Sunday, January 26, 2020

Resolution Rebellion

I refused to make any New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t know if it’s cynicism or laziness, but I just wouldn’t. In my Third Third, I’ve been through 60+ attempts to codify being a Better Barbara. No, 120+ attempts: I have the Jewish New Year, too. And while there’s something gratifying about envisioning ways to be a Better Barbara, this year’s Barbara just rebelled.

Resolutions are the skirmish in my war of “feel like it” versus discipline, my continuing Third Third battle. At first, when I subtracted shoulds from my life – no more waking up to go to work, no more external demands on my time – I unleashed tremendous energy for my wants. But eventually, that tremendous energy faded and to-dos reasserted themselves.

Three years ago, I wrote here that I was excited about my new brand of resolution: baby steps. I was, for example, going to do just 50 sets of squats in the whole year. And it was also here, that I reaffirmed, “if nothing changes, nothing changes.”

So why haven’t I changed? Have I become a stick-in-the-mud in my Third Third, an old fogy? Am I [horrors!] set in my ways???

I can actually think about doing squats – like right now – and not stand up and do them. It’s not that I hate doing squats; it’s not that they’re painful or uncomfortable or even just unpleasant. It’s just that I don’t feel like doing them.

I’d set a Goodreads goal of reading 75 books in 2019. I ended up reading 102. Wow! Hooray! But that’s because reading is a socially acceptable way to do just what I want and dodge shoulds at the same time.

Another resolution – writing thank you notes – actually worked. I designed pretty note cards out of pressed, dried leaves, and I was actually excited to mail them out. Now why did that one work? It combined creativity (the art for the cards was a New Thing) with feeling kind with being do-able. A big win! I’ve pressed more leaves.

Once, Tim and I made resolutions as if it were a year later and we were looking back on the year. So we’d say things like, “It’s 2021, and we’re glad we took a road trip through the South in 2020.” We didn’t look at the resolution as a plan but as an accomplishment. We didn’t have the stress of a to-do but rather the satisfaction of a done. That actually worked, too.

This is what I would like to look back on 2020 and see: that I tackled a big challenge and did it. Not the little challenges of getting a meal on the table or a mile swum. Not even the challenge of arranging another urban infusion month in a big city, but a Big Challenge. Something tough but not too scary; one Chilkoot Trail is enough.

I have to make sure I outfox my grand pianos, the weights that plague me psychologically, so it has to feel rewarding. It has to touch some deeper chord in me, keep me mentally healthy. It has to be a should wrapped in want clothing.

Stop, stop, STOP! It’s a few weeks later and I just re-read that last line. (I also just re-read the Big Challenge I’d set for myself – and deleted it.) Why do I even have a should that has to be disguised to be palatable? Is there some hierarchy of value that puts shoulds at the top? Am I assigning medicine to myself that I have to force myself to take?

I am not a discipline writer; I am a feel-like-writing writer. I am a feel-like-painting painter. I am a feel-like-skiing skier and a feel-like-swimming swimmer. When those activities feel good, I’m happy. But making a disciplined rule or schedule for them just ices my soul.

Yes, I know that sets the stage for ordinary, for failure to master, for no improvement. Chasing whim sets the stage for “flaky.” I once decided that my goal in cross-country skiing was explicitly to remain mediocre, that after a lifetime of aiming for excellence, I wanted one activity that would just stop at mediocre. A friend called it remaining “happy intermediate.”

I think, in my Third Third, Happy Intermediate is a nice goal for a lot of things. So this will have to be my resolution:
    Happy Intermediate is, by definition, happy. Enjoy it.
That’s all.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Is it hoarding if you're organized?

This is such an anti-resolution post.

First, it’s not what I intended to write about resolutions in our Third Third. I’ll have to get to that later. And second, it flies in the face of all the de-cluttering I’ve resolved to do.

It started with an assignment to create a Volunteer Survey for OLÉ, our mostly all-volunteer nonprofit. There are always tasks to be done and maybe there are willing volunteers out there. How to find them and appeal to them?

I’ve done a lot with volunteers – recruiting, coordinating, and being one – and I have a lot of thoughts on how to value them, recognize them, incorporate them. I was once even the keynote speaker at the Golden Heart Awards.

But what I remembered was creating a Volunteer Survey for Denali Elementary School. It was a really good survey, so my first stop was my computer.

I searched in all my folders: Volunteering, Denali K-8, School District. I used the little Mac searchlight (spotlight?) thing over and over again. (I imagined her saying, “Enough already! It’s not here.” And besides, even if I found it, I bet its Microsoft Word would have that funny black “exec” icon that means my current Microsoft Word can’t read it.
[Aside: is there a cure for that??? Do I just watch my files slip slowly into oblivion? Is that Microsoft’s way of forcing me to de-clutter?]

I can clearly visualize the survey: I’d done it on letter-size paper, but folded it the long way, so it opened vertically. With columns and little check boxes. We printed it on hot pink paper.

That moved me to the file cabinets in the laundry room. I searched high and low. Didn’t I have a file on Volunteerism? Or was it subsumed under Civic Engagement? Or School District? Or even Speeches? I’m sure Volunteerism is somewhere. Where?!?

So then I went to my friend, Margie, who had been on the Denali Committee with me. I described the survey, the hot pink color. I hoped she had better files than I did. And this is what she said:
Oh I am sorry Barbara! I would usually have this sort of thing but I finally got rid of all my Denali paper, even, gasp, the state raffle paperwork and all the losing tickets, some time ago. Don’t you hate redoing something when you are sure you did a better job the first time? Good luck, Margie
She saved losing tickets???

But yes, she hit the nail on the head: I was sure I did a better job the first time. It’s the same feeling when I end up deleting something in error and have to re-create. It’s like a bad copy of a copy.

So this morning, I attacked the file cabinets again. If it wasn’t in my files, maybe it was in my “Sophie Files.” I have all the fascinating things she created: the Kindergarten folder, the 1st Grade folder, the 2nd Grade folder, etc. etc. all the way to Graduation. I keep meaning to have her go through them and de-clutter, but she doesn’t even know they exist. They’re my little secret stash of clutter.

And then, in the 1st Grade folder, in between her How Plants Make Food report, How to Tell Time handmade book, and certificate for TV-Turnoff Week 1999, was the Survey!

Oh, yikes! I feel like I’ve just outed myself as a hoarder! Am I still a hoarder if my files are neatly arranged and have plastic tabs identifying them?

But it doesn’t matter: I have the Survey! And yes, it is good. It asks whether someone “vants to work alone” or is a cheerful worker bee: “Give me a copy machine and I’ll stand in front of it.” Do they want short and sweet projects, to run the show or follow directions, to make fun or make money?

I told Margie I’d found it, and she replied, “This is the kind of thing that keeps one from throwing anything out.”

Moral of this story: A successful Find is a de-cluttering Setback. But a successful Find is a Jump-Up-and-Down-Happy-Dance with a Smile on your Face and a Hooray in Your Heart!

Sharing Button