list

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a hard time entertaining myself. This is not for lack of creativity – I could spend hours on a project once I started one – but the actual initiation of an activity always came as a difficulty to me.

Thankfully, my sister, who is three years my senior and the queen of self-entertainment, was usually kind enough to let me glom onto her activities. When I was really little, I would follow her around and copy everything she did (to her vexation); but even as we got older, I did most of the things she did. When she got to go to school and I had to stay home, I begged my mother to be the source of my activities.

I am, of course, ashamed of this; and I’m also ashamed to say that this struggle has not much worn off with time. I often get out of work three or four hours before my partner does and rarely have anything to show for it. Although my productive days are very productive, they are few and far between.

The worst part is that I know the solution to my problem. If I write down a list – a physical list – of everything I want to do after work, I will accomplish 90% of it. If I do not write down a physical list of the things I want to accomplish, I will not accomplish anything at all. I will sit on my ass and scroll through my phone for several hours.

Writing a daily list is so simple, and yet I hardly ever do it. And I’m not just talking about tasks. I’m pretty good about making a task list and checking those things off (wedding lists abound right now). I’m really talking about a list of things that I would like to do. Places I’ve been meaning to check out. Activities for my mental health and to get me out of the work-home-work-home routine. So, today I wrote such a list.

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Contrary to the above evidence, I am not a huge shopper, but I had a couple things I was looking for (which I ended up either not finding or not buying) and copious time to kill after work. As you can see, I also included a few small tasks into the mix as well as the cryptic word “vanilla”; and yes, I have been known to be idle enough not to shave unless it is written in ink. I even still had plenty of time to sit on my ass and scroll on my phone! But the point is that I got myself to do activities, ungoaded and unaccompanied, something which I am learning is necessary for a thriving adulthood. Even as I write this I am fulfilling “yoga” (which for me just means gentle stretches), but entirely because I wrote it down.

I feel really stupid admitting that I struggle with something most six year olds have a firm grasp on. I am especially aware of this shortcoming now as I prepare to make vows of eternal companionship, in spite of which I am sure I will oftentimes find myself alone and in need of diversion. I thought that if I made myself face such a disgraceful flaw in writing, in public, that I might work harder to fight against the lethargy and dependence that for some reason has been encumbering me since childhood.

couch

Two Januaries ago I had a month off classes to write my culminating undergraduate paper. I spent a good chunk of that time sitting on the enormously comfortable sectional couch in my partner and his housemates’ living room, crisscross applesauce, laptop on lap, notebooks and papers balanced precariously on each knee, slowly going insane from focusing on a single subject for weeks on end.

Instead of using this time to travel, I stayed in town and picked up a few extra shifts at work. But that bachelor pad couch became something of my home base: a versatile spot, conducive to both work and relaxation, perfect for writing long papers and for watching hours of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
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The couch holds a special place in my memory for other reasons, too. For one, it was large enough that we could fit pretty much as many friends on it as we wanted. It’s fun to try to guess how many Yuengling Lagers it saw in those days (too many). But it was also the very spot I was when I had an important realization.

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I was sitting on the couch one afternoon during my paper writing period, my partner somewhere nearby. It suddenly dawned on me that after five years of companionship I couldn’t envision a life that didn’t have us together, and I knew he felt the same. I looked up from my work and asked him, “Are we engaged?” A look of revelation passed over his eyes as he replied, “Yeah. I think we are!” And that was that, until he officially proposed and we officially announced our engagement just over two years later.

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This is not the story that people expect or want to hear when they ask about a couple’s engagement, and it is not a story that I have ever told before. Part of the reason I haven’t told this story is that it’s largely based on the notion that we’re together because we’re comfortable, which is something people often warn about in a relationship. “Don’t just stay together because it’s easier than leaving”; “Don’t get/let him get too comfortable” because the romance will die or because it’s an indication of settling.

While I see the good intentions behind these warnings, I would like to reintroduce the positive side of comfort – one that makes me believe whole-heartedly that comfort is an excellent reason to spend forever with someone.

Comfort goes hand-in-hand with friendship. The friends I feel closest to are the ones who have seen me in pajamas and glasses, pre-coffee and pre-undereye concealer.

Comfort goes hand-in-hand with trust. Enough difficult things happen in life, that being with a person you’re used to becomes an invaluable asset in overcoming or enduring hardship.

Comfort goes hand-in-hand with affection. I find my partner the most endearing when his guard is down and he’s being himself.

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Now, obviously there are ways to abuse the comfort you share with another person, just as there are ways to abuse a couch; e.g., by being a couch potato or by spilling a lot of beer on it. But overall I think that couch is an apt metaphor for our relationship: trusty comrade in both work and play, flexible yet supportive, and comfortable to the max.

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thirteen

sit under milky way sky
permitting the dark circle
beyond ember glow

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This unseasonably warm weather has been taunting me almost more than I can bear. All I think about is the quiet crackle of firewood, crackle of frying eggs, crackle of leaves being stepped on gently by forest friends. When can I go back?

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Home sweet Camp

analog

On my parents’ living room wall hangs a large clock made from the highly polished, stained, and glazed cross-section of a cypress tree. The outline of its spidery figure never looked like a tree to me, and it was a very long time before I even knew that’s what it was. Instead, I always thought it was deliberately made to be in the shape of a very squat chef wearing a chef’s hat and oven mitt. I perhaps even experienced some confusion over why the clock’s home was the living room instead of the kitchen.

But there was another layer to what I saw with my child’s eyes – something that my mom to this day can’t really see, but I, on the other hand, cannot unsee.  Inside the clock, where the tree’s rings and clock hands are, lives a dancing Arab man.

Disney’s Aladdin came out the year I was born. I imagine my young life was much influenced by this movie, not least of all because of Robin Williams’s undeniable talent. One of my most beloved piano books was the reduced score of this instant Disney classic, and I played and sang “A Whole New World” (both voice parts, of course!) multiple times, daily, for probably several years. My piano was situated next to the wall with the clock with the dancing Arab man.

He wears a white robe and a white turban that has a long, white feather sticking out the top. His beard is long, dark, and pointed. He appears to be dancing a jig, and far in the background a lady attendant stands, a white scarf draped over her head.

When I was growing up, I thought this curious scene was intentionally put there by the clock maker. That’s how conspicuous the picture was (and is) to my eyes. Even looking at him now, I still have a hard time admitting to myself that the dancing Arab man is naturally occurring, or at the very most brought forward by the wood stain.

For a long time, the clock as a functional timepiece was not very useful to me, as it only has small hashes for most of the hours and Roman numerals for the rest, so when I looked at it I hardly saw a clock at all, although I knew it was one. What I did see was a strange little chef and a strange little Arab man, and I don’t even remember questioning why the two were paired. They just belonged together, living in joyful unity above the piano, listening to the repetitive serenades of a ten-year-old.

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The chef and the dancing Arab

rebirth

As he was packing up and moving out last year, my roommate walks up to me, holding the saddest potted plant you ever did see, and says, “Do you want this?”

I have not yet turned down a houseplant that has been offered to me, nor have I left an abandoned one an orphan.

My roommate had been gone for a large part of the year, giving him little chance to water a languishing peace lily. If I had known about it, I would have gladly taken over its care in his absence, but I didn’t get my hands on it until months later. By that point, the lily had survived a severe drought and, later, a flood. Do not expect everyone to know that a houseplant needs drainage holes at the bottom of its pot.

I am happy to say that after immediately repotting it and being a little more temperate with my watering practices, I succeeded in nursing the poor thing back to health. Within several weeks it was growing new leaves. And within six months it started to bloom. I told my roommate and he said, “It’s never done that before!” (Really? You don’t say!)

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Rebirth
I’d always particularly disliked peace lilies. I’m not a fan of really leafy plants, much more preferring plants with lots of blooms. I still don’t like peace lilies, but I’m thrilled every time mine develops a new leaf, and when I saw it unfurl its single pure white flower, I was surprised at how lovely I thought it was.

Let me be clear: I do not have a green thumb. I have killed more plants than I have brought back from the brink of death. For all my effort, that mint plant I wrote about months ago has returned to its anemic winter state, though I still can’t bring myself to throw it out. But I find it extremely cathartic to have plants around to care for, and I think that helps me prevail in keeping a few alive at a time.

It’s been about a year since I rescued the peace lily. The once-lovely bloom droops and has turned brown and yellow – a truly hideous remnant of its summer glory.

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A thriving plant with a healthy, dying flower
Like plants, people have parts of them that bloom brightly and shortly die away; but this doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem or a disease. It can be a sign of flourishing to leave a talent or trait behind that had once served you well, making room for a new and different beginning.

A dying lily blossom means the plant was healthy enough to bloom in the first place. May it rest in peace until next summer.

twelve

Mesmerizing charm
The marine hypnotist sails
Jellyfish garden

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My fifth grade class took a trip to the New England Aquarium, a trip I would obsess over for years to come. The part I recall most vividly was a small display with tiny bioluminescent jellyfish, which to my mind looked like small light bulbs with a warm, glowing filament inside. When I finally made it back to that aquarium, about ten years later, the place was sad and rundown, and the display that was so indelible to me was long gone.

One year ago, I made my third voyage to an aquarium – this time to the National Aquarium in Baltimore. After viewing all the sea creatures on the upper and ground floors, my partner and I almost made the horrible mistake of leaving before we discovered the jellyfish room downstairs.

The whole aquarium is impressive, but the jellyfish displays were superb. Hushed awe prevailed in the darkened room as handfuls of enchanted humans gazed at these graceful, alien beings. So many shapes and colors and varieties, silent, fluorescent, and dangerous behind their glass walls.

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lessons

Today I have officially survived twenty-five years in this world. As a mark of this achievement/miracle, I wanted to formulate twenty-five things I’ve learned in twenty-five years of experience. I wanted to – until I realized that’s way too long of a list for me to come up with (or for you to want to read) in one sitting.

So, you’re only getting the top five today.

Here they are, in the order they occurred to me.

  1. Everyone’s story is different. To disregard that in my actions and opinions is to be violently apathetic.
  2. It sounds backwards, but whenever I assume that most of the people (strangers) around me are goodhearted, I’m very often surprised to find that it’s true. On the other hand, if I’m expecting bad-natured behavior (often because I’m in a bad mood myself), that’s mostly what I’ll see. Everybody has bad days, but my perspective determines, in great part, my perception of the world.
  3. “Don’t pick up any wooden nickels!” My dad used to say this to us almost every morning as he left for work. I just thought it was absurd then, but when I inspect it more closely now, I find it to be as astute as it is succinct: Though being opportunistic has its advantages, one should be careful to be neither gullible nor greedy. As one remarkable person once said, “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
  4. Still learning this one, but for uptight people like me: U-N-R-A-V-E-L. I was born wound tight, but there’s no sense in making things harder for myself than they need to be. This has been by far the hardest lesson for me to practice.
  5. True to their dual nature as both signifier and meaning, words matter in two different ways. Although it’s true that you have to be careful with your words because someone could always be listening, I realize now that being heard could not in itself make words any more important, but only more influential. It is the fact that I choose to say – or refrain from saying – a word that makes it important. In other words, selecting a word is its importance, using it is its influence. My word choice has changed enormously over the years, and many people would argue with some of the changes I’ve made on either side. But it has become a living dictionary that mirrors the most significant changes in the past twenty-five years of my life.

 

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There you have it. A quarter century of wisdom. Stay tuned for the next quarter!