Let’s Make it Official!

The end of the year was an interesting and different one for me. You know how life often goes in waves? A wave of graduations, a wave of weddings, a wave of baby showers, and so on. Well, my wave of weddings is well behind me at this point. I’m invited to one perhaps every five years or so.

So imagine my surprise when two friends scheduled weddings for the last week of the year. Both of these women have been good friends of mine for many years, and as forty-somethings these are first marriages for each. I was beyond excited at ending 2015 on such a high. How often does that happen?

Things got even more interesting when, at the end of October, one of the couples asked if I was willing to get ordained so that I could perform their ceremony. I admit to a bit of confusion at first. I’m not a particularly religious person. I’ve never expressed interest in entering the ministry. And most importantly, I don’t look good in robes. On the other hand, I’m a big fan of couples finding one another and choosing to build a life together. We do it so frequently that perhaps we’ve forgotten how much bravery is involved in coupling.

I agreed to officiate the ceremony for my friends and promptly got ordained online the following day. It is shockingly easy. There’s no fee. The form has fewer than ten fields, and apparently you only have to be over 13 years old to hit submit. All too easy.

It was only a few weeks later, after hearing that I was newly-ordained, that the other couple approached me and asked if I would be willing to perform their ceremony too. What an unexpected turn of events. It truly is nice to know that people have entrusted me with such an important moment in their lives. I don’t know if I’ll ever perform another ceremony, but it was sure great to be involved in these two. And no robes were required!

 

 

 

Gray Days and Heavy Hearts

IMG_0070 For the last few weeks in Milan, the days have been filled with perfect autumn weather. Perhaps seasonably warm a few days, but generally crisp, bright blue skies, no rain in sight. But the gray, foggy, dreariness of this photo from my apartment window is what we were met with this morning, which seemed apropos given the attacks last night in Paris.

The weather matches the mood. The streets were quiet today, everyone walking a little slower, talking a little lower. Maybe it was just my imagination, but it certainly matched my mood.

I first learned of the attacks last night on Twitter. I have to say, for breaking news, Twitter is second to none. The details were sparse, and it’s hard to convey much in 140 characters, but it was clear there was something tragic and deadly underway. It was hard to sleep knowing what was happening, the story still emerging, the edges soft and unformed.

I woke a few times throughout the night – higher numbers, lower numbers, revised information, things still solidifying. And then morning came, and things were over, and yet just beginning in so many ways.

It’s hard to make sense of what’s happening, in Paris, in the world at large. I’m still in my head about it, trying to access language that can explain the incomprehensible.

For now, my thoughts, my energy, all drive in a single direction; and while I hope tomorrow that I’ll be greeted with a morning sun, I’ll completely understand if I’m not. Sadly.

Friggatriskaidekaphobia – It’s That Time of Year Again

friday13bWith Friday the 13th upon us, it seemed like an appropriate time to chat about superstitions. I consider myself to be a largely reasonable person, but for some inexplicable reason, I’m wildly superstitious. So is my sister. Black cats, walking under ladders, cracks in sidewalks – we’ll have none of it.

And don’t even get me started on Friday the 13th. We avoid air travel, long-distance driving. We don’t start anything new or change routines on a Friday the 13th. According to us, the risk associated with Friday the 13th is on par with base jumping or heli-skiing. This year there are three occurrences of Friday the 13th – February, March, and November. Three is the most that there can be in any one year, and there’s always at least one. It’s been a rough few years since we also had three in 2012. For those of us keeping track, the good news is that there’s only one next year and not another set of three for almost a decade!

Apparently my sister and I suffer from friggatriskaidekaphobia. Of all the things one can receive rehab for, this, sadly, doesn’t seem to be one of them. What’s a girl to do?

The origin of this affliction in my sister and me is unknown. Under normal circumstances, I take every available opportunity to blame my quirks and flaws on one parent or the other; but I’m afraid I can’t toss this one over to them. My parents are frustratingly rational people. The best I can tell, they bear no responsibility in this matter. Unless of course, it was this same rationality that drove us to seek something more magical and mystical in our lives.

When I started working in Italy a few years ago, I didn’t know that the significance of Friday the 13th wasn’t universal. In Italy, 13 is generally considered a lucky number. It’s Friday the 17th that causes them to go running from the room. It’s been difficult for me to determine if I need to adopt this new superstition as something of an homage to my second home, or if I can keep it just to the 13th. Given that there were two instances of Friday the 17th this year, I really didn’t see the sense in taking on two more days of angst. I thought this was an incredibly rational response for me, proving my parents’ influence was indeed present.

But the 13th is still a concern, so tomorrow I’ll be keeping things low-key. It’s no time to try blow fish or learn how to fence or enter an eating contest. That can all wait till the 14th. Until then, it’s safety first, people!

UPDATE:  I was so wrong!! There IS treatment for friggatriskaidekaphobia. An entire treatment center, so it seems. You know where to find me…

Change: It Does a Body Good

changeblog

It’s been a big autumn for me. Changes that have been steeping for a while have finally come to fruition. Oh, let’s face it – they aren’t really that big of a deal, but when the changes are yours, they often feel bigger than they really are, don’t they?

So here’s what changed…

1. I got five inches cut off my hair. I’ve had the same hair guy for almost twenty years. He’s my buddy, my pal. He won’t steer me wrong, but he also knows that once I’ve made up my mind, there’s no turning back. It’s only hair after all. I get that.

But sometimes these seemingly simple changes are indicative of something more – indicative of a readiness to tackle bigger changes. Symbolic things like hair cuts are an invitation to the universe to bring it on.

2. I got a new laptop. Yeah, yeah, I know, it doesn’t sound like a big deal either. But what’s important is that I’ve had the same laptop for about eight years. It was still on Windows XP, an operating system I truly adored. I get attached like that – yes, even to operating systems.

I waited until the last gasp before finally making the change. The day I couldn’t do a basic task like copy and paste, I knew the time had come. I got a teeny, tiny Dell laptop with a touchscreen and Windows 10. This is likely the most cutting edge that I’ll be. Trust me, I’ll never be accused of being an early adopter; but all things considered, the transition hasn’t been as painful as I worried it might. More importantly, I can copy and paste again.

3. I got a new phone. Similar to the laptop, I’d held on to my cell phone for much longer than made sense. I was perhaps the last person in the civilized universe talking on a Blackberry. I loved my Blackberry, and if the battery hadn’t gone to seed, I’d still be using it. I made the leap to the dark side, which is to say I’m now a member of the Apple family.

Here’s the thing about change, at least as it relates to me. The contemplation of it is far more anxiety-ridden than the actual change. Perhaps it doesn’t always work out that way, but all the energy and time I spent resisting it was so draining by comparison.

Will I be any quicker next time? Perhaps not. I imagine I’ll be on Windows 10 long after it can be purchased or supported. I’ll be draining the battery from my iPhone until the new versions are in double digits. But hopefully I’ll remember how easy it ultimately was when I’m faced with other transitions that are sure to come.

A Frenetic Case of Wanderlust

Important Things
My life of late has been a series of leavings. Partly by design, partly by desire, I find myself unpacking and repacking on a regular basis. I have the logistics of it down to a science – leave the house two hours before any flight, pack anything critical in carry on, set the thermostat to fifty-five, put the mail on hold, and so on.

But the emotions of it, I’m still working on. As much as I look forward to most trips, I also don’t want to leave home. I never feel like I have enough time at home – except when I’m there, of course.

This frenetic case of wanderlust has been with me for a lifetime. At this juncture, it wouldn’t seem that it’s some phase I’ll grow out of in due course, like when I thought I wanted to join the Peace Corps or be a long-haul truck driver (true story for another time!).

My father was a career Navy man working on diesel submarines. For the first several years of my life, we moved every couple of years, sometimes less. We exited the roller coaster the year I turned ten, which on paper sure doesn’t seem all that long, and yet, living that first decade of my life in such a nomadic style has shaped everything that came after.

When you’re born in to something, you can go a long time not realizing there’s another way. A whole lot of other ways, as it turns out. I remember during sixth or seventh grade when I realized that I had friends who had never been on a plane, had always lived in the same town, and even more strikingly, lived within reasonable driving distance from the bulk of their relatives. My relatives, on the other hand, lived on the opposite coast from me. We’d never shared a Thanksgiving or Christmas with any of them.

As children, you don’t spend a lot of time missing what you don’t have. Indeed, we had no need to. I have the great privilege of having incredible parents, and a sister who isn’t so bad either. (That’s a joke – she’s a gem, my mirror, my forever friend.) I never felt that we were missing out by spending each holiday just the four of us, or maybe with some family friends.

In any case, it was most assuredly those early years that fed my desire for exploration, independence. Perhaps it would have been there anyway, but I’m not so sure about that. Exposure to different geographies, people, and cultures only made me want more. I sought it out in my education. I sought it out in my leisure time. I sought it out in my professional life.

And so we’ve come full circle – back to the trip that I’m on right now. The trip that allows me to explore and experience while at the same time maintaining a home in a town that I love.

What was I complaining about again?   

The Arc of Memory

MemoryArcThis started out as a post about horseback riding and ended up being about the nature of memory. I was out of town with my sister at a ranch in the Arizonan desert. For four days, we rode horses once in the morning, once in the evening to avoid the midday heat. It made me think about the first time I rode a horse. This is how I tell that story…

I was about eight years old and I was at a friend’s birthday party where the activity was to go horseback riding at a local park. We were a small group, maybe five or six kids. I was in jeans and a t-shirt, hair in ponytails, ready to go. I don’t recall receiving much instruction, or perhaps I just didn’t pay much attention to it, what with me being eight and all. My horse’s name was Blue.

The ride started just fine, everyone in single file walking orderly along the trail. At some point though, without warning or provocation (at least that I saw), Blue reared his head and charged forward away from the group. I’d never experienced such fear and lack of control. I managed to hold on to the reins, but not much else. This was Blue’s ride, not mine. I was a mere passenger. I’m sure there was screaming involved (horses always respond well to that!), and eventually the guide caught up to me, and along with me finally pulling back on the reins, he got the situation under control.

That’s the end of the memory for me – short, quick, scary as hell. Did we have cake and open presents afterwards? Were there tears? No clue.

I’ve carried this memory with me in one shape or another for about four decades.

Here’s how my sister remembers it…

She says we lived in Charleston at the time. She was eleven and I was eight. In fact, she was just turning eleven because the birthday party we were at was hers. We were there with Tina and Cheryl Watkins, two of our friends who were also sisters. There may have been one or two other girls with us. 

My sister says she wore jeans and a t-shirt, hair in ponytails, ready to go. Her horse’s name was Blue.

The ride started out fine, but at some point, without warning or provocation, Blue reared his head and charged away from the group. My sister had never experienced such fear. She recalls Blue racing off in to the woods. (My memory barely has a tree in it.)

This is her memory. She’s carried it with her for almost four decades.

I don’t recall ever having talked to her about this until recently. I was asking her more details about the day to round out my memory since I wanted to write about it. That’s how I fell upon the fact (I now use that term loosely) that we have this shared but skewed memory. I’m almost afraid to quiz her on other life events.

But the kicker was when we asked our mother, thinking she could break the tie. How did she remember it? Did she remember it at all?

This was all via text message.

ME: Do you remember when we went horseback riding in Charleston? And do you remember the horse that ran off?

MOTHER: Yes, I remember.

ME: Who do you think was riding the horse?

MOTHER: Cheryl Watkins

What???? So much for the tie breaker. I don’t quite know what to make of this. I was young at the time. I have no reason to trust my memory more than my sister’s or my mother’s, but even they don’t recall it the same way. It seems I’ve co-opted something that isn’t mine. How many of my other memories aren’t mine?

Perhaps, in the end, it’s all just fiction.

Why Is Procrastination A Four-Letter Word?

Okay, it’s True Confession time: I’m a world-class procrastinator. I mean, the kind worthy of tiaras, statues, and waving from podiums. What’s that saying? Anything worth doing is worth doing well? Well, I seem to have applied that philosophy to procrastinating. Probably not the original intention.

As a child, I recall this being an issue with schoolwork. I always got everything done, mind you, but it was often at the last gasp. It wasn’t even a state I was aware of until my mother brought it to my attention. She might have 1/8 of a gram of procrastination in her. It just isn’t her way. I’m sure it frustrated her to have a child who had mega doses of a trait she couldn’t understand. But worse than not being able to understand it, she couldn’t remediate it. Oh, how she tried.

I was probably at my best during college. I was so concerned that my lack of discipline was going to lead to my intellectual decline, that I over-compensated and studied like a fiend. I kept a notebook where I tallied my study hours each day, totaling them at the end of each week and month. While it may have thrilled my mother, I’d gone overboard and longed for my days of waiting till the last minute. By my junior year of college, I’d abandoned the notebook for something that felt a little more natural for me. Plus, I was sure I wasn’t going to flunk out and shame the family name at that point, so it was okay if I backed off a bit.

As an adult, I can’t say this trait hasn’t driven me crazy many times. It often makes me feel undisciplined, unfocused and lazy, assuming that I could right the ship if I really wanted to complete the task badly enough.

In moments where I’m feeling a little more generous with myself, I wonder if the procrastination serves a purpose that I have yet to identify and appreciate. While it’s true that I may need to do A, but set about doing B through F before circling back, at least I’ve completed B through F. In fact, in some cases, I can absolutely say that in my attempt to procrastinate, I become oddly productive. Maybe not productive at the thing I needed to be doing, but productive nonetheless.

There’s a wealth of information and research about procrastination. It seems to occupy the collective conscience in a way rarely seen with other personality traits. Procrastination is rarely seen as positive. More often it’s considered maladaptive and something to be fixed. When I contemplate the nature of my procrastinating (probably in an attempt to delay working on something else), I make the following observations:

  1. It seems so fundamental to my nature that I’m not convinced eradicating it is a valuable exercise. I think I’d get more mileage and benefits from finding ways to manage and understand it.
  2. When I look at the tasks I tend to delay, they’re things that require high degrees of concentration. I convince myself that it will take a long time to get to that particular state of mind; and once there, it’s likely that someone will call, stop by, or send an email with a pressing and urgent technical matter. I don’t want to start until I have relative certainty that I have a healthy block of time to devote to the task. You can see how that may never happen…
  3. I’ve identified the conditions under which I concentrate best and attempt to replicate them quickly each day, regardless of whether or not I may be faced with those tasks. If the environment is available consistently, then things seem to flow better. It’s kind of the “build it and they will come” strategy.
  4. And, finally, because there’s still a part of me that thinks I just need to get over it already, shape up, and stop obsessing over what needs to get done and just GET IT DONE, I’m still working on curing myself. I don’t want to be so precious about the necessary conditions. With the nature of my work, I’m rarely in environments of my own choosing. I work at client sites and you take the space they give you. I’ve set up my laptop on the corner of a bench with a pile of blankets as a chair. I’ve sat in the middle of a production floor on a metal folding chair, having to break every few hours to go find a power source. I might spend a few days one place and a few days at another, ever-changing conditions that don’t provide for such luxury that my delicate sensibilities may think they need. So I try to train myself to just get stuff done. Make a list. Prioritize it and go. Minimize the time thinking about the list. Thinking – that’s the real issue. That can derail me every time…

Are you a procrastinator? Perhaps a recovering procrastinator with a 12-step program you want to share?? I’m definitely still a work in progress. Hope I always will be!