The Great Giveaway is over and gone. Gone in 365 days–365 personal possessions; that was the goal. But how was I to rid myselfof stuff when the majority of it lives in the mountains and I have retreated to the desert for six months? On October 31st I treated myself and took this self-imposed duty off my To Do list. (Yes Virginia, I see that smile on your face.)
I have achieved my fundamental goal. I feel lighter for living with less, purged of possessions (physical and mental) that outlived usefulness. Heading into the holiday season, I want to focus on other things. Traditional holiday celebration, by the way, hit my list on October 31. My last entry. There will be celebration, just not traditional.
An exercise in motivation
I have donated, pawned off, and tossed more than 365 items. The one-a-day stipulation was an exercise in motivation to keep the purge top of mind. It worked. I have established a habit of questioning the tenure of every dust accumulating object my eyes light on.
Of course, the giveaway involved more than physical objects. I axed email subscriptions, deleted unused apps and stopped services. The end result of the entire exercise is that I feel less burdened and more in control.
In the past, when I opened the closet and saw boxes of unsorted photographs stacked on a tower of old photo albums my spirits sank. Now, I am very close to one book shelf of albums that tell our story. And only one binder of recipes, culled from a multitude of binders, files and folders. The rest? All gone.I’ve been a busy girl!
How does one muster the courage to get rid of the accumulation of a lifetime (or several lifetimes if you have inherited an estate)? It helps to channel some inner “bad” attitudes. Get radical. Let your suppressed dissident out. Who says you have to keep all this stuff? Destroy the paper trail with glee (after you have plugged your family records into Ancestry.com).
For the record, you might want to scan historically valuable documents, unless you are a famous person. If you anticipate that someday a Ph.D. candidate might want to dig into the archives of your life and write a book, then offer your personal records to your local library or museum. If they don’t accept your donation, that will be a clue.
Your grandmother’s drivers license and social security card? C’mon. Once you have shredded that, toss your Dad’s high school graduation certificate. Heck, toss your own. Anyone who wants proof that you graduated from high school is undeserving (unless you are 18 and looking for an entry level job.)
Seniors, give the monster artificial Christmas tree away. Let a younger person risk back injury setting it up. They heal faster. (Hard-hearted, I know.)
All the power supplies and connector cords that have dissociated themselves from their devices and are conspiring in a bottom drawer? Out! If, at a later date, you locate the now powerless device (likely an old video tape player), a special place awaits useless electronics at your local transfer station.
The biggest payoff
The biggest payoff in this exercise was ditching the nightly news. We managed to keep ourselves informed without the daily “sky is falling” drama. In the end, we pulled the plug on all broadcast programming in favor of internet TV. The health benefits (lower blood pressure) of banishing offensive advertising and fear mongering news reporters from our living room is enormous.
All in all, a worthy undertaking. Time to celebrate.
I pulled this quote from the November 1 entry in Listening to your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner.
Memory is more than a looking back to a time that is no longer;
it is a looking out into another kind of time altogether where everything that ever was continues not just to be, but to grow and change with the life that is in it still.
What an amazing thought! I can’t imagine a better playground for a novelist. As we come to see our ancestors in new ways, Buechner says it is as if they also come to understand us–and thus they contribute to our ability to better understand ourselves. We see ourselves through their eyes.
Although she was no saint, I wonder what my progressive-era great grandmother would have to say to me in light of her experiences and mine? This is essentially the theme of my next book. Decisions she made had far reaching effects. Her words and actions helped form the values that were passed down. Her experience was my inheritance.
The communion of saints, Buechner points out, comprises more than this present generation. In some sense we also commune with the ghosts of the past and the pneuma of future generations for whom we hold out hope.
Following that train of thought, it seems that our present selves exist in the context of what was and what is and what is to come. How then might our communication with those who have passed from our purview differ in this present day? Given that they have a new frame of reference, might their voices in our heads change?
A friend sent me a copy of Bettyville, a memoir by George Hodgman. He signed it, To Sydney who had quite a mom. Growing up, my friend and I lamented often to each other about our mothers. But time softens perspectives. We are now the mothers our daughters lament, and so it goes down through the generations.
The generational divide pretty much guarantees that whatever we say to our daughters in our defense will be misinterpreted. And so we stay silent, as did our mothers. That silence breeds misunderstanding. At the same time it safeguards relationships.
Time and perspective work their magic. What we could not speak while our mothers were living we articulate with more grace when they are gone. What we could not hear before, we now receive with grateful hearts.
Happiness is a state of being, but joy is a moment. We can work ourselves into a happy place, but joy is an unsolicited moment of grace, independent of the place we find ourselves, happy or sad. In the happy chances we call serendipity, joy might be a tiny seed buried in the moment.
Last week, I struggled with an email to someone I don’t know who wants to collaborate on a project. It seems we are at cross purposes. I looked for a way to sign off without offending. I chose the words Be Well.
What exactly does that mean? I Googled it. Google thought on the matter for awhile, and then came up with one entry by way of definition. It was a tweet from a Nigerian gospel singer–how random is that? The tweet said:
Your journey is too unique to take anyone’s word for it.
[I] set you free to follow your own path;
to find your purpose in God.
Perfect! Captured the spirit of what I was trying to say. Intrigued, I Googled the tweeter, Femi Jacobs. If I was going to quote him, I wanted to make sure he was legit. He appears to be. His creds identify him as a film and TV actor, a speaker, and a singer. He was educated in mass communications and marketing management in Lagos, and trained as a pilot in South Africa.
I looked up a song he performs, Orun Si, and listened to it on You Tube. It provided a lovely interlude in my morning.
Maybe it wasn’t the universe answering my humble question. Maybe it was just an algorithm popping up the best shot it could make at a definition of a concept. But it gave me a lift to know that there are people out there who wish good things for others.
I wish you joy.
Steal some time to read these books
I stole some time to finish some books on my night table this week. I’m fudging a bit. Stolen Postcards is the type of book you set down and pick up again and again–unless you are a greedy reader who wants all the goodies in one sitting! Lightning Strikes introduced me to the writing of a local author of promise, and The Explanation of Everything prompted lively discussion about science vs faith here in our little desert hideaway.
Stolen Postcards is a good title for this collection of vignettes. I have the book on my eReader and I steal time to read these stories. When I’m waiting for my tea water to boil or having a quick bite of lunch, I play in the mind of Jan Ackerson.
These stories are like soap bubbles. One by one, you watch them float off the page. You appreciate the color, shape, or movement. Then pop, they are gone, and you look for the next one. Whether whimsical, warm, chilling, or downright horrifying, each story engages.
In a world where we speed read to get through our booklist, it is refreshing to slow down and take note of telling details that provide the context for each story. Or to ruminate on what prompted the story. Sometimes the author tells you (Doctor Appreciation Day). Other times you have to guess. (My, someone must have been in a pissy mood.)
Stolen Postcards reminds us that there are stories everywhere. You might be tempted to try writing one yourself. Go ahead. Try this at home.
If you are the parent of a middle schooler, Lightening Strikes by Daniel Babka is a worthy choice. This short story about a young boy finding his moral core in a mid-twentieth century, middle America town. Racism, crime, and poverty are part of the landscape for 12-year old Ben, but so is an essentially loving family.
Ben observes, he considers, and he takes action to right wrongs. The consequences of his actions are heartwarming, but I did wonder if the adults involved would truly have been as forgiving, given the stakes. We could hope so.
This is a good book to read and discuss with your child. And it’s a good introduction to Babka’s writing. There seems to be a trend to publish shorts as samplers to greater bodies of work. (Think of the clerks behind the See’s Candies counter setting a chocolate in your hand to tempt you to invest in the one or two pound box.) Good idea.
The Explanation of Everything
In this present climate of heated rhetoric, poor listening, and pressure to consider only one point of view, The Explanation for Everything is refreshing. If you are expecting a polemic that comes down solidly on the side of Darwin or God, you will be disappointed. What you get instead is a story about real people on both sides of this equation who struggle with personal and social issues.
Lauren Grodstein does a good job of balancing the concerns of both science and faith. To my mind, her approach requires a paradigm shift. Certainty is not a requirement in either discipline.
As we begin to notice the effects of sloppy thinking, careless attitudes, and moral or ethical failures in characters on both sides, the tension builds. Scientific discovery is a reasoned process that yields exciting results, but life is more a science experiment. Faith is a mystery that offers hope; but strip away the mystery and it falls apart.
About the time that we realize the story is not a debunking or vindication of extreme points of view, we come to an understanding. If you have seen the movie, Sully, you will recognize the theme. It’s the human factor.
Heritage Sunday at Christ Presbyterian Church in Goodyear, AZ is coming up. Next Sunday we are invited to wear something that represents either the heritage of the Presbyterian church (Scottish) or our own native country.
On first consideration, this seems like simple fun. If you’re a Scot, wear your tartan. Of course, showing your colors back in the day was not only about clan pride. Tartans identified a man’s military regiment affiliation. Men with Scottish backgrounds can display their tartan on a tie or kilt. What about the women?
I have a scarf. I did not anticipate I would need my Matheson plaid in Arizona, so it nestles in a drawer in the mountains. For that reason, I decided to dig into my family heritage and come up with another plan.
These exercises are difficult for us hybrids. My lovely choir mate Fe has a colorful national costume from the Philippines. She and her husband regularly attend social functions that celebrate their culture. She is much closer to her heritage than I am. If I choose the heritage that scores the highest percentage points on my DNA test, it is Ashkenazi Jew. What can I wear that identifies my Jewish roots?Read More»