husband beat you, drank or gambled away all your money or was a philanderer. No access to making your own money unless you were a prostitute or in service. No access to good health care.

Ugh, the list goes on and on.

So while things are certainly not perfect for women today, I have to acknowledge that it’s likely the best it’s ever been. So what am I doing to take advantage of the time I am living in and the specific time of my particular life?

I am writing and thinking about writing and finding ample time to take for myself, despite a demanding full-time+ job. I spend hours sitting in my sunroom or on our deck at the patio table, working on my personal projects, heading out to the pollinator garden we planted this spring to pull a weed or two before heading back to make myself a cup of tea and settle back into reading or writing. I go to the library and only look for books I am interested in. I waste too much time on social media. I plot out how to pursue this next avenue of my life to speak and write to women in a larger context.

I am a fortunate woman indeed. I have education piled upon education. I had the luxury of having chosen how many children I would create. I chose my spouse. I purchased my home initially alone. I don’t have to wake up in the middle of the night to address diaper or feeding issues, nightmares, missed curfews or more. I am relatively well rested, in spite of the stress of my job that wakes me up in an absolute panic from time to time.

What has coiled inside me for years is working its way out through this blog. I have resources, support, some kind of an audience and, most importantly, time. So the question I am pursuing relentlessly is, “What is next?” I think what is coiled inside actually may be worth paying attention to. And that’s both terrifying and thrilling. And so I keep pursuing…and time keeps marching on.

Dayna Del Val is on a mission to help others (re)discover the spark they were born with through her blog and newsletter, her professional talks and the (re)Discover Your Spark retreats she leads. Dayna works with people to help them not just identify and articulate their dreams but to develop a framework to get going on the pursuit of those dreams—today, in the next few months and for the years ahead. She's at the intersection of remarkable and so, so ordinary, but she knows that pretty much everyone else is, too. She's excited to be sharing this extraordinary journey with you.

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