Category Archives: Life

The Antidote to Small Talk

One of my favorite things about my One Month Wisdom project has been how it’s changed even my most surface conversations at social events.

You know, those moment when you see someone you haven’t seen for a while and they ask you, “What’s new?”

These moments are the land minds of mingling, and I used to hate them.  Why?  Because I’ve learned the following:

  1. People don’t want to hear how great your life is, even if it’s true.
  2. I don’t like to talk about the weather.  It is raining.  Or it’s not.  Get over it.
  3. I don’t have kids, which is fine.  But let’s admit it, kids and their adorable and silly antics often make good conversation.
  4. It’s often inappropriate to launch into what’s really new in your life.  I mean – saying “well you know, I might be pregnant” or “I’m looking for a job” or “I just had the best sex yesterday” is just not OK for most social settings.
  5. I really try hard not to gossip.  This is often what people want, or at least what they like, but it’s not healthy or good or anything I want to be, so I try to avoid it.
The reality is, often, there really isn’t very much new.  I walked my dog today.  I ate a turkey and brie sandwich for lunch.  I went to work.  I noticed a gorgeous sunrise.  It’s a wonderful life, but my routine often doesn’t make for scintillating conversation.  Since I can’t talk about the weather, or my health, or who is (scandal!) sleeping with whom, WHAT DO I DO?
In the past, I’ve usually mentioned something about a movie I’ve seen recently, or a book I’m reading, but often that falls flat.
Now, though, thanks to One Month Wisdom, I always have something to offer.
Tales about my monthly resolution and how I am (or am not) being successful make people laugh, ask questions, and best of all, start telling me their own interesting stories.  It’s a great conversation starter and I’ve learned more interesting things about people this way than I ever expected.  In fact, some times the telling of these tales actually helps me to write a future blog post.  It’s a win-win!

Hopefully.

Unless I’m actually boring everyone in my home town and my friends are just being kind.

If that’s the case, I’m sorry (and someone, PLEASE let me know).

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Filed under Community, Life, Parties, Resolutions

Scream!

You know those movies, where the teenagers are all hanging out at a camp or at a friend’s house and then suddenly: THEY HEAR A NOISE?  From the deepest corners of the house, a noise that is clearly not human and not mechanical.  A noise that says something is seriously wrong.

One brave soul (usually dressed in a really tight cheer leading uniform) goes to investigate, and opens the basement door.

“Don’t do it!” we yell!  DO.  NOT.  GO.  DOWN.  THERE!

But she always does.  She goes down there, and what happens?

She gets chopped up into tiny pieces.

Why can’t she just look away?  Run? Hide?

Well, that wouldn’t be much of a movie now, would it?

The funny thing is, in real life, I think we often do look away. We  do run. We do hide. But in the end, those monsters in the basement get us anyway.
Because my friends, the monsters are us.

They are our childhood dreams, turned into resentment at lost opportunities. They are our life’s disappointments, turned into anger that things didn’t work out differently. They are our missed opportunities, turned into fear that no more opportunities exist.

In the movies, there is always scary music to let us know that danger lurks below.  In life, though, there is no scary music to tell us to when those monsters are about to attack.  They lurk for years in our psychological basements until they grow so big and powerful that we cannot ignore them any longer.  And by then, it is often too late.

Who knew I could turn a simple organizational project into a metaphor for the darkest parts of my own psyche?

YOU DID!

Seriously, I think that we should all be in the discipline of cleaning out our basements – literally and figuratively – more regularly.  We shouldn’t wait until the basement is so out of control that it is unmanageable.  We should face it, regularly, so that it is not such a big f*ing deal.

In addition to enjoying an organized pantry and a workbench free of clutter, these past weeks of spending time with my basement monsters has provided me with some incredibly useful insights and lessons.  It has been painful and a bit scary.  It has definitely not been pretty.  But I am still whole.  And I don’t need to run and hide.  AND, I have a clean basement.

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Filed under Divorce, Life, Organizing, Uncategorized

A peace of myself

“An original idea. That can’t be too hard. The library must be full of them.” – Stephen Fry

The British Library

I just stood in front of the handwritten draft of Ravel’s Bolero. And Handel’s Messiah. And Mozart’s Horn Concerto in E Flat. I gazed over Virginia Woolf’s manuscript of Mrs. Galloway while I listened to her voice. I heard James Joyce read from Finnegan’s Wake and saw Charlotte Bronte’s manuscript of Jane Eyre. I saw a copy of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. And listened to the Beatle’s recording of A Hard Days Night while I looked at the original draft of the lyrics, written by John Lennon on the back of his son’s first birthday card.

* How on earth did they play that? (Handel’s music writing is almost impossible to decipher. Beethoven’s had big blotches all over it. Is that a note or an ink blot?)

* Virginia Woolf did not sound like what I expected. At all.

* Even listening to Mr. Joyce read his own words, I still didn’t understand them.

* I could hear Bolero as I was looking at it. I could feel the beat of the music and imagine Ravel writing it. Did he know it was a masterpiece when he was putting it on paper?

Oh! I almost forgot. I also saw two of four surviving copies of The Magna Carta (translated, “the great charter”). From, you know, the 1200s. No big deal.

Now I am sitting in the cafe at The British Library, where these and other treasures are stored, and gazing up at the rare book archive, encased in glass and running from the basement to the top floor.

If I got trapped here, I don’t think I’d mind.

My resolution for this month has been a rather personal one, which is why I haven’t written about it. Since I woke up in a funk when the month began, I have been focusing my energy on getting out of that funk. Planning and preparing for this trip was certainly helpful in some ways. It is exciting to read about all of the things to see and do and to prepare for a two week break from my normal routine.

But my pending adventure also brought its own degree of anxiety with it. Apparently, I am still learning to travel by myself. I am still letting go of all the places I haven’t seen yet (and may never) because I spent my 20s and 30s making someone else’s dream my priority. I am still, I find, trying to figure out where I want to be.

The good news is that the funk is fading. I haven’t answered all of the questions in the background, but I feel nourished by the reminder that I am brave enough to navigate a foreign city, curious enough to try new foods and follow my nose in unknown neighborhoods, and young enough that I still have time to have many more of my own adventures.

It’s true that I am a tad jealous (ok, more than a tad) of the young people I meet here, from all around the world, who have come to London to live and explore Europe. But perhaps since I am doing my exploring at a different age, I am finding more here than I would have. Not just parts of the world’s history, but parts of myself as well.

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Filed under Life, Resolutions, The Meaning of Life

The end of an era.

I have had little trouble honoring my goal of getting outside this month.  The weather is (mostly) cooperating and I live in a beautiful place with woods and a river nearby.  It is an amazing feeling to reconnect with nature as more than an occasional escape.  In my past I have often been a person who walked in the woods every day and routinely did 6-12 mile hikes almost every weekend.

I am happy to report that despite my additional years and what I am fondly calling my extra ‘thesis weight,’ I can still manage the walking and the hills quite nicely, thank you very much.  I am even happier to report that my recent discovery of kayaking on the Susquehanna will give me some wonderful variety in the way I experience my beautiful surroundings.

This is a sad re-birth, however.  My Hannah, while still alive and well, can no longer tolerate long wanders in the woods.  She has a hard time with short walks too, in fact, and so we have mostly been sticking to the neighborhood and the local dog park and limiting our outings to 45 minutes or less.

It is hard to remember hiking without Hannah, my outdoor companion.  With the exception of the few hikes I have taken abroad or across the country, Hannah has walked every single walk with me for thirteen years.  In fact, she’s probably hiked twice what I have.  Her border collie instincts kick in when we are outdoors, and she always checks on the herd – running from the front to the back of any group – and then to the front again.

Want to go on a walk Shelby? Let's go on a walk!

A great trail dog, Hannah helps me to stop and relax and enjoy the view.  She stays close by even while she is exploring – always returning to me every few minutes to check-in.  She motivates me to get outside when I don’t feel like moving, and then I am so grateful for the fresh air in my lungs.  Her sheer love of the walk and the outdoors (tail wagging all the while) puts me in a great mood and encourages me to focus on here – now – not on anything else.  When I take her off-leash she is overjoyed.  She sits obediently while I remove her collar and stays until I give her the command to run free, when she bounds off, elated.  I am elated to be off-leash too.

A few years ago a friend, who knows I am clutzy and prone to walking into file cabinets and tripping on my own feet, noticed something while we were hiking together.  He said “for someone who gets new bruises every day, you sure can walk on the rocky trails of PA without any trouble at all. What’s that about?”

I pondered his observation – something I’d never noticed but that is certainly true.  I think the answer is that when I’m in the woods, I am just in the woods.  I am walking and relaxing and focused on that one activity.  For a person prone to multi-tasking (and have I mentioned making things far more complicated than they need to be), this singular focus is an important way I recharge and care for myself.  And it is something I have most certainly learned from my dog.

In spite of her grey hairs and her aching joints, Hannah is still a happy, healthy dog.  I am hopeful that I have at least a few more good years with her.
I know that her company is a gift, whether we get into the woods or not.  But I am missing her there, and I am grieving.

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Filed under Hiking, Life

No more thinking!

I am happy to report that my wardrobe selections for last week worked perfectly.  I used everything I packed and successfully managed a trip which included work, vacation, five different cities, and three different suitcases, and about nine different dress codes.

Seriously, what IS the difference between ‘semi-casual,’ ‘business-casual,’ ‘outdoor-casual,’ and ‘country-club-casual,” WHAT ?

As of yesterday  I am back at home – not refreshed really – but rejuvenated a bit and excited about finishing my coursework (tonight), a graduation party (this weekend) and graduation itself (next weekend).

They call graduation “commencement” here, of course because it’s a ceremony primarily for undergraduates and because it’s supposed to mark ‘a beginning.’  I can’t quite get my head around the beginning that is in front of me – perhaps because I feel more like I am in the middle of my story.  Either way, this is a logical time for me to think about my life, my career, my goals, and my next steps.

And so I am.  Thinking that is.  DANGEROUS.
It feels like I should be pondering my biggest resolution yet.

Truthfully, I never really figured out what I was supposed to do with my life.

I got married, which made me happy for a long time.  I found a job I liked and made a career out of it, almost by accident.  I focused on working to support my husband’s dreams because I never figured out what mine were.  Now divorced, I find myself happy with my location, my work, and my life in general.  I never planned on this path, but I’m on it and content.

Part of me feels that I should be looking for something more – perhaps just because I’ve never asked myself the big questions.

* What do I want to do with my life?
* What legacy should I leave?
* How can I make the most of the time I have?

Part of me feels I should just be relaxing and enjoying the time ahead.  Summer.  My porch.  Friends.  My Dog.

The juxtaposition of these  forces (what’s next?  vs. just relax!) sums me up right now.  I’m thinking ALL THE TIME about the future, the world, my values, my options.  It’s EXHAUSTING.

And I don’t want to do it any more.

So, 11 days into the month, here is my resolution.  I am going to stop thinking about this stuff.  For the next 20 days.  I am going to give myself a break from big ideas, life goals, and what if’s.  I’m just going to be.

Or at least, I’m going to try.

So, if you’re in the area, come join me on the porch for a drink and a visit.  I’ll be hanging around, NOT thinking about what’s next, but focusing on what’s in front of me right now.

A gin-and-tonic.

(P.S. I’m noticing a theme here.)

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Filed under Alcohol, Life, Resolutions, The Meaning of Life