School of Life

Some lessons you have to learn the hard way.  Some lessons you have to learn the hard and expensive way. 

My dad describes these lessons as having “high tuition in the School of Life,” a metaphor that has at least made me smile through the tears as I’ve lamented to dear-old-dad more than one expensive error in the past. 

Recently, I have made a few pricey and extremely frustrating mistakes.  I misread a text from an airline notifying me of a delayed connecting flight, and ended up missing the first flight.  I didn’t realize that a magazine subscription was set up for automatic renewal on an old (but not-cancelled) credit card, and so I missed a payment and had my first-ever late fee.  I backed into a fire hydrant, majorly denting my bumper, while making a seventeen-point-turn to get out of a dead-end street. 

What bothered me most about each of these situations — more than the toll they took on my bank account — was how sloppy they made me feel.  With each mistake, I found myself baffled by the fact that they were happening, and inwardly revolting: I’m not the type of person who misses flights and neglects credit card payments and drives badly.  I’m responsible!  I’m organized!  I’m careful!  I hate to be melodramatic, but the blunders messed with my sense of identity.

Education is an investment of resources, financial and otherwise, and this is as true for the School of Life as it is for grammar school, secondary school, college and graduate school.  As with any kind of investment, the hope is that the value gained exceeds the expenditure.

So, here’s to finishing these particular courses in the School of Life with good notes and significant insights!  Here are some key lessons that I’m taking away from a missed flight, late fee and a dented bumper:   

  • Read any text with important information twice.  Or three or four or five times.  Read it out loud.  Read it to a friend.  Do whatever it takes to make sure you really take in the information.
  • Don’t set up automatic renewals for magazines. 
  • Cancel old credit cards (or that one old credit card). 
  • When backing up, anytime, look very, very carefully. 
  • Don’t be afraid to tell a passenger that you need a moment of silence to concentrate. 
  • Remember: there isn’t a type of person who makes mistakes.  We all make mistakes because we are human. 
  • Give grace and hugs to people when they make mistakes.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

September is the other New Year

“January is the official start of the new year, and I always get a burst of renewed zeal at that time, but September also gives the same feeling of an empty calendar and a clean slate. The air seems charged with possibility and renewal.” – Gretchen Rubin

I’m with Gretchen Rubin: I always get a burst of renewed zeal in September, as well as in January. (I get the same feeling in my birthday month of March, too, and come to think of it, in June, when summer begins.)  Each of these times of year feel replete with potential and a spring is added to my step when considering goals, habits, and plans.  Oftentimes, I set a fresh batch of resolutions during these clean-slate moments, but I also like to use the months as opportunities to check in on myself and the goals that I set in one of the previous “new-year-periods.” 

A little over halfway through the calendar year, September feels like the perfect time to see how I am progressing with my 2017 resolutions: to celebrate what I’ve accomplished, to recommit to goals behind which I may have lost momentum, and to decide where to focus my goal-meeting energies in the last few months of the year.

Celebrations

  • Decrease sugar consumption — dessert is definitely a treat, not a habit, at this point.  This is probably the first time this has ever been the case for me, at least since I was a child and my mom had the keys to the cookie jar.
  • Complete 12 weeks of Kayla Itsines’ SWEAT workouts — done!  I’ve kept up with her workouts or other ones since completing the round.
  • Sibling connection — I’ve talked to each of my siblings at least once each month since setting this resolution. 
  • One adventure per month — going strong, and I just need to continue.
  • Get organized with “giving.”  Caleb and I have figured out which four charities we’d like to donate to annually, one per season
  • Meeting with a Spiritual Director monthly has been a great source of strength and joy

Areas requiring some recommitment

  • Flossing daily.  I was so, so good with this one…until we went abroad for the month of June.  Something about travel and flossing just didn’t seem to click for me.  But I’m recommitting now, and am going to do what I did for the first five months of the year and not miss a day.
  • Acknowledge birthdays.  Ditto on flossing story and recommitment. 
  • Blogging one time per week.  Ditto on flossing and birthdays.  Clearly, our European adventure messed with some of my resolutions!  It was totally worth it, but now that we’re back, it’s time for me to get back on track.

Still to do

  • Read Middlemarch
  • Cook or bake a recipe from the cookbooks I have yet to try something new from

A few new goals

  • Tidy up the house each night before going to bed
  • Meal plan and schedule exercising at the start of each week (or few week period)
  • Pray the daily examen each day
  • Listen to the news one way of my commute each day.

Do you think of September as a sort of new year?  How are your 2017 resolutions progressing?

 

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

A point d’appui

At very best, a wedding is a chance to remember all of the beautiful aspects of marriage and to be inspired to fully treasure and cultivate those things.  Last weekend, I attended the wedding of two friends from Divinity School, and it offered both of these opportunities.

Through witnessing the couple’s beliefs about and approach to marriage — as evidenced by their choice of readings, music, and rituals, as well as their self-written vows — I was reminded of a central conviction of mine: that marriage isn’t just the next step, and the act of being married isn’t an additional identity byline, or one of many hats to wear.  Being married is a petri dish for rebirth, self-discovery, courage-finding, and transformation.  It’s a point d’appui.

Technically a military term, and French for fulcrum, a point d’appui is the location where troops are assembled prior to a battle.  It’s where they rest, nourish, and educate themselves so that they are able to put their best feet forward when called to service.  In Walden, Henry David Thoreau uses the term to describe the firm, solid ground of reality, beneath the shifting and unstable “mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance.” 

Ludwigsburg, Germany

A point d’appui is a safe space, a spot of restoration and comfort.  Something I’m most grateful for in my marriage is that I have a home anywhere Caleb is — a place to be authentic, to be completely honest, to say exactly what I need, to be silent, to laugh and to have fun.  Caleb affirms me, encourages me, and challenges me, and he gives me room to replenish and rejuvenate myself through time alone and with friends and other family members. 

But to what end does my marriage provide this joy and revitalization?  As much as a point d’appui is a resting place, it is also a starting place.  In Thoreau’s language, it isn’t a foundation where one settles permanently, but a firm ground from which one takes a deep breath and then pushes off, like the wall of the pool that a swimmer uses to propel herself forward with strength and speed.

Notre Dame

I like thinking about marriage as a point d’appui because it shows just how ripe with possibility the union can be.  It’s a reminder that marriage isn’t an end in itself, something that we act upon, but instead, a place where we can be acted upon — through the love, wisdom, perspective and gifts of our partner — and transformed into the best possible version of ourselves.  Or, in the words of my friend’s self-written vows, a place to “fuel each other for the work of loving the world.” 

In other words, marriage is a place of becoming, a place where we bring our already magnificent selves to be admired, appreciated and delighted in; held, protected and comforted; buffed, shaped and strengthened; inspired, changed and transformed into our best selves.

Claude Monet’s House, in Giverny

 

This is not a post about becoming a pseudo-vegetarian

hnck7938After years of believing that if I were a better person I would become a vegetarian, I finally caved and watched Food, Inc..  I knew that the film — or any of the the many other meat-industry indicting books or media items in the market — would push my conscience over the edge and that I would be forced to truly confront my meat-eating and meat-loving habits.  I resisted all of the literature (Eating Animals, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, etc.) for this precise reason: I didn’t want to face the facts that would morally compel me to give up something that I enjoy eating.  Ignorance is bliss. 

Just as I suspected it would, Food, Inc. depressed and horrified me, and it depressed and horrified Caleb even more; and so without further adieu, Caleb is taking the vegetarian leap, and I’m taking vegetarian steps. (Translation: Caleb is giving up meat; I’m more or less giving up cooking meat — though if I am really craving it I might give in and allow myself to buy the expensive grass-fed, local stuff that I don’t find ethically problematic — and I’ll only eat meat  that I haven’t cooked if a) it will go to waste otherwise, or b) it would be rude or an inconvenience to someone else for me not to eat it. And I’m still eating fish.  In other words, I’m not becoming a vegetarian, but I am becoming much more conscientious about my consumption.) Read more

Designing My Summer

SummerA few weeks ago, Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft discussed “designing the summer” on their podcast Happier.   They spoke about how their days of a three-month-summer-vacation are long over, but somehow, summer still feels set apart from the rest of the year.  Perhaps more accurately, they long for it to feel set apart from the rest of the year, and regret that often the season just passes them by without actually being any different, despite the mental feeling that it is different from the rest of the year.  Together, they “designed the summer,” each naming specific things they would do to make summer feel set apart and special (for an example, Gretchen will devote two hours each summer morning to re-reading some of her favorite books). 

The topic resonated with me, especially considering the fact that this is the first year that I don’t have some sort of official “summer break.”  I’ve actually felt a bit glum entering the summer, mourning the fact that the days are longer and the weather is golden and I still have the same work obligations.  I have always looked towards the summer as a time to relax, rejuvenate, travel and have some fun, and I want summer to remain a time for all of these activities whether or not my day-to-day life differs as drastically as it did when I was a student and had summers “off.” 

Listening to Gretchen and Elizabeth as they brainstormed convinced me that the antidote to my grieving the loss of an extended summer vacation is to design my summer, to come up with a few activities that will make summer feel like summer.  My season was kickstarted this past week during a beach vacation with my in-laws, and as I sit here in the Charleston airport, returning home, I feel truly in the summer state of mind.  I’ve mulled over various ideas these past few weeks and am settling on these five, effective immediately.    

Designing my summer

  • Take a day trip to a new location each week that doesn’t involve some other sort of travel
  • Eat/drink on the deck/patio of a new (to us) restaurant each non-travelling week
  • Talk to an old friend on the phone/facetime/skype every week
  • Write one blog post each week
  • Complete a few projects that have been on my list for ages:
    • Learn how to use Caleb’s camera
    • Create a photo wall to display recently taken pictures
    • Complete a writing project
    • Buy and fill in a birthday calendar
    • Hang artwork that has accumulated

Portions of Every Day

light.jpegI don’t think that I have had a single book recommended to me more often, and by a wider variety of people, than Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.  A work ten years in the making, Doerr’s novel spans the years of World War II and weaves together the stories of Marie-Laure LeBlanc and Werner Pfennig, a blind French girl residing with her eccentric, agoraphobic great-uncle and a German orphan forced into military school and then enlistment. 

As Marie-Laure and Werner witness and experience the tragic destruction — physical, mental, relational, and emotional — wreaked by the war, readers — if not the characters themselves — catch glimmers of light in the interactions and inner lives of the intertwining stories.  No doubt the novel is in many ways a dark one, and Doer certainly doesn’t romanticize or gloss over the suffering endured by his characters, but as his title suggests, he demonstrates that, whether or not a person can see the light in their present circumstances, there is light. 
Read more

Homesickness: an Ode to a City

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During a recent day-trip into Boston, I was struck by how keenly homesick I felt for the city: the streets lined with brownstone row houses, the screeching start and stop of the MBTA subway cars, the sidewalks filled with young-professionals walking at a clip, the waterfront breeze inherent to a coastal city, and the abundance of coffee shops, one on every corner.  Even as I sat amidst it all, I felt an overwhelming longing for it — a longing to grab the city and hang on to it, to have it as a part of my everyday again, to be living it with regularity, not observing it from the stance of a visiting outsider. 

What was this homesickness?  Why did I feel such sadness and longing for Boston when I simultaneously feel so content in my new city, Providence?  Read more

For All That Is To Come

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Those days of feeling glum are inevitable. 

For me, glum days take on a few different shapes.  I won’t feel like getting out of bed in the morning.  I’ll be easily distracted, unable to focus on a particular task and instead floating from one thing to another, with long periods of just sitting and thinking in between them.  I won’t accomplish half of the things on my daily to-do list, if I even get around to making the to-do list in the first place.  Read more

Channeling Atticus Finch

Somewhat recently, I entered a social situation that I knew leading up to it would be challenging for me.  I was about to spend the weekend with an individual whose personality —more than anyone else with whom I have had an ongoing relationship — consistently clashes with mine.  This individual’s worldview, words and actions make it really hard for me to like him, and I’m ashamed to admit that my dislike has manifested itself in subtle but slithering ways: a skeptical facial expression here, a stony silence there, and at worse, a curt verbal response or a refusal to engage in conversation. 

In the past, I have spent a lot of time trying to trick, cajole and force myself into liking this person.
Read more

Places to play in…

Teresa Camping

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”    —John Muir

When we lived in Boston and had access to the most fabulous public transportation system (if my loyalties to the MBTA went unswayed in the midst of horrible delays and cancellations during last year’s treacherous winter, I think it is fair to count myself as one of this transit system’s greatest enthusiasts), C and I didn’t have a car.  I loved everything about not having a car — the financial savings, the absence of stress about traffic and parking, not having to worry about having a designated driver when we went out — and it was with a somewhat heavy heart that I realized we would need to buy a vehicle when we moved to Rhode Island.  Read more