Present Perfect

There’s something I know about myself: I like big projects. I like to look ahead and think of how my plans will work out. I don’t mind doing hard work with little immediate payoff when I think of it that way.

In fact, I prefer for my days to include these long-term projects. I’ve felt disappointed, as if my days were shallow if I don’t include them.

This year, including this summer, I’ve been supplementing Veronica’s education with online classes. We’ve done math, but I’ve also had her working on grammar. The grammar I found is probably high school level, but I think learning something when there isn’t the pressure of a test makes it easier.

It’s our language, after all. We should kind of know it already.

We learned about the perfect tense. The present perfect tense in particular. This is to express that something is complete (perfect). And it is complete, and the completion continues on into the present.

“I have eaten.” That means I’m not hungry, and I won’t be hungry for a while.

“I have been sleeping.” My sleep occurred and is expected to continue.

These things are presently perfect.

These projects that I am working on? The steps I take to get the projects done are not perfect. It is only true that I am continuing to work on them with the hope that they will be perfectly complete. That I will get to the point of saying “That project has been done.”

I also finished a beautiful book this week, When Breath Becomes Air. It’s a sad story of a doctor, who was nearing his completion of becoming a surgeon, but gets cancer and succumbs.

He has been dead for a few years now.

He had to grapple with death as a surgeon, treating patients who had cancer. The he himself got cancer.

He and his wife had been planning to have children after their residencies. But when cancer entered their lives, they moved up their plans.

The dying doctor got to enjoy holding his newborn daughter as he was preparing to leave his life. He described this experience as a perfect joy.

Perfect. His was wrapped up in the perfect present tense.

He has been holding his daughter, and he has been happy.

That’s a different kind of happy. A completed happiness completed and perfect in the doing of it.

That is hard to find in a life full of plans and future payoffs. But this sick doctor found it after all, in those last months.

He, like me, had been a ravenously ambitious person. He worked hard to achieve what he set out to do: become a neurosurgeon.

But he couldn’t do it. His body wouldn’t hold him up.

In the end, even in the very end, he didn’t lose his drive to do. He worked up to the end on creating the manuscript of the book that I was able to read.

I take this to mean, it is okay to hold both kinds of happiness. I don’t have to give up my delight in the long horizon goals.

And I can remember that there are present perfect bubbles of happiness that are worth it protecting as well.

What power can mean

I have discovered that I really enjoy audiobooks, but my tastes have changed. Back when I could check out books on CDs from the library, I really enjoyed novels and fiction as audiobooks. I can’t tell you how great Cold Mountain, read by the author is.

But now, I am finding that I want a total immersion experience when I’m reading my novels. What I like on audiobooks is non-fiction. That’s what I will get into when I have to drive or do housework with earphones.

For a recent job interview, someone recommended that the interviewer was really into Good to Great. I got that one from the library as an audiobook and enjoyed it. But then I browsed the library’s catalog for another book and checked out Nice Girls Still Don’t Get the Corner Office.

It’s a good read, and I think I’ll need to get a hard copy. She talked about how many women have assumptions that are not universal.

One thing I am still thinking about is her recommendation that women begin to think of themselves as powerful. She shared that in her consulting practice, the female executives she coached did not see themselves as powerful. She said that women tended to think of power as someone who has power over others.

But she said that being powerful means having power over yourself.

This is a tough one for me, but I would like to view the world that way. So much of what a job seems to be is about being caught in forces that are totally outside my control.

But what if I really did have power over myself?

Some people might call thing boundaries.

Another non-fiction book, The Happiness Project, talked about how you can be happy, but if you don’t know you are happy, you miss a whole lot of what that happiness has to offer.

So, what if I recognized that the forces I am engaging with that really are outside my control, if I recognized that are learned to glory in it?

Like surfing.

Or whitewater rafting.

That’s the game. And in work, it’s not that I am the only one caught in the elements, ALL of us are.

Power looks a lot different from that perspective. I’m going to give it a try.

Comfort or Elegance

“What do you think Veronica?”


She looked me over critically.


“Oh, you do not think I look fancy,” I said.


“Well, it’s your shoes,” she told me.


This weekend was a set of memorial services. We had to drive all day to go to my father’s memorial, and stick around to drive to her sister’s memorial the next day.


I packed only one black dress, and a pair of comfortable shoes.


I figured one black dress was enough. And this was family, so comfortable shoes were in order.


My daughter was not so easily impressed.


I remembered these people I had known all my life. I thought about the younger ones, and realized I’d be making my impression on them. As I had remembered my older cousins throughout their lives, I would be making impressions on these younger impressionable cousins.


Maybe Veronica was right. I did not cut an elegant figure.


Should I have taken the time to pack a pair of heels? Maybe I should have brought pantyhose instead of my ubiquitous black tights.


Being the youngest child of the youngest child on my father’s side, I had always thought of myself as the youngest one.


But as Stevie Nicks says, children grow older and I’m getting older too.


I’d like to impress my young cousins with my je ne sais quoi. But I also know I am going to need comfortable shoes to get through this weekend.


There will be a lot of hugs, and a lot of stories. And the stories we tell, the fact that we get together to tell them, will become a new set of stories we tell.


I suppose I would like to cut an effortlessly elegant figure as I mingle.


Then again, that was never the point of these gatherings. It’s a lot more about the hugs than the rakish angle of hemlines.


Still, I might want to invest in some should that are comfortable AND elegant. But I won’t let that stop me from the hugs and the stories.

social contract

Living in a house with a dog, we take the restaurant’s doggie bag literally. Whenever we eat out, we collect the scraps–and maybe even substantial servings–of food and take it home. This white carryout has significance for Lucy Dog.

If we rush in the house, dropping off the bag of food on the counter and move on to something that seems more important at that moment, the dog will sit in the kitchen and whine.

I say, “What is wrong with you, dog?”

Chris will look up.

“She knows she is owed something. We are breaking the social contract.”

Ah. We must give her what she expects, or put the food we plan to eat ourselves in the fridge. That’s her signal that her chance is done.

Chris has a similar maxim for the catbox.

“We must keep our part of the social contract, and keep his box clean. Otherwise, he could be justified in not using the box, because we started it.”

There are expectations that form contracts between people, even if they are unspoken.

At this moment in my life, I am supremely blessed by how many friends I have. I am so grateful for these friends who will hold space for me.

For the friends who will LISTEN TO ME when my life hands me a circumstance.

I can feel afraid, or bewildered or happy. And I find that I need to talk to someone to get a handle on it.

Maybe a lot of someones.

Maybe a lot of times.

Like I said, I am really blessed because I have so many people who are willing to talk to me.

And when a bank of terror fogs me in, I will call all these friends and give them updates, asking for sympathy and perspective. It is so healing!

I can run in circles, calling everyone I know for support.

But I understand that if I am to keep this support network healthy, I cannot only call when I am feeling overwhelmed.
There is a social contract I do my best to stay on top of:

I have to give the story it’s ending.

If I have reached out, and am granted the alms of sympathy and attention to my stories, I have created a contract.

If I ever want to tap that resource again

I better make sure to close the chapter.

I have to go back and tell the end of the story. It’s only fair. If I have gotten people all involved, I have to respect that tension I have created. It was real to me, and those friends took some of it on for me.

We all need to know what happens to the hero.