Shevat: A Month for the Trees

Rebecca holds up her MFA diploma, grinning ear to ear

I’d hoped to have a lot to say this month, about growth, about intention, about grounding into a sense of place. I’d hoped to talk a bit about a book I just read called How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell and tie it to my celebration of Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish “birthday of the trees.” I’d hoped to mention the hostage crisis this past weekend at a synagogue in Texas, and MLK Day, and somehow tie all those things together.

But, as Jenny’s book so kindly reminded me, I’m not a machine. I’m a fragile, gentle, soft human body. I need food and care and sleep. (I need so much sleep.)

I’ve spent the past two and a half years working to receive my Master of Fine Arts degree, writing a novel while working food service, all in the midst of a global pandemic. Last week, I graduated, and I’m tired.

I’m celebrating too, of course! I felt so blessed to be surrounded by family and friends (both virtually and in-person) as I read from my thesis novel and walked across the stage to receive my diploma and hood. I got to blow out candles stuck into cute little chocolates at a wonderful restaurant in Pittsburgh, and I cheered with my graduating cohort as we got to hug one another for the first time in two years. I’m unimaginably happy.

But being happy doesn’t make me any less tired. I’m not a fan of hustle culture. I don’t believe in “the grind.” (I drink coffee—I don’t want to be it.)

So, rest: something we all deserve, and which none of us needs to “earn.” That’s something I struggle with. Stillness is hard for me. I got back from Pennsylvania last week and immediately threw myself into a new project, collating hundreds of my cousin’s ice cream flavors into a spreadsheet for the cookbook I’m hoping she’ll write. (I also edited her year-end zine, which you’ll get if you join her Patreon. Excuse me for the shameless plug. She drove six hours just to watch me graduate, so it’s only fair.)

It wasn’t until today that the exhaustion really hit me. I woke up early to bake a Tu B’Shevat focaccia (using all the shiv’at ha-minim, the seven species) with grand plans for how I’d spend the rest of my day, then promptly crawled into bed after lunch and lay there for over an hour.

At first I felt guilty—I was falling behind—but then I reminded myself of the deep wisdom of Jenny’s book. I wanted to be productive, but productive to what end? For whom? She asks these questions again and again, and I swear I’m *this close* to getting them tattooed on my palm.

There are certainly things I “need” to do this week—look over my agent’s comments on a revised chapter outline, draft some posts for a copywriting gig, apply to a job that might actually give me health insurance—but I have needs of another sort, too: nourishing food, time outdoors, rest.

School makes it easy to put those things off. The never-ending schedule of deadlines makes it feel like there’s always something more important than self-care. It’s not true, but it certainly feels that way.

So. “What am I doing after graduation?” I’m going to sleep.

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