My Way

Looking back, I realize that my mom was sharing something with me that was very foreign to her. This is not the way my mom thinks.

But, in the course of events during home school, my mom shared a planning tool with my brother and me.

“Think about what you would like your life to be like in 20 years…”

I was 14. Thirty-four years old was well past the edge of the known universe.

What could I say I wanted in that time?

I knew I wanted a family and I wanted certain accomplishments. And I wanted to be beautiful. Beauty seemed very important at 14.

Then Mom broke it down further. What would I have to accomplish in the next ten years to get to that outcome?

And then in 5 years?

two and a half years?

What would I need to do THIS YEAR to further the goals of what I wanted my life to be like when I was 34?

Which broke down into the next 6 months, then 3 months and this month, this week and today.

I LOVED this exercise. I took it extremely seriously. I really really wanted those dreams to come true. And breaking it down into things I could do TODAY made me very happy. It felt like those far away dreams were within reach.

My mom, who introduced me to this framework, does not think this way.

It turns out, from my now-lengthy life experience, very few people really find that sort of framework comfortable.

But from the age of 14 on, I have filled pages and pages of notebooks with year plans.

I will write out the 12 months, or if I am in a hurry, 3 months, and plot out what needs to happen to achieve some scheme or other.

It’s not that I always achieve it, or even the times when I do achieve it, I achieve it on the plotted schedule.

But just like when I was 14, it makes me feel like I can almost touch that desired goal. That I will make it.

Some people can daydream into it. For me, I need to feel like there are steps. And even if I get lost or stumble along the way, those steps guide me.

Like little glowing reflectors in the dark. I will find my way.

My way.

The choices

It’s a clean calendar, ready to be filled in with new adventures and new accomplishments. It’s only natural to want to fill it with things that are better than before.

A year full of new high water marks. Of personal bests.

It’s a well-known fact that in January the gym gets very crowded. All the people who set their sights on getting in shape for the New Year. But partway through February, everything dies down.

People stop going. They stop choosing that goal.

I’m not sure when it became popular, but it certainly wasn’t a thing when I was a kid. I hear it everywhere now though. “He’s making bad choices.”

My daughter got it in kindergarten. “You need to think about making a different choice.”

It’s a softened way of saying: “Do the right thing. Don’t do the wrong thing.”

Everything we have in life is the result of our choices.

Of course, when I was a kid, it didn’t feel like I had a lot of choices. I was given a very few options.

By the time I became an adult and had the opportunity to set up my own bouquet of choices, I learned very quickly a few principles of choices. At the time, I called it freedom.

In any circumstance, what choice, what course of action would give me the most possibilities?

Time and money were huge freedom maximizers. So in almost every choice I had, I would choose to keep my money rather than spend it. I had some VERY inexpensive apartments.

And time. If I let time run out it could lead to a situation where I HAD to choose something or lose something even bigger. And I never wanted to be out of options.

That made me very very very aware of the clock. It was the gatekeeper for choices.

I always wanted time and me to be on the same side.

Which means I have to stay ahead of the clock, because time doesn’t wait for me.

But I was hungry for all the choices I could get.

I’m not as hungry as I used to be. Now I have to use habits to keep up my pace.

But habits can degrade and they can even go bad on you.

Then it comes back to choices. New choices, or choosing old things anew.

Then the choices, if repeated become the new habit.

If the habits stick, then life changes.

Traditional Essay

With Christmas comes a lot of traditions. One very traditional newspaper (The Wall Street Journal) has a traditional editorial they run on Christmas. A Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Vermont C. Royster wrote it in 1949, and it is a good one.

It’s easy to insist on traditions at this holiday time. It is meant to tie us to our past, remind us of who and where we came from, and so the people who we came from influence us.

The songs we sing and the pies we make–Ham or turkey? These questions are already answered. We could make a different choice, but it is not breaking new ground.

We came from traditions, but then again, we have to take those traditions forward in a way that makes sense with the present.

We cannot completely clone the holiday experience we were given. If we are to hand it on to our children, it takes new people to move into the future. To procreate requires another person, and then those people thus created flavor the holiday experience too.

But that’s not even addressing the dead moose in the room:

Maybe we don’t want to recreate our traditions. Maybe they were not at all what we’d like and we want to go in an opposite direction. Not all traditions should be perpetuated.

Vermont C. Royster, the journalist who wrote the Christmas (and thanksgiving!) essay for the Wall Street Journal decades ago, was bequeathed a family tradition. His full name is Vermont Connecticut Royster. In his family, male children were traditionally given the name of two states to live with.

His uncles were named Arkansas Delaware, Wisconsin Illinois, Oregon Minnesota, and Iowa Michigan Royster. Really.

He himself had daughters, and named them Frances and Eleanor. He left that tradition behind.

It’s okay to do new things. To make a different choice.

Bringing in close friends has it’s own name now–chosen family. People who have been close and supportive who have become as close or closer than family–that is chosen family.

Despite the weight of tradition, I still get to choose. I can choose which traditions to keep and which to drop. I even get to choose the people I celebrate those traditions with. Peace and Joy are the point.

A Christmas Be-ing

The Hallmark channel is at its apex right now:

CHRISTMAS

They have their niche, and this is it. I just read that they have increased their Hallmark Christmas movie output this year. Last year they released

THIRTY-SEVEN CHRISTMAS MOVIES

In 2018, they have released thirty-eight. Because people are watching.

I’ll cop to it. I watch the Hallmark Christmas movies. At the end of an exhausting day, I find it relaxing to watch a woman and her friends walk around in the daylight drenched snowscapes.

…None of these women commute to their ephemeral ‘job.’

For these modern dramas, there is a spirit that is the biggest character. Just like my Lit professor in college told me about Shakespeare’s plays, the character of England flavored all his plays. The Spirit of Christmas is the BIGGEST character in the Hallmark movies.

But while many of the characters in the movies undergo a transformation–often realizing that they should be grateful for their family/blessings/recently discovered monarchist family line–the spirit of Christmas will NOT change.

The goal is for Christmas to BE. It will BE the best Christmas ever. It will BE the Christmas that the children/husband/grandparent SHOULD have. Christmas is the perfect almost attainable state of being that we are all aspiring towards:

A tableau to place ourselves and our loved ones in.

Come in closer! Lean in! Smile! No, that’s not right, SMILE!!!

A science fiction TV series quite a while back made a big impression on me. I’ll admit it, I loved Babylon 5. I know sci-fi isn’t for everyone. But neither are hallmark movies.

In Bab5, the space station was grappling with two alien cultures that seemed the classic Good-Bad polarity. The one asked the characters: “Who are you?” and the other asked, “What do you want?”

When it was airing, I asked myself those questions in the mirror every day.

Spoiler alert: the “who are you?” aliens were creatures who demanded a sameness. They did not tolerate change, and therefore repressed growth.

The “what do you want?” aliens were willing to experiment and destroy sometimes.

I watched the show, and asked myself the questions; I wondered how perfect I was willing to be.

As it happened, I was not willing to be that kind of perfect anymore. I was ready to break out of the perfect image and grow into something new.

But we all know the lure. Hallmark knows the lure of one tiny day of choreographed perfection.

Just once

Just once to get it right

We can destroy it all the day after. Shucks, it will destroy itself anyway. But the one day will be for the scrapbook, when we can look back and tell ourselves who we are.

Oops-A millions mistakes

I remember in 5th grade, I was very aware when things were not fair. Was it possible that thing in my 5th grade class and school were particularly unfair?

Sure.

But then I read a book where the main character was also in 5th grade–by Judy Blume or Beverly Cleary–and that girl kept saying my catch phrase “It’s not fair!”

And I thought, maybe this is something that 5th graders do.

My daughter is in 4th grade. Her phrase right now is “I”M SORRY!”

At first the phrase was very intense, followed with a stream of unstoppable words. “I’m sorry what did I do wrong did I make a mistake I knew I made a mistake what did I do wrong I’m sorry”

“STOP TALKING!”

Apparently she had tasted the fruit of the tree of shame and guilt. This is not a flavor I want for my daughter.

“Veronica, it’s okay to make mistakes. I make a million mistakes a day.”

She narrowed her eyes at me. “How is that possible? There is not enough time in the day to make a million mistakes.”

My girl has a literal math mind.

“Oh, you have no idea how good I am at making mistakes.”

But the thing is, I don’t want to stay in mistakes. I want to recognize them and correct them. I want to move past them as quickly as possible. That’s what I want for Veronica.

Just the year before she could do that. Something changed.

“Bunny, what you are doing is not really a mistake. It’s more of an oops. It’s okay. You don’t have to feel so bad about it. Everyone does oops when they are doing something new or something hard. It’s okay.”

So now, I get to tell her that she is doing something wrong when she howls I”MSORRYI”MSORRY! I wish I had a magic wand, but I don’t. So I have to tell her that she is wrong to think she’s wrong.

She still howls I’m sorry, but the recovery period is shorter. Which is a change in the right direction.

Brene Brown says that the lifetime shame scars set in in grade schools. That creativity is shamed for most people at this age. I can want for her what I would want for myself:

The ability to shake off the imposed standards and have a friendly internalized standard for evaluating my efforts.

Grade school and adult life as well can feel very powerless if we let other people have the power of telling us if we are ok.

Hands

I love my couch. I upgraded my original couch two years ago, with the plan in mind to have a couch that the whole family could lounge on.

Comfy couches bring families together.

When I’m on the couch, it’s really important to me to have a little blanket. It is less important in the summer, but non-negotiable in the winter

It’s winter.

I recently bought a knitted blanket. We’d had a number of fuzzy blankets over the years, but when I saw this blanket, I figured it was worth adding to the couch blanket wardrobe.

“This blanket was made by someone’s hands,” I said to Chris. “But by the time we bought it, those hands were probably gone.”

If someone was selling it, it’s likely that the person who sold this blanket did not even know the hands that knitted this cozy blanket.

Yet I can feel how someone made this blanket, with care.

“The garage is made by a person’s hands too. There are a ton of places in this whole house that were made by hands.”

Back in the 1950s, that was how things were done. Almost 70 years ago, strong careful hands built this house.

And we don’t know whose hands they were.

I can romanticize the woman who knit my new (old) blanket. Maybe it wasn’t even a woman!

I can see how the pattern came together. I wonder if she was making for someone. I wonder if she was learning how to knit, and this blanket was her first big project.

Maybe she hated making this blanket. Maybe there is a spot–if I only knew how to see it!–that she realized she’d gotten it wrong and had to pull out 3 hours of stitches.

That’s the sort of thing a real human does.

I have some pants I picked up at the thrift store. They are factory made, and I call them my left-handed pants. The zipper enclosure is facing the wrong way. If I were left-handed it would be perfect.

But they ended up as factory rejects, and came into a thrift store, and because they were the right size and caught my eye, I now have left handed pants.

They are comfortable enough, but a little awkward to zip.

This hand-made blanket though, I am pretty sure had some errors that were corrected. And even if THIS blanket were error free in the making, the master craftsperson that made it had made some errors in projects of the past. Those errors factored into this blanket

All the mistakes that led to the perfection.

Imagining the hands feels good to me. Those hands cared about what they were doing. Somehow that care, which was put into the blanket, makes it feel extra cozy.

goals

I remember when I was half-way–or nearly halfway–through writing the Russian American School fo Tomorrow.

I quite my job, in part because the hours were so long they didn’t let me work on the book. I figured I would quit, live off savings and unemployment for a while, finish the book in 3 months or so, and be done.

10 years later I still wasn’t done.

Things don’t happen on schedule like that.

Creative outlets gestate on their own time.

Black friday with the animals

Chris gave in and bought the Sonos subwoofer. He said he wouldn’t.

But then Amazon said that he could return it all the way away in January if he wanted.

Because black friday, And Christmas.

This Saturday I was clearing up the late breakfast, when I hear the cat HISS and

THUMP jump down to stare at the door.

What?! the cat does not hiss unprovoked.

And he certainly does not go to the door. He does not like people.

I look out the kitchen window, and a parcel delivery person is coming up the walk.

I open to door, assuming I might need to sign for something, and also to investigate why my cat is acting so out of chracter.

It was the subwoofer. The delivery person laughed with me when I told her my cat hissed at her.

But now Chris is setting up the subwoofer.

Out Sonos is in my boudoir, and there aren’t a lot of places for it to sit. It’s under my desk and rattling the drawers right now.

“I wonder if the dog is barkign at the bass.” he said.

“No, there is a squirrel.”

He wishes the dog were barking at the bass. The bass is much improved, but I don’t think enough to affect the dog.

 

 

artist way

Thanksgiving,I was wanting to watch something not very challenging on TV

Honestly, i thought the weather channel would be perfect. But I couldn’t remember it’s number from the hundreds of channels we have on our cable service. yes, I still have cable.

So I was looking at the guide, and I saw one channel had a simpsons marathon. I tuned to the simpsons.

THe Simpsons is in it’s 30th season. This episode was not from the 30th season. It also was not from the first ten seasons.

It was not funny. It was like a parody of itself.

I looked at CHris in shock. “What is happening?”

It turns out that the simpsons’ downfall is a well-known and well documented phenomenon. Chris  brought up a documentary from Youtube about what had happened and when. It also got into the special sauce that made the Simpsons so delightful when it WAS good.

when it was good, it was very very good.

it is not good anymore.

Which made me wonder, what is funny anymore? Has culture lost it’s sense of humor?

It maybe has. There is a meme going around that this is the era of “That’s not funny.”

But so many things are funny! There is lots of funny!

Isnt’ there?

Hmm. What shows on TV make me laugh? I used to watch Big Bang Theory. I still watch a little bit of Mom.

Neither of those were as good as the Simpsons used to be.

The Daily Show is supposed to be funny, but i find it unwatchable because it seems so smug and judgemental. There is no room for transformation.

That’s what humor is supposed to be: Transformative.

It holds up a mirror of what is, and lets us see ourselves. Like how we might want to smooth out this or that irregularity

Local Tradition

Thanksgiving is coming.

That means all kinds of traditions, a lot of them very very local and intimate to one’s own family.

My family has a tradition of grated carrots in green Jell-O. Another family I know has a tradition of special potato salad. It’s part of how we’ve learned to celebrate.

My town has a unique thanksgiving festival. A retirement community founded by the church which traces it’s beginning to the Pilgrims –called Pilgrim Place–had a big festival every year.

It’s become our tradition to go, and locally it is a very big event. It’s the sort of big event that no one else knows about, except the people who go.

The pilgrims of Claremont–retired missionaries, pastors, and professors–they prepare a party for the whole community based on their traditions. Their memories and culture are passed on. The pilgrims are definitely influenced by the sixties, and pass on the hippie culture to us all.

For the kids, they have a thing called the “glue-in”. Like a sit-in or a love-in from those days of flowers in your hair, these pilgrim grandparenty people set aside all kinds of bottles and lids and random debris. They wash it, and keep it for this special day.

They cut cardboard rectangles and put out small pots of glue. The children are invited to sit at tables outside and make something–whatever they like! –with the glue and objects.

My husband remembers making these as a child. I have taken Veronica to do this every year of her life.

One day she will not want to do it anymore. I know this.

But this year, that was all she talked about as we drove to the pilgrims.

“Do you want to make a glue-in, Mommy?”

I’d never made one. I’d always assisted. Veronica’s glue-ins were always trying to be as tall as she could make them, and there were some laws of construction that she didn’t really have down.

But who knows? This might be the last glue in.

“Yes, I will make one with you!”

I got my pot, and the pilgrim was happy for me to make one too. We flipped through the piles of building material for our work of art. There were a lot of clear empty prescription bottles.

We set about seeing what could be done with these objects. She was very serious, and I was curious about what I might be able to do with these.

She had come to a pause, trying to decide how to realize her vision. I had just about realized mine.

“What do you think of mine?”

She looked up, squinted her eyes at my structure.

She’s a tough critic. I didn’t know what she would have to say. She was the one with all the experience after all.

Her unpronounced judgment hung in the air.

“I really like it.” she declared.

I did not expect to be so pleased. It felt really really good that she approved.

I hope that is how she feels when I say the same to her.

These are our traditions, for however long they last.

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