Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Riches galore

Like I do with any new season or event, I marked the start of this Christmas break by writing a "bucket list." I even posted it right here. As I titled it, appropriately, "Christmas Break Bucket List," I wrinkled my nose at the same-old-ness of it all. I have been writing...and ignoring...lists like this for years. I needed better vision for this dream-dreaming and goal-setting.
Then, I read a quote from a shiny photographer mom blog that I've been following for some time now. She visited Utah, and was enchanted by what she saw: 

"It's unreal. I tried to express my amazement of the place today, but every good word I thought of seemed to cheapen the beauty...so I used naughty words instead, because they're already cheap." -Kelle Hampton

Kelle. You may need a soapy rinse for your dirty mouth, but you're an everyday genius. Sometimes, when I'm struck with something that isn't easily communicated or completed, I roll over. I play dead, and breathe shallowly so no one will ask me to explain anything. I give the cheap response because I don't have to reach far to grab it, and at least people don't pity me for trying hard and failing miserably if I don't attempt things seriously. I write rote lists and attempt new adventures half-heartedly because it's cheaper and easier and it doesn't really hurt if I don't accomplish things that I didn't really care about in the first place.
That's absolutely not what this season is about. It's not supposed to be cheap. It's not spray-painted, shatterproof ornaments from the bargain bin. (Sorry, Target. My pink and green bulbs are cutesy and affordable, but so not legitimate. The paint is flaking off and the white plastic underwear is showing.) This time is delicate - like the mirrored glass of the Christmas balls that shatter into a million pieces if you bump them off of the tree. It's rich. It is real. It's not synthetic poinsettias. It's spicy evergreens that came from a tree that took time to grow.

Sooo...my bucket list. I bucked it. I took off any items that I added just because they generally seemed addable. I thought about what I ought to ask of myself, and what I could accomplish. I thought SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. I did not feel nerdy at all for using acronyms in personal list-making.

Some of these things are hard, some easier. Each are rich...rich like hearty foods, and jeweled colors, warm lights in the sharp darkness, and cozy layers in the biting cold. Substantial.

  • Memorize a delicious little poem by January 1.  FAIL. Not an inspiring start.
  • Read and relish in a work of fiction to celebrate the completion of the GRE, which left the lingering and unsavory vibe of fluorescent lights and buzzy computer screens and cheap plastic testing cubicles. (The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton. Simple, sad, and sincere.
  • Write and mail my Christmas cards to the mission partners who help me to do this incredible job and become my extended family - faux aunts and uncles, or "faunts and funcles." This was an EVENT. They should have brought in the mayor and the marching band when I dropped those 200 little gems down the chute.
  • Bug my teammates and my disciples so they won't forget how much they love their FOCUS team. MOSTLY FAIL.
  • Complete my grad school application by December 31 with pomp and gratitude (pomp+gratitude=promptitude? pratitude?). And right after I hit "Submit," we drove 3 blocks to "downtown" for New Year's Eve kareoke in the small town watering hole. Slightly awkward. Fully celebratory.
  • Break in my new running shoes by running real miles. With my real legs. Once every other day, at least 20 minutes at a time. MOSTLY FAIL. But I did register for the Country Music Half. Giddy up.

  • Water my first real Christmas tree in my very own living room. (*Well, a friend did it for me today. She even added sugar to the water. And apparently you have to do it every three days or something. Sheesh.)

  • Drape the real evergreen garland on the eave and wrap the columns of the porch in greenery and white lights. FAIL FAIL MEGA FAIL. We carried this away when it was a moldy, frozen coil. (So, picture the doorway above looking a little less like it's in the Shire. Now picture the greenery lying on the ground beside the door. Put snow and ice on the greenery. Lots of it. You can't even see the garland anymore. Now imagine slimy evergreen boughs waiting to be unearthed in the spring. Ah, domesticity.)
  • Find the perfect presents for Dad & Mom. (*Hm. Celebrating the birth of Christ with family? My presence? Check check. Presents from a store? Check that too.)
  • Sleep 8 hours a night. Yeah! Pretty much!
  • Prepare to be a Mistress of Ceremonies - find nuggets to share and songs about Baltimore to sing at the Baltimore FOCUS Conference besides that one from HairsprayThanks, Christine. I wouldn't have done it without your motivation. Honestly.

    Oh that's riiiight...

    There was a time when I knew how to calculate the area of a parallelogram without hesitation.

    Now is not that time.

    I would like to thank the GRE for this refreshing reminder.

    God bless America.

    Friday, December 10, 2010

    Happy Birthday, Emily :)

    Emily Dickinson's To-Do List
    by Andrea Carlisle

    Figure out what to wear—white dress?
    Put hair in bun
    Bake gingerbread for Sue
    Peer out window at passersby
    Write poem
    Hide poem

    White dress? Off-white dress?
    Feed cats
    Chat with Lavinia
    Work in garden
    Letter to T.W.H.

    White dress or what?
    Eavesdrop on visitors from behind door
    Write poem
    Hide poem

    Try on new white dress
    Gardening—watch out for narrow fellows in grass!
    Gingerbread, cakes, treats
    Poems: Write and hide them

    Embroider sash for white dress
    Write poetry
    Water flowers on windowsill
    Hide everything
    (Poster available from the Emily Dickinson Museum by artist Penelope Dullaghan. Seen here.)
    Fame is a fickle food
    Upon a shifting plate
    Whose table once a
    Guest but not
    The second time is set.
    Whose crumbs the crows inspect
    And with ironic caw
    Flap past it to the Farmer's Corn —
    Men eat of it and die.

    Monday, December 6, 2010

    The Third Place

    I scored a spot at a velvet chair the color of an eggplant near the fireplace at Starbucks. There were flurries flying outside, and faux-flurry window clings stuck on the doors. I put headphones on and began "work" at Facebook, continuing to my blogroll.  It wasn't 'til I hit my email that I realized I hadn't ever turned on music...I was listening to the indistinct chatter of the 60-or-so people sharing the cafe floor. I clicked into iTunes and lasted 2 songs before deciding that I was missing out on something.

    I caught snatches of the professor/student meetings happening on my right and my left. I hadn't spoken a word to any of them except the velvet-chairholder next to me. I knew no one else in the place, but felt little sense of aloneness. I surely wasn't comforted by productivity - for heaven's sake, I was browsing pictures of people that I barely knew, eating an over-expensive sugar cookie painted like a polar bear with a scarf. So...what was so great about this sociable anonymity?

    I had sunk into the third place, "a term used in the concept of community building to refer to social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace. Ray Oldenburg calls one's 'first place' the home and those that one lives with. The 'second place' is the workplace — where people may actually spend most of their time. Third places, then, are 'anchors' of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction. All societies already have informal meeting places; what is new in modern times is the intentionality of seeking them out as vital to current societal needs."

    Positive:  It was easier to see these strangers as people than if they were next to me on the road, shrouded in his and her own vehicle. Negative:  The fact that no one knew what I was supposed to be accomplishing there did allow me to waste my time and call it "restoring my energy."