Sunday, September 30, 2012

The One Minute Manager

There is a rule that I have recently implemented into my life. I'm practicing at every possible chance, because Google's finest researchers haven't agreed on how many days it takes to break a habit. I only know it's a LOT more days than I wish it were. (I wish it could all be worked out in 30 minutes, like an episode of Full House.)

So...the newbie:
If it's worth doing, and takes one minute or less to do, do it now.

It is increasingly apparent to me that lots of good things take me sixty seconds or less:
Paying my rent online
Writing a postcard to a friend
Watering that plant in the living room
Taking out the trash.  Ohhhh, the trash. How many minutes have I fumed because I didn't use the first minute well.

Once, a friend and I returned home from Ash Wednesday Mass to find the trash bag we had conveniently leaned by the patio now wiggling IN THE MIDDLE OF THE WALKWAY. On the WELCOME MAT. Where it was WIGGLING and certainly NOT WELCOME.

There was a possum inside.

He had a great fondness for sweet potato fries, and just knew with his keen possum sense that we had hidden fry remnants two crusty layers deep in the trash bag. (That's the real picture up there. I was praying that our sliding glass door was bulletproof, in case the possum wanted in and was really, really fast.)

We shuddered and shouted for a broom. Weapon in hand, we felt menacing enough to sprint like Olympic sissies past the hoppin' Hefty bag, into the house. We double-locked the door in case possum Spidey sense could get past knob locks, too.

(The trash bag battle is a toughie. Here is one of many mouse-hole pictures I have texted to all four housemates to underline a grave fact: our back patio may be the neighborhood Great American Buffet for rodents. They're out there telling each other that those ladies with the big backyard provide plastic-wrapped, bite-sized Trader Joe's samples on a bi-weekly basis.)

Other one-minute wonders:
Making my bed.
Filing receipts each week.
Loading the dishwasher.
Emailing one person just because.
Choosing my clothes for the next day.

Those minutes help me appreciate and remember the bigger things that have to happen in order to accomplish the smaller tasks: I can't pay the rent in 39 seconds unless I have taken 60 hours that month to earn the money. I can't pack a real lunch unless I have planned ahead and purchased groceries.

They also remind me how quick tasks can turn into drawn-out chaos if I don't take care of them in a timely manner. Like that time the $10 parking ticket blossomed into a $92 late fee because I lost it under a pile of to-do lists. (To understand my feelings in that moment, please see picture above.)

Here's to "the heroic minute: here you have a mortification that strengthens your will and does no harm to your body." -St. Josemaria Escriva

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Can't even wish it were already tomorrow. (On Grief.)

There's this feeling I've had twice in my life. I think it can only really climb over my limbs in the night, because then you have to stop doing, but your brain can't fully man the wheel and start thinking enough for the awfulness to go away. The things that you witnessed in the daylight were not right; they hardly seemed real in the way that the Grand Canyon hardly seems real. In these times, my body feels an icy ache, and I can't even fathom what falling asleep might feel like. It's hard to breathe, but I don't worry about not breathing because I can't worry about anything. I'm too sad to worry. My brain searches in a wild-and-exhausted scrabble for something that feels solid, and for something to slow the thinking. Even the floor of a hospital room is solid, because you're in a place where people do things. Not many people really really think in a hospital. The mystery of sickness and pain suffocates a little, and the wasted suffering makes it hard to think, and the flourescent lighting snuffs out the real thinking that's left.

When I first felt this feeling, John Mayer sang a song called "Dreaming with a Broken Heart" that was perfect. John Mayer needs to wash his hair and probably make his bed. He's a mess. But his song was just how I felt. Well-played, plaintive piano is how this feeling sounds:

"When you're dreamin with a broken heart, the wakin' up is the hardest part. 
You roll outta bed, and down on your knees. 
And for a moment you can hardly breathe
wondering was she really here? Is she standing in my room?
No she's not. 'Cause she's gone, gone, gone, gone, gone."

He even repeats it just right. When someone's gone, gone, horribly, awfully gone or changed or hurting, you have to repeat really simple things, and still expect them not to make sense until the chill slinks away and you forget the enormity of this so that you can live and brush your teeth and read your Shakespeare homework again. The first time I felt this feeling, I sat on the back porch and told the dog the simple things that I couldn't understand. It felt good that Marshall the Alaskan Malamute could "get" them in a dog way, but no more. I felt like I was only a few steps removed, understanding all of this in a human way, but no more.

In a time like this, you don't even want to wish it were tomorrow, because more of this wakefulness seems overwhelming. What are you to do?

Do I have to feel asleep with roses in my hand?
Would you get them if I did? 
No, you won't. 
'Cause you're gone, gone, gone, gone, gone.

(John wrote the song about a woman he loved, but I definitely pretend that it applies beyond his original context. I got the practice when he came out with "Your Body is a Wonderland" my freshman year of college, and I pretended the whole time that he wrote it about a communicative couple in a committed marital relationship. So Theology-of-the-Body of you, Mr. Mayer. Well done.)

Wondering could you stay, my love? Would you wake up by my side? 
No she can't. 'Cause she's gone, gone, gone, gone.

A great many things.

There are a great many things that you think to do when it's time to finish a final exam.

In the last three days, I've been tempted to:
make and decorate cake pops
create the world's best Pinterest board to win a Vespa from Kate Spade
start training for another marathon or some other halfs
survive on three hours of sleep a night
launch a full-scale overhaul of mental health services to medical students at Vanderbilt Medical School
weed the back yard
seed the front yard
join Catholic Match
get a nannying job
dip-dye a boring white dress
go into real estate
try yoga
iron fabrics I've never ironed before
spend money on really chic heels
paint on canvas
create my own Women and Gender Studies curriculum
make jewelry from vintage brooches
befriend the neighbor that is afraid of Catholics
ask the other neighbor if she stole the boxes off our porch
research language acquisition
tell people off
apologize to people
translate Love and Responsibility and present it to the American Psychological Association
finally mail wedding gifts, birthday cards, baby gifts, and newsy letters that have sat in my car/dresser/closet/work bag for days/months/years
read Introduction to the Devout Life
rearrange my furniture
write a list of all the phrases that I finally understood in revelatory fashion as an adult but should have realized earlier in life. (E.g. "The jury's still out." "Come to terms with it." Etc. Etc.)
learn Italian
learn Spanish

The list goes on. However, I would feel sheepish if it ended up longer than the research paper I'm supposed to be finishing.

You think I'm kidding.

Maybe I did succumb to the pressures of some of these temptations.

I totally weeded the yard. Howdjalikemenowww.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

I am going to love him.

When my family decided to get our first pet without gills in the early '90s, my parents called a family meeting to discuss the responsibilities that accompany a new dog. We talked about the investment of time and money that Oreo, our dalmatian (who was just born, so new he was still spotless) would need. We delegated tasks according to each person's particular preference and talent.

Dad was a hard worker. He would scoop Oreo's poop.
Mom noticed what people needed. She would pick up Oreo's food from the Farm Service downtown.
Tala was diligent. She would feed and water Oreo every day.
Someone asked, "What will your job be, Hannah?"

And Hannah answered: "I will love him."

Sunday, March 18, 2012

from Henri Nouwen's The Inner Voice of Love

"When you get exhausted, frustrated, overwhelmed or run down, your body is saying that you are doing things that are none of your business.  God does not require of you what is beyond your ability, what leads you away from God, or what makes you depressed or sad.  God wants you to live for others and to live that presence well...Your way of being present to your community may require times of absence, prayer, writing, or solitude.  These too are times for your community.  They allow you to be deeply present [for them] and speak words that come from God in you.  When it is part of your vocation to offer your family a vision that will nurture them and allow them to keep moving forward, it is crucial that you give yourself the time and space to let that vision mature in you and become an integral part of your being.

"Your community needs you, but maybe not as a constant presence.  Your community might need you as a presence that offers courage and spiritual food for the journey, a presence that creates the safe ground in which others can grow and develop, a presence that belongs to the matrix of your community.  But your community also needs your creative absence.

"You might need certain things that the community cannot provide.  For these you may have to go elsewhere from time to time.  This does not mean that you are selfish, abnormal, or unfit for community life.  It means that your way of being present to your community necessitates personal nurturing of a special kind.  Do not be afraid to ask for these things.  Doing so allows you to be faithful to your vocation and to feel safe.  It is a service to those for whom you want to be a source of hope and a life-giving presence."

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Birthday wish.

Volo quidquid vis,
volo quia vis,
volo quómodo vis
volo quámdiu vis.

I want to do what you ask of me:
in the way you ask,
for as long as you ask,
because you ask it.

-Oratio Universalis
attributed to Pope Clement XI

Thursday, February 9, 2012

“Is she pretty?” 

“She behaves as if she was beautiful. Most American women do. It is the secret of their charm.”

- Oscar Wilde The Picture of Dorian Gray

Monday, February 6, 2012

5th Sunday in Reaaaally Ordinary Time.

Sometimes, holiness is feeding the hungry in Honduras.

Most of the time, it's:
maintaining joy while re-hanging clothes at work,
silencing the most horrible swears you know when it's nighttime and your oven won't shut off,
and realizing that the stress over your undone Research homework is really your own damn fault.

There's that. I'm exhausted.

"A Christian is to be a 'sign of contradiction'—a light on top of the mountain—
a thorn in the side of the world. His entire life is a silent reproach to sinners, 
a beacon of hope to the oppressed, a ray of sunshine to the saddened, 
a source of encouragement to the destitute and a visible sign of the invisible reality of grace.

Saints are ordinary people, who love Jesus, try to be like Him, 
are faithful to the duties of their state in life, sacrifice themselves for their neighbor 
and keep their hearts and minds free of this world.

They live in the world, but rise above its mediocre standards. 
They enjoy living because life is a challenge, not an indulgence. 
They may not understand the reason for the cross, 
but faith gives them that special quality to find hope within it. 
They do understand they are to walk in their Master's footsteps 
and everything that happens to them is turned to their good.

Saints are ordinary people, who do what they do for the love of Jesus 
say what they must say without fear - 
love their neighbor even when they are cursed by him 
and live without regret over yesterday or fear of tomorrow."
-Mother M. Angelica, "Holiness is for Everyone"

Time to check the Good Junk Cabinet

This post was written by my dad. He's really great, and his emails are always solid gold. 
Nothing has been changed in the transmission of this post from email to blog...
random grammar, formatting, and storyline tangents are parts of Dad's verbal art.

Time to check the Good Junk Cabinet. 1-29-2012

Everyone should be lucky enough to have space for such a cabinet.  We need such cabinets to help frame forgotten things that can surprise us when we re-discover them.  We need such cabinets to return to, to help us gauge where we have come from, to help gauge what we once thought was important, to help remind us of things we once wanted to/ and maybe still want to get around to doing. 

When I was a young man, and transient, I called it a good junk box.  Now that I have been married 30+ years and have lived in the same house for over 20 years I have a Good Junk Cabinet.   

With the most recent purchase of running shoes, and the last pair not being worn out enough to throw away yet, I declared that today after church I have to come home and clean that cabinet out and see what can be tossed so the cabinet doors close.  

Here is what I found: Some of it is current: my running shoes, t shirts, travel shaving kit.  Other items are archival … on purpose:  A paper napkin still in its plastic pack from when I accompanied the 2004 HTRS Marching Band (& Hannah) to the Medieval Knights dinner and Renaissance games in Florida .

  Some are archival by happen stance:  Old belts.  Running turtle necks that have not been used in years, as I have not run in the winter for years. …Making me wonder if I will again.  

The rest of this Sunday’s list of what I “found” in my good junk cabinet:

Old prescription receipts for pills I still am waiting to really need before I take them.

The receipts for the 4 white shirts I bought the month after Hannah died.  (Those were the 4 white shirts I was going to wear until they wore out and then by the time they wore out I would be done mourning.)

Directions to stop watches that I have yet to figure out how to account for lap times when at a track meet.

2 Norelco Electric razors that no longer work but they have the caution note on them: contains a NiCad/rechargeable Battery – Dispose of properly.   And I am not certain what “properly” is.

A portion of  “pocket diary” notes dated 12-10- 2004…that points back to Joyce’s statement that we should keep a diary when we are going through challenges because people can get caught in a cycle of thinking that we have not made any progress … and by going back to such old notes we can often be surprised about how far we have come, or that we were ever really in that deep of a side track/ challenge. 

A 2 year old OWH story about an Iowa family named Klocke that I was going to mail to my friend Norm Klocke who lives in Kansas . 
A parable I got from a pastor several years ago following the funeral of Barb (Schroeder) Fry’s mother:  …A Parable on motherhood by Temple Bailey
The young mother set her foot on the path of life.  "Is the way long?" she asked.  And her guide said, "Yes, and the way is hard.  And you will be old before you reach the end of it.  But the end will be better than the beginning."  But the young mother was happy and she would not believe that anything could be better than those years.  So she played with her children and gathered flowers for them along the way and bathed them in the clear streams; and the sun shone on them and life was good, and the young mother cried, "Nothing will never be lovelier than this."
Then night came, and storm, and the path was dark and the children shook with fear and cold, and the mother drew them close and covered them with her mantle and the children said, "Oh Mother, we are not afraid, for you are near, and no harm can come," and the mother said, "This is better than the brightness of day, for I have taught my children courage."
And the morning came, and there was a hill ahead and the children climbed and grew weary, and the mother was weary, but at all times she said to the children,  "A little patience and we are there."  So the children climbed and when they reached the top, they said, "We could not have done it without you, Mother."  And the mother, when she lay down that night, looked up at the stars and said, "This is a better day than the last, for my children have learned fortitude in the face of hardness.  Yesterday I gave them courage, today I have given then strength."
And with the next day came strange clouds which darkened the earth, clouds of war and hate and evil--and the children groped and stumbled, and the mother said, "Look up.  Lift your eyes to the light."  And the children looked and saw above the clouds an Everlasting Glory, and it guided them and brought them beyond the darkness.  And that night the mother said,  "This is the best day of all for I have shown my children God."
And the days went on, and the weeks and the months and the years, and the mother grew old, and she was little and bent.  And her children were tall and strong and walked with courage.  And when the way was rough they lifted her, for she was as light as a feather; and at last they came to a hill, and beyond the hill they could see a shining road and golden gates flung wide.  And the mother said, "I have reached the end of my journey.  And now I know that the end is better than the beginning, for my children can walk alone and their children after them."  And the children said, "You will always walk with us, Mother, even when you have gone through the gates."  
And they stood and watched her as she went on alone, and the gates closed after her.  And they said, "We cannot see her, but she is with us still.  A mother like ours is more than a memory.  She is a Living Presence."
As I re-read this parable that I had forgotten about, I newly recognized that such parables should not be saved just for eulogies. Rather such parables should be shared when those mothers and those others are alive … so all around can nod their head in recognition by this reminder: “So that is what has been going on here for all of my life.”  …Whether that person nodding in awareness is 7 years old or 14, or 27, or 57.  Rather than waiting until after the fact to grasp this story, share this story (or a version of your own story) with someone you love who may not have a clue how deep that love can be.   
That is some of what I found in my Good Junk Cabinet today.  I hope your day was as lucky.  KB 1-29-2012

Friday, January 20, 2012

The ol' running trail in Fairfax, VA on a particularly enchanting day.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Trust the plumber and love the locksmith.

I hereby resolve to treat everyone like I treat plumbers.

The plumbing van pulls into my driveway, and I wave. Our favorite plumber knocks on the door, and I shout through the kitchen "Come on in!" like I know he's my neighbor coming to drop off the Pampered Chef cupcake liners that I will use to make treats for my 3rd grader's Valentine's Day party*. (In the interest of full disclosure: *None of those things are real. Don't be mad at Pampered Chef.) I tell him to not worry about removing his manly workboots, make conversation, offer him coffee, and sit near enough to the leaky sink to know that he really doesn't want to steal my coffeemaker, but far enough away that he has space to wedge his body under the cabinet, talk to himself, and drop a wrench without an audience.

The locksmith, on the other hand, comes to our house at 11 p.m. when an interior door refuses to open, no matter how many friends with mafia ties try to coax it. To start things off, I give him the eye. Dude's not here to save me from mopping the stanky sink water off of the floor. He's here to break into my house and be compensated. My locked-out roommate is nervous, and his System of a Down tee shirt can't even remember the better days it's seen, adding to the tension in the air. He opens the locked-solid door WAY TOO EASILY and asks for $50 more than the previously quoted price. Cash only. I slloowlyy cross my arms, cooolly cock my head, and caallmly interrogate him with flashing words like blades until he mumbles that he will take roommate's check for the original price and he hopes we have a good night. We watch him slide out the door, my arms too crossed to wave goodbye.

Night and day, people. Night and day.

My dad taught me, when he managed a plumber's warehouse in Central Nebraska, to believe that plumbers need love too, and plumbers saved civilization, and plumbers are prone to some hyperbole, but overall, can be trusted. He also taught me to trust my gut and do what I could to avoid being taken for a ride, if you know what I mean. He ALSO taught me to not be afraid of giving people the kindness they deserved - remembering their inherent dignity would never put me at an eternal disadvantage.

I'm not going to invite Smithy the door-opener over so that he can demonstrate knob-unlocking techniques at Game Night...but I am going to remember that self-preservation doesn't have to stand in the way of kindness...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The kind of people you can't wait to be friends with...

Imagine my elation when I found this rendering of one of my FAVORITE quotations! 
Just try and imagine it!
After the first gaspy discovery, I read Rebekka's blog...and kept reading, and kept reading.

Follow the sound of my squeals of happiness to:

“My Standard is: When in Rome, Do As You Done in Milledgeville.” 
-Flannery O’Connor to Maryat Lee, May 19, 1957

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Pray for parents.

We really need to pray for pregnant women. Especially when their baby is no bigger than an avocado. It's a really hard job that you just can't perfect. It's terrifying and exquisite. It's so risky, and it's the only way we start.

At the moment of conception, they are different in a way that tightens the band around the front of my brain because I can't fathom what it all means. Humans grow inside of women for a little stretch of eternity, and that changes the woman's identity irrevocably. She is a MOTHER. My head hurts.

Yesterday, I sat and stared at a young woman as she received the results of her fourth pregnancy test. She was actually pregnant, and really scared. Legally, she can end that baby's life for a few more weeks. Please, please, please pray that she doesn't. She cried into a tissue, stood up carrying more questions than when she had arrived, and walked out of the office with her little blueberry-sized baby tucked inside her, looking to the world like any other young, hip, exotic twenty-something. She was so beautiful, and so alone. I didn't know if I could hug her, if that would help. I just cry. And pray.

It's just that I was wondering...

Went to the neighboorhood of young hipsters with moustaches (because they would appreciate the alternate spelling) to listen to 1950's swing records and do the lindy hop.

What is it about public dancing spots where I only attract older, shorter, European men with little regard for deodorizing soaps, but great talent for dancing like Rico Suave? They all wave their salt-and-pepper eyebrows, which makes me look. Once I've made eye contact, it's basically a binding contract. But then...they sweep and bop me around the floor so that I feel like a dancer, even though I wore a yoga top, oversized adidas pants from a middle school Christmas gift, and silver-spray-painted sneakers to the struttiest jive bar on the East side. By the looks of me, they can tell I spell it "mustache"... but when Rico pulls me around the floor, "I'm ChaCha DiGregorio, the best dancer at St. Bernadette's."

Why? From whence does the awkward magic come?

And another thing: Yogi Berra's really dead, right? Tonight's Rico told me that Berra is actually living a quiet life in New Jersey, where Amelia Earhart and all other dead American celebrities go to live. I expressed my doubts. He didn't ask me to dance anymore.

Risk, Part Two

This video.

This book.

I like both for reminders that greatness and suffering are inextricable.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Risk, Part One

As a kid, I could get buzzed on spelling bees. The adrenaline I felt made the blood in my arms zing and made my teeth nervous. (Have you ever felt that? They don't teeth feel excitement and anxiety. Maybe I need special toothpaste.) Watching spelling bees in our old gymnasium, I would turn to my dad and, through nervous teeth, whisper, "I CAN SPELL THAT!"  When I was old enough, I entered class, school, county, and state bees. My parents helped me buy the Scripps Howard official study booklets. The whole thing was COOL. It wasn't dramatic like Akeelah ("P-R-E-S-T-I-D-I-G-I-T-A-T-I-O-N. Prestidigitation."). I never made it to ESPN, and the plastic trophies couldn't even be hocked to help Mom with gas money for the van. Didn't matter. It was a thing I really, really liked to do.

One year, I don't remember which, I was competing in Falls City for the county title, pretty comfy with the whole deal. I had short, short hair because I wanted to look like Julie Andrews and Winona Ryder, and a colorblocked, suede vest. Like I said: cool. (No wonder old men sometimes mistakenly called me "Sonny." Yeesh.) I stood at the mike and spelled a few words, then got up and spelled another...incorrectly. I sat down, nearly certain that they would invite me back to the microphone for another word. My teeth were tingly again - ominously so - and I was sad and embarrassed and tired. I went home, laid in my bed, and cried for hours. Hours.  The rest of the family listened to my wails through the walls of my room (in addition to spelling, I count projecting as a particular skill) until, eventually, Dad had had enough.

When he swung the door to my room open, I knew I was in trouble. A scolding and a spelling bee disaster in the same night was a lot for a pre-teen to carry, so I wailed louder to drown him out. Trouble is, Dad is even better at projection, and his voice rumbled over all of the anguish:

Dad: "Stop crying. Tell me why you're so sad."
Tala: "A-ah-ah-I FAILED! Imesseditup hic andmisspelledthatword honk andIcan'tgotothenextspellingbee!"

This led into the lecture that, by the miracles of God and parenting, dried up my tears and soaked through my skull, to be mulled over and repeated to friends and teammates and Bible study girls for YEARS after. It was the stuff of legends. Hallmark wishes they'd heard it. I wish I had thought to record it on my '90s-era YakBak.

Dad told me that no one in this family was disappointed in me for showing up, trying, and failing. I had no reason to hang my head unless I gave up. I should only be ashamed if I kept up my pity party and cried myself into a miserable little puddle because I thought I deserved it. I'll never succeed if I don't feel free to fail.

I'll never succeed if I don't feel free to fail.

I totally remember The Night of That Lecture: the half-light coming into my room from the hallway where Dad had snapped the light on in frustration at his melting, hysterical daughter. The yellow gingham bedspreads on the un-bunked bunk beds in the room I shared with Hannah. My deeeeeeep and lasting sorrow. The startle and the fear upon Dad's entry. The alliteration in his lecture. My parents were proud of me. I had failed. Everybody fails. I should be a little wary if I succeed at everything.

(Funny thing? I don't remember the word I misspelled. Just that another kid misspelled "illegal." He added an extra "e" and switched around the "a" and spelled it like the bird. And another kid, who was really nervous, misspelled "pencil" in the practice round. I'm pretty sure he didn't cry, though.)