Smugness is not a danger in recounting January’s progress on the Life List. In fact, that’s why I decided to do a recap at the end of each month of 2012. When I read about the latest and greatest in approaches to self-actualization, I envision cheery, well-balanced people striding systematically toward their goals, possibly while sporting toothy grins and bouncy, shiny hair.
January 2012 sucked. Also, my teeth are not my best feature, and the hair fights back.
January 2012. My favorite coworker bounced between the ICU and the nursing home for the entire month and may never recover enough to come back to work. It seems almost selfish to notice how picking up his workload affected me. Then the external review that was supposed to be routine and painless turned into a visit from the Men In Black, only they didn’t bring the neuralyzers.
This is when we discovered that I’m the only person in my firm who doesn’t crack under interrogation. I can sit relaxed, with my ankles crossed and my hands in my lap, sporting a vaguely benign smile and giving bland (but perfectly accurate) three-word answers, until the interrogator gives up in despair.
It’s kind of disturbing to know that about oneself.
None of this contributed to getting a whole hell of a lot done. It was a month in which the only source of zest in my life was limes, and those fought back, too.
The limes showed up for the Florida entry in the 50 bands / 50 dishes / 50 states project (#5). In 31 days, I got only through Florida and Georgia, though Georgia was marvelous for band discovery. On the up side, February’s first entry will be Hawaii, for which Hawaiian bread actually rose. Slide back a couple words and read that again. I made bread that rose. This never happens.
Lack of zest showed up in my entirely neglecting #17 (see a different local band every month) and #18 (try a different “best of” winner from the local alternative weekly every month). The minimal effort of making eye contact with a bartender so as to order a beer so as to see a local band at a dive bar seemed excessively onerous (plus, dear god, somebody in the band might look at me and that would be unbearable), as did the minimal effort of making eye contact with a waiter to visit a restaurant I hadn’t tried.
Efforts to rouse myself from this torpor got as far as applying a $5 Groupon credit to a $5 for $10 Groupon offer and thus trying barbecue at Honey Bear’s for a mere 93 cents to cover tax and such. For 93 cents, the “sliders” (tiny sandwiches, one beef, one pork, one chicken) and beans were splendid. I would even consider paying actual money for the chicken.
Unrelenting torpor drove me to work on #48 (take a different online class each month) and mostly finish the feng shui course. Please feel free to take a few moments to gasp “but you liked ‘Harry Potter & the Methods of Rationality‘ — how can you immerse yourself in mystical nonsense?” Own it. Revel in it. Wallow in it.
My goal for the feng shui course was to get a fresh perspective on my home, how its parts relate, and how I want it to feel and function. I was feeling jaded on home decorating sites — everything felt too predictable, too fussy, or too damned expensive — and wanted to be shaken up, not to be introduced to true mysteries of the universe. An intense weekend later, I have a clean closet with empty shelf space, a vastly improved bathroom color scheme, a vastly improved traffic flow in the living room, a house that’s easier to keep clean and tidy, and an exhausted instructor from grading so many assignments so fast. Even though there’s almost certainly some Hawthorne Effect here, anybody who’s seen my housekeeping’s ready slide toward entropy would admit that’s better than the alternative.
A truly pure rationalist would still have spit up a hairball and quit around the discussion of lucky numbers and colors. I would classify this experience under “pedicure for the brain” — it has no real justification other than happening to feel good at that moment and doing no harm to anybody around me.
One upshot of the feng shui project, though, was my being open to Offbeat Home when it was pointed out to me, because I wasn’t feeling entangled in guilt for poor housekeeping. These people are delightfully quirky.
Having moved Tiny Tara to a different part of the sitting room, I decided to tackle #38 (finish Tiny Tara). This turned into the painful realization that nothing had ever gone right with this project in the course of almost a year. This is the house that led to my bringing home the improperly sealed paint can, which led to my finding the Bag o’ Paint on my floor, which led to my using copious amounts of nail polish remover to remove dried latex paint from the tile. That experience is not my biggest frustration with it. This past weekend’s adventures also led the painful realization that I’d stopped being excited about rehabbing Tiny Tara. I’d embarked on this project as a substitute for a different project I wanted to do… and it started making sense to move on and do the project I really wanted.
Not finishing something I’d started with great intentions really, really bothered me. Not as much as continuing to toil fruitlessly on it would have, but still… I don’t want to be a person who’s all great ideas and no implementation.
Offbeat Home also has notions of running an annual dollhouse decorating event each November. I sense an incitement to riot.
In the vein of tackling larger projects, progress on combined #42 (photo series of architecture), #19 (write a publishable piece of local history), #30 (visit something local that’s abandoned, hidden, underground, or otherwise mysterious), and #4 (create a character so compelling that he/she/it gets licensed) was small. I obtained some of the key background research material for the project but didn’t do much with it. My brain has been so utterly out of lively plots lately that I’ve been tracking down vintage Ellery Queen novels to get some mental exercise. These books are antiquated, racist, sexist, and awash in bonhomie… but they’re playfair puzzles, so the reader has a chance of solving the mystery rather than merely guessing the culprit based on knowing the author’s quirks.
The problem with curling up with a book, though, is that it’s a limited retreat. Other people’s art can delight me or provoke me or soothe me… but it can’t meet really complex emotional needs. The thrill of discovering Jan Burke‘s Irene Kelly mystery series is real (as is my amusement that she cooks like I do) and the entertainment her work offers has a real and valuable place in my leisure time… and ultimately, she’s going to write what she wants to write whether I like it or not. Right now, I like it. I hope to keep liking it as I work my way through the series. But even if I post the occasional tidbit of praise on her blog, even in the unlikely event that she finds me amusing… there’s a limit to how much she can or should care about my opinion of her work.
In short, she can’t perform for me the business of being me and making my life satisfying. Neither can Ellery Queen (both writing partners are dead, so I’d need a Ouija board to bug them, and no, I’m not taking an online class in that — stop it!). Neither can the Offbeat Home crowd (the person in charge of the site wrote a wonderful blog post on that topic). Nor can whichever local band I show up to see play bongos and a harmonica or whatever is hot with the locals these days (metal, usually — life in Phoenix apparently provokes an urge to bang on things and roar).
The job of making me happy keeps devolving back onto me, even when I feel singularly ill-equipped to accomplish it.
So I bought a $5 quart of rejected paint at Ace Hardware and started on painting the dollhouse project I really want to do, even though I feel stupid and disingenuous about starting any project that takes more than 23 minutes to complete.
And I used a Groupon to get a good discount ticket for the Desert Botanical Garden in order to visit during the cool part of the year (pursuant to the 42/19/30/4 project).
And I started an online fashion design course to give me a nudge on #1 (be asked seriously who designed my outfit when I sewed it myself). Mastering basic sewing skills might be more to the point, but I need some inspiration here.
And I’m seriously thinking of looking into whether my gym still does the boxing aerobic classes (#46), as after demonstrating my mastery of passive resistance, I’m curious whether I can punch something and what it would feel like. It says a lot about January that I want to know that.
And although my glutes are stuck at 180 pounds on the press machine (see #27), my pecs are up to 80 lbs, which is double what I could handle a year ago. Sometimes progress, while non-linear, is still progress. At least it’s evidence I can keep plugging at a long-term project, as is continued work on tedious number-crunching of music industry numbers, in hope of someday achieving #9 (get quoted in an article about the music industry).
If anybody had told me when I was 16 that one of the two projects I’d be most stubborn about progressing on would be an athletic one, I’d have laughed derisively and written some more bad poetry. Or some more computer code. In certain coding languages, the two are indistinguishable.
But this does suggest that if one insists on continuing to move forward, this increases one’s chances of stumbling through an open door.