It always begins this way:
“Date night tonight, Honey?”
That is Gainey secret code for, “This has been a crazy stressful day and I need some medicinal together time at home to recharge, stat. It seems this semester that the number of date night requests have risen exponentially to almost epic proportions; yes, even after faithfully vowing that I would not allow myself to cram in too many commitments as I have in the several past fall semesters, I’ve taken on even more in some seemingly sadistic anti-sanity campaign. Truly, when will I learn?
It seems I’m just a girl who cain’t say no…recital tour? Sure! Guest artist at an event? Absolutely! Need help? Of course! Over the past few months I have been to Lincoln, Nebraska (twice), Knoxville, Tennessee, Denver, Colorado (twice), Reno, Atlanta, London and Bath, England, and am currently on a plane to Vancouver. I’ve walked countless airports, taken two recital road trips (a third coming next weekend to perform in Tennessee), played more recitals than I can remember, taught masterclasses, recorded two CDs, did site visits for the International Clarinet Association, performed at UAB multiple times, taught my own students and did my best to keep up with my duties as Associate Chair. Oh, and I have done my damndest to have quality time with my sweet Dan.
I really need to have my head examined. Oh, wait- I have. My therapist shakes her head at me, and words like ‘perfectionist’ and ‘imposter syndrome’ fly around the room like confetti. Here’s the thing though; I absolutely love what I do. Every exhausting bit of it. I also think I have the all too prevalent women’s malady of thinking I have to do it all or I won’t be considered good enough, worthy of the wonderful opportunities that have come my way through hard work and not a little much-appreciated good fortune.
However, the stress of it all is starting to wear on me more than usual. I am exhausted, anxiety-ridden, forgetful, teary-eyed over silly things, and feel like I am in an almost constant state of homesickness. I had great talks with my best friend and Dan about all of this and they both had sage advice (as they always do); learn to say no. I am no longer a young professor who has to ‘publish or perish’; I am a tenured Full Professor at a University and Department of Music that I love- I’m not looking for a new job. I have published a book and a collection of clarinet solos, am President-Elect of my professional organization, Associate Chair of my department. I think I need to finally accept that I don’t have to prove myself to anyone anymore. I am so very far from perfect, but I am happily successful in a career that I love, married to my soulmate.
I am grateful for it all…and I want to be able to step back- even just a little bit- to enjoy it all, to have more time for Dan and home- for me. I have to realize that making time for self-care if not being selfish or lazy. I’m always telling my students that you can’t pour from an empty cup; once again the teacher needs to take her own lessons to heart.
Back to date night; it’s nothing fancy- quite the opposite. Instead of fancy restaurants and getting dressed up, the attire for date night at Chez Gainey is cozy jammies. I walk in the back door door, weary from a long day to hear one of Dan’s special music mixes playing. The fireplace is roaring, there is a cocktail or a nice glass of Pinot noir waiting for me, accompanied by the mouth-watering aroma of something yummy that Dan is making, or a humble pot pie heating in the oven (God bless Maria Callenders). The best part? There is connection; conversation, affection, encouragement, laughter…lots of love. There are animals at our feet or in our laps. There is peace. As my idol, Julie Andrews, is often quoted as saying, “How lucky can a girl get?”
And now…small steps. I need to learn to say yes to the things that energize me and no to the things that don’t. Just thinking about that makes me feel lighter.