Whenever I have a massive deadline, there is one thing—if I’m honest—and only one thing I want to do: reorganize my studio.
I cannot begin to describe how powerful this drive is.
Life feeling chaotic with outside demands? All I want to do is reorganize my bookshelves to make more space.
Too many tasks in my head competing for attention? Scheming a better way to organize all my coils and spools of wire suddenly seems like the perfect answer.
Don’t even get me started on the imperative need to organize all my watercolor tubes and pans, for therein lies a profound and completely irrational belief that if I do, my life will be stress-free.
No matter how functional my studio gets, there is always some area in chaos.
It is simply too small and too packed with equipment for one area not be become the stash space of another when all my time is focused there.
2022’s major achievement was finding permanent storage and display space for the stack of stuff I’d move every time it ended up as my background in Zoom. This stack had been moving and sliding all over my counter space and driving me crazy since 2018.
No deadline, however, triggers my deep-seated need to nest and organize, like the autumnal signals of fall.
Around this year’s Fall Equinox my friend Deirdre clued me into some recent Irish archaeological findings: It turns out that more of the stone circles in Ireland were tied to the equinoxes rather than to the solstices.
Suddenly, something clicked in my brain—an explanation for my lifelong wistfulness at each coming of the fall season and 23 years of joyfully celebrating my son’s birthday mixed with the simultaneous sadness that it is also the anniversary of our near death.
Humans evolved to realize that autumn signals the importance of gathering the last harvests.
While our current agenda might be remembering to stop at the grocery store for a week’s worth of food, our ancestors faced certain demise if they failed to squirrel away enough nuts and nest themselves in well enough to hunker down for the winter. Somewhere deep inside us, we are genetically hard-wired to heed these impulses in order to survive.
But what we “survive” has changed in this industrialized world.
It may now be extra cold winters from rising fuel prices, uncertain economics, and the inevitable family stress that is as much a part of the Holiday Season as comfort food. For people like me who rely heavily on quarter-four, online sales, it also comes with a heaping helping of extra deadlines.
Every autumn I think, “The will be the year I finally get all the house projects done before Christmas AND have my website completely updated AND make available a bunch of new artwork AND get my yard looking stellar.”
Truthfully, all I want to do is Marie Kondo the hell out of my studio closet and unearth my outdoor etching station from its garden tool dumping status, and then I want to hibernate from mid-October to mid-April.
Deadlines be damned.
Another aha moment came earlier this year when I learned about Polyvagal Theory from Tara Mohr.
Somewhere between the more familiar stress response of “fight or flight” and Polyvagal Theory’s additional “freeze and appease” response lies the oxytocin producing “tend and befriend” response.
Polyvagal Theory is way more complex than I can cover in a blog post, but in part and in short, “freeze and appease” is the uncontrollable impulse to shut down in a stressful or violent situation (why I never talked at holiday dinners as a child). “Tend and befriend” is what makes people help in extraordinary ways during a crisis, encompassing everything from train crash survivors helping those who are trapped to the need to call and kvetch to a friend after your mother has just verbally determined your new dress makes you look less than thin.
Faced with the cairns of Ireland, the shortening of my beloved long summer days, and always, always more imminent deadlines, my “blue oceanic” brain, as Jessica Abel calls it, flashed to the not-too-illogical leap that my desire to nest in the face of stress is a completely normal and human response.