Yesterday I entered into an “I can’t take it anymore” state.

The tipping point was when the innards of a ballpoint pen, carelessly left behind on the futon by certain children, broke and created several ink stains on the nice new futon cover.

This happened at the end of a long week filled with deadlines and other pressing matters and annoyances.

I felt like I couldn’t give my best in any of my roles.

I recalled that there is a German word for this “torn-to-pieces-hood” state – zerissenheit.

I first discovered this word in Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book Gift From the Sea.

I was very fond of this book in my 20s, after I got married and my first two children were born.

Her book was written in 1955 and even though times were different for women then, what she says about the importance of solitude and feeding your core through creative activities still rings true today.

I paged through the book yesterday and glanced at phrases I underlined 15-20 years ago:

“Only when one is connected to one’s own core is one connected to others, I am beginning to discover. And, for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be refound through solitude.


“The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere. That is why so much of social life is exhausting; one is wearing a mask.”

Here’s what she said about zerrissenheit:

Woman’s life today is tending more and more toward the state William James describes so well in the German word, “Zerrissenheit – torn-to-pieces-hood.

She can’t live perpetually in zerrissenheit. She will be shattered into a thousand pieces. On the contrary, she must consciously encourage those pursuits which oppose the centrifugal forces of today.

Fast forward 55 years to today and a woman who is perhaps the most high profile WAHM and female blogger – Heather Armstrong of – wrote a post that hit home.

She recently spoke at a conference on workplace flexibility at the White House and received a ton of flack.

She addressed this criticism in a blog post yesterday:

Heather Armstrong has it so easy. Heather Armstrong is LOADED. Heather Armstrong has no idea what it is really like to be a working mother because she has an assistant who takes care of her recycling. Blah blah blah blah blah. SHUT UP.

The truth? The truth is that I work my ass off. I hit the ground running at 6AM every morning and I do not stop until I hit the pillow at night. And understand that this is not a pity party, I am not complaining: this is my job and I embrace it and I love it. I embrace the fact that I do not have free time. I do not ever get a day off. I did not get a maternity leave. I can’t take a vacation. Every moment of my life is accompanied by the thought that I have a website to maintain, one that feeds my family, and if I don’t publish they don’t eat.

Reading that helped cheer me up because I can relate to it so well. I don’t have her income or high profile, but as an at-home writer, this is pretty much what it’s like.

So I decided I needed to shoo the children out the door without me for a while and spend two hours alone.

I bribed my oldest daughter with the promise that I’d get takeout for dinner and that it would be here when they arrived home.

We couldn’t decide on where to get the food from. I stepped into the backyard to talk to the youngest children and a flyer was blowing on the ground.

I picked it up and, lo and behold, it was a flyer for our favorite place to get takeout – Bunky’s Cafe, which serves gluten-free pizza (two of us in the family have to eat gluten-free food for health reasons).

How could we have forgotten that this is our favorite place? I almost cried at the fortuitousness of finding this flyer.

The girls left and I settled into the couch with my netbook and enjoyed peace and quiet. Aaahhhh.

Take that, zerrissenheit. :-)


Filed under: BooksStories/Storytelling


Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!