A Dawdler in the Regiment

In olden times, say, when I was in high school, such schools still had Guidance Counselors who evidently thought it genuinely helpful for students (or at least, highly amusing to the counselors and their pals) to give “aptitude tests” to predict youths’ futures. These assessments were ostensibly meant to help us kids find our true paths in life and, more importantly, to steer us somewhere in a job-like direction when we graduated. But of course, they had more than a tiny whiff of the whimsical, as most students knew that giving fanciful answers to the quizzing garnered some pretty fantastical career proposals for them. I was too much of a Goody Two-shoes in those days, apparently, to opt for that form of entertainment. Pity.

You would think I’d’ve been right there on that artistic bandwagon, given the inspiring leadership of my father, who was known to send excuse notes to school after any of my illness-driven absences that led to Public Service Announcements on the school intercom system detailing my kidnap by Green Gremlins, among other purported adventures, and filled my classmates and teachers with glee. But instead of following Dad’s fine example, I answered the Aptitude Test questions with the dull and timid truth that was my safety net at the time, and was assessed as having correspondingly dreary potential.

Photo: Calculated Risks

I guess I just never was big on taking risks.

That was how it sounded to my young ears, anyway. My best option was listed as joining the military, not the most obvious choice for a deep-dyed pacifist. I certainly was no Daughter of the Regiment, born and bred to the military life.

Future Me #2: working in a funeral home. Now, lest you think I’m denigrating funeral professionals or that I consider them or their work boring, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I want minimal fuss, maximum simplicity, when it comes to disposing of my corpse: recycle any usable parts for medicine and science, burn the rest without flourish, and throw out the ashes as compost ASAP. But funerary services aren’t for the dead, are they. Those who offer care and consolation to anyone in need, especially in grief and loss, have my highest respect. It’s tough and complicated work, and tremendously important. I’m just not the person for the job. I haven’t the knowledge, the skills, or the selflessness that doing that admirable work requires. It would take a more creative and positive approach than I can offer.

I don’t lack for imagination, and I’m not wholly without empathy, I hope. But perhaps my peculiar kind of imagination—the surreal and byzantine, the cheerfully macabre—is not the very best sort to be exercised in most funeral counseling and service arrangements, let alone in preparation of a person’s remains for a dignified viewing and memorial service. And there are the added complications of my being easily overwhelmed by others’ worries and struggles, never mind my being horrendously squeamish. If the High School guidance counselor thought it’d be a hoot to see what happened when he put me into the parlor with a grieving family and I suggested they convert Grandpa’s remains into a friendly robot to keep them company and tend to their housekeeping, following that recommendation immediately with a fit of hysterical cackling and a dash out the nearest door to vomit, then perhaps he had the right candidate. Green Gremlins in my future as well as my past.

Photo: A Boar No More?

I’ve always loved the interesting landscapes, history, and art in cemeteries, and I don’t mean to be a pig about it, or a boor, but funerary work didn’t seem like my destiny to me.

The military option was at least in one way more realistic: part of me does crave order. So many other characteristics (dare I say it) militated against my joining any of the armed forces that it was an obvious non-starter for me, but all of these years later I still find myself  wanting to bring more order to my daily life. Starting a daily blog was a good step in that direction, when I did it four-plus years ago. Now I need to extend that discipline to other areas of my day-to-day occupations so as to maximize both their productivity and my pleasure in them. I expect both better health and more enjoyment as payment for the new commitments.

What elements of life would I like to habituate more fully by regimenting them with a slightly rigorous daily schedule for now? First, sleep. Yes, I know that you know I sleep far more than average, and I relish long, uninterrupted nights. I would rather sleep less but more healthfully, to be honest. Be more dependably, deeply asleep, and a bit earlier, and then more fully refreshed and alert when awake.

Hydration is a higher priority than ever, too. It seems small enough, but the good doctor who just shot down my kidney stone assures me that no matter what my geological analysis reveals, I had better start drinking more water to stay healthier, and I know that if I don’t just plain schedule it in for a while, I’m unlikely to remember to make it a habit. Exercise is another such thing. I have no desire to become an athlete. That’s neither in my inherent character nor on my wish list; I do, however, want to be set up for as long and healthy a life as I can manage, and the sedentary nature of writing and making most kinds of art is both antithetical to physical movement and so engrossing that I tend to forget to merely take breaks to move. If I schedule those breaks for a while, just like any old-school union employee, I hope I may train myself to improve in that regard.

I’ve already become slightly more regulated in my dietary ways, since my spousal-person and I successfully navigated our post-summer month of rehab-style eating (low carb, low sugar, no processed and junky foods) and both feel better. Good encouragement to continue the process with diet and otherwise.

The most important piece of the newly regularized itinerary for my average day is to shift the focus of my writing and artistic discipline gradually away from being dedicated to daily blogging and toward a new, more personally fulfilling version of my creative output. More books for publication, probably, on the relatively near horizon. A reduced blogging schedule, something more like three days a week, will certainly help me in that regard. But I think I’m just getting a little hungry, whether it’s more from four-plus years focused on that daily post or from merely getting a little older and more constantly aware of my finitude, the ever-increased nearness of my own need for funerary services from somebody who took the career path I didn’t—it doesn’t matter why. I’m just feeling ready to ramble in a new direction, and the only way I generally get used to such things is to build them into a Plan, for starters. To regulate and codify and systematize them into a semblance of order.

I never did join the military, but it turns out I tend to do fairly well in my own regiment.

Photo: Ah, but Witch Regiment?

Maybe I *was* destined for a more regimented life. Ah, but witch regiment?

Foodie Tuesday: After-Math

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Just for starters…don’t forget that previous meals’ leftovers can be reconstructed into the appetizers for the next meal, like what happened with the remaining bone broth ingredients that lived on after soup-making and made such a nice beef pate for Thanksgiving.

A signature of holiday cooking and eating is, logically, a host of holiday leftovers. After all, we tend to cook and eat more of everything in the first place, when holidays happen, so there’s bound to be more food around, and since most of us do fix more of our favorites on and for celebratory occasions, we’re a bit more likely to want to be careful not to waste them. Holiday leftovers are tastier than everyday ones, aren’t they.

So it is that remnants of glorious sweets will continue to lure us into the ever-so-aptly named larder and the refrigerator will, after Thanksgiving, still have some turkey lurking in it too. While a great turkey sandwich is far from restricted seasonally, the grand whole bird in its pure roasted form is less commonly perched on dinner tables outside of the Big Day, making it anything but boring to have the leftover turkey and its trimmings served without tremendous alteration at least once or twice after the party has passed.

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Red relishes are such a nice touch on holidays that when a friend said she was bringing whole cranberry sauce, I decided to add the jellied kind *and* some home-pickled beets for the trifecta.

This year, Thanksgiving at our house was both traditional and extended. Ten of us sat around the table: our musical friends from Germany (why did I write Austria, then?), Hungary, Canada, Puerto Rico, Estonia and the Netherlands as well as the US gathered with our plates of roasted turkey and a fair assortment of other treats and sweets, and though we had our feast the day before most others’, the ingredients of food, drink, and conviviality were the same, and the leftovers equally profuse. My prepped appetizers, turkey, mashed potatoes, wine/stock gravy, creamed sausage, and buttermilk cornbread (the latter two, parts of the planned southern cornbread dressing, remained separate at my husband’s request) were joined by dishes the others brought–Greek salad, squash puree, homemade whole cranberry sauce, and carrot cake and handmade Hungarian biscuits for dessert. My own dessert offerings were the apple pie and Tarte au Sucre.

The Tarte was not only a good excuse for ingesting vast quantities of fabulous dark maple syrup but, as I discovered, when it’s accompanied by salty roasted pecans it becomes a perfect inversion or deconstruction of pecan pie, another very traditional Thanksgiving treat in many homes. I made my Tarte with a crumb crust of mixed pecans and walnuts, so it was perhaps already a variation on a nut pie before the garnishing pecans even arrived on the scene. In any event, it pleased my maple-fiendish heart.

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Lightly spicy sausage in cream makes a good alternative to gravy for the turkey and potatoes, if you don’t end up putting the sausage into the cornbread dressing as you’d thought you were going to do…

The idea of creating a meal of any sort, let alone a holiday meal, for a group of ten people and coming out with everyone perfectly sated but without a jot of leftovers is, of course, more mythical than mathematical. It’s in fact ludicrously unlikely to happen, even if the ten are all people one knows intimately and whose preferences and appetites never vary–also, to be fair, a virtual impossibility–so the question of how to manage the leftovers with the best grace remains. In our house, that problem is never terribly difficult. First visitation of this year’s re-Thanksgiving was a smaller and simpler version of the original, turkey and mashed potatoes, cornbread and cranberry sauce, with a side of buttered green beans and bacon. Meanwhile, I’d already started a slow cooker full of vegetables and giblets while the turkey was roasting, and added the bones and bits afterward, so there will surely be turkey-noodle soup soon to follow.

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Thanksgiving, Round 2–and only the second of many, perhaps.

What comes after? Probably a little turkey curry or a sandwich or two, but not much more, because having grad students and young, single faculty members at table on the holiday also meant that it was rather important to see that they left with some leftovers of their own to carry them forward. Leftovers, truth be told, are really just a new beginning in their own way. Hospitality, you know, isn’t a solo; it requires participation. One person doing it all, no matter how perfectly, is not a party but a lonely and self-centered business and misses the point of the whole thing.

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Ah, do not let the focus on the main meal eclipse all of the good that can follow: a mere creamy turkey soup is a heartwarming way to honor the memory of the great meal that started it all.

Let others partake, help, contribute. And yes, do give to them: share the feast, both in the party’s environs and in the sharing of all that surpasses what was needed for the moment. And share, first and foremost, your time and attention, your companionship and humor and warmth and love. Then there should be plenty of those for leftovers, too, or all the turkey and potatoes in the world will not be enough. Much better, more filling and fulfilling, to be so hospitable that it spills over everywhere.

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The only thing better than a delicious dessert is just a little too much of it.

Foodie Tuesday: Master the Tricks & Enjoy the Treats

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Life is crazy busy these days for the average Jane and Joe. Makes it all the more important to take care of ourselves and even, when we can, enjoy a little something special. When the holidays hit, not least of all that treat-centric spectacle we call Halloween, it’s good to fortify ourselves for every day of intense living with something that makes us happy to be in the midst of it. Here, a simple day-starter of a glass of sunshiny smoothie (juice-preserved apricots blended with whole milk yogurt, coconut water, honey and a dash of cardamom) and some roasted, salted almonds.

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An uncomplicated roasted chicken will suffice to get some tasty protein and warmth into the belly and the day. I roasted this beauty simply with salt, pepper and butter and a quartered lemon stuffed inside, but if you don’t have time to roast your own, you can always do as I happily do in those circumstances and grab a ready roasted bird at the grocery store. Anything that makes the day easier while keeping us well fueled through it is a good help.

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Any Halloween without plenty of orange is no Halloween at all. But pumpkins are far from the only orange wonders we can enjoy on the occasion, so I am happy to get my Vitamin H (for happiness) from other sources, too, and on this of all days, why not *sweet* orange-ness? Here, I made the carrots from my broth cookery into a not-just-for-babies mash just by adding ginger juice and maple syrup–another great autumnal invocation to the spirit of good taste.

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Put that roasted chicken and carrot mash together with some green vegetables and broth-cooked rice, and you have a filling, cheering meal that will keep you fit and friendly even through the longest Halloween wanderings of the neighborhood in search of chocolate.

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Unless you’re feeding a large number of people, you’ll have enough chicken left over for another meal, perhaps–as here–a sweet-and-spicy curry made of the cubed meat, ghee-sauteed vegetables, coconut milk and masala and served over fragrant Basmati rice cooked with cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves and garnished with toasted coconut flakes, pistachios and cashews and diced dried apricots or mangoes. Quick, economical and just as flavorful as the chicken was the first time around.

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My old standby of peach fluff for dessert can keep you from craving too much of that pan-handled candy at the end of a Halloween outing. It’s easy to make, using either soft ripe peaches or juice-canned ones pureed and blended with something nice and creamy and vanilla-tinged and sprinkled with cinnamon. Want it fat and sweet? Mix it with whipped cream (no, do *not* puree ME and mix me in!), or pour the puree over vanilla ice cream. A little sprightlier? Use yogurt or ricotta or mascarpone. Or skip the fluff and just revel in the juiciness of peaches. They’re orange, they’re fabulous, and they’re probably a tiny bit better for you than a two-pound bag of Kandy Korn poured straight down the gullet, though candy *is* dandy!

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And if your holiday happiness can use the enhancement of a bit of adult-beverage encouragement, there are plenty of wonderful cocktails out there full of orange-y joy. Me, I might choose a more *thematically* suited drink, like perhaps the Dark ‘n’ Stormy, which has a faintly orange tint too but even better, has the ability to refresh even the undead on a late, late Halloween night. Treat your boys and ghouls so kindly and they may even refrain from eating your brain.

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I’d like to squash you in a big holiday hug with some great traditional Halloween recipes, but really, who needs that when you can easily make treats of any sort with zombie-like gusto and not be sorry. So I hope we can all embrace whatever best satisfies our inner monsters without too much effort or expense, and spend more of our time and energies on just being happy little hobgoblins all!

My Relationships are an Open Book

photoA recent Wall Street Journal article about couples finding the re-jiggering of their relationships around retirement quite complex amused me a bit. The general theme of the article was that most modern retirees, those from in-home jobs and those from outside employment, come from a world where they have established fairly separate-but-equal lives and find it a challenge to spend so much more time directly with each other, doing things together. I’m so happy that my partner and I are not like most. In my book, there’s no need to be that different in retirement if you’re secure in your pre-retirement life. I’m pretty sure, in fact, that we won’t face nearly the same sorts of questions or find many of them nearly so daunting as this newspaper item intimates they could be. Despite a hectic daily life, we apparently live together like retirees already in some ways. After all, modern retirees are among the busiest, most active class of people I know.

There are a number of reasons I don’t worry about our transition. Working as we both have in art-related fields (and both of us in academia and elsewhere), where schedules and projects and income and venues and so much more have always been in flux, means that we’ve both dealt with fallow times, whether job-induced or voluntary, wherein we were responsible for directing ourselves and choosing what to pursue next and when. That means each of us has taken the lead occasionally in having the more fixed schedule, project, income or venue and left the other either more freedom or more angst about how to fill the void for the moment. We are both artists, yes, but of slightly different sorts (his the musical kind and mine the more visual/verbal); these don’t compete or conflict with each other, so no ego is at stake should either of us be hung up on that kind of thing, but rather our artistic views are complementary; both draw on similar resources of effort, inspiration, creativity and skill, so we can speak the same language even when the details differ widely. As it is, our core life-values are pretty similar, so we don’t have much reason to go far afield for purposeful or enjoyable conversation. We have a whole library of possibilities from which to choose.photoWe have, in fact, worked side by side. Not only did our relationship start when we taught in next-door buildings at university, but I was already good friends with and had even collaborated with some of his colleagues on combined recital/art show projects, a sort of classical-based performance art, perhaps. As members of the same faculty, my future partner and I ended up at plenty of the same meetings and events over time, while both still having our own tracks of need and interest. Since our pairing, I have had the privilege of collaborating with him artistically as well, and his music provides a great deal of the soundtrack, live and recorded, of my life, working or otherwise, while he lives at home and work surrounded by my art and reads my writing. We are lucky in simply relishing time together, whether to Do Things or do nothing at all in companionable silence.

But we are neither conjoined twins in tastes and wants and needs nor dependent on each other for a primary sense of identity. He inhales reads books as quickly and easily as though it were breathing, and I labor through them; his reading ranges from professional interests to serial mysteries and thrillers and more, and mine, when my dyslexia forbids the time and attention required for favorites like SJ Perelman with his dazzling wordplay, or Charles Dickens and Robertson Davies, is devoted more to blog articles and short-form works; I read and write fairly constantly, but it’s a slow-moving river indeed. My Foodie Tuesday posts here will tell you that our preferences in dining also differ widely, if not wildly. Sometimes it’s tricky finding a meal at home that will satisfy both of us equally, given the limitations of our common subset. As for movies, he’d happily be in a theatre watching the latest offerings on the big screen, but he opts to stay home with me where I’m not troubled by the overwhelming noise and the overpowering intensity of on-screen action that were intolerable to me in my anxiety-ridden days and remain somewhat unappealing even now. He still watches a lot of stuff that I have no interest in watching or even hearing, but then I’ve learned that an evening in front of our own big screen makes a great time for me to install a good pair of earplugs, rev up my trusty pencil to draw or my computer to work on blogging, photo editing, magazine proofreading and correspondence. I still get to spend time in his company and swap intermittent witticisms with my favorite companion, and we both get to do what’s more appealing to each of us.

I realized long ago that I have a different attitude about relationships in general than many others, and I know that my attitude differs greatly from my own when I was younger as well. Now that I have a number of years of marriage under my belt (no comments from the cheap seats about ‘love handles’!) I am even more baffled by the people who harp on about what constant hard work relationships and marriages are and how difficult it is to keep them operational. Seems to me that if they’re consistently hard work, they’re not really relationships other than perhaps in the form of a slave/master sort. If it’s really high maintenance, it’s a job, not a relationship. Any that are one-sided because of abuse or complete conformity or any other sort of enforced imbalance cease to be viable or valid in my eyes. Only when both parties have something to contribute that is genuinely respected and appreciated by the other does it seem purposeful and potentially joyful, and if neither of those aspects is in the equation for any length of time at all, it is based on something far different from a relationship in my book.

At the same time, if we thought in perfect synchrony and had no differences of opinion or thought or preferences, it seems to me there would be no point in the relationship either. It would be pretty much the equivalent of marrying oneself, and idea that is both ridiculous and more than a little creepy. Narcissism is inherently the inverse of relationship-ready.

Apropos of this: both my husband and I had spent a fair amount of our adult lives single (he, divorced and I, unmarried) when we first dated, and both of us were fairly certain that we would remain single for the rest of our lives–and most importantly, both of us were okay with that idea. We were whole, functioning, socially active, happy individuals with full lives and immersed in relationships with great companions of all sorts. We think it’s part of what made us ready to slide into a life partner, love relationship with very little adjustment at all. Our cosmic crash into each other was instead a landing beautifully cushioned and protected by the remarkable net of many of those other relationships of ours, almost as much as by our personal contentment, mutual attraction and shared interests. Seems to me entirely noteworthy that a strong and happy relationship was founded on and remains supported by a network of other relationships.

This, too, is significant in protecting us from the dangers of too much intermingling of lives in retirement. We already share a lot of time together that we really love. And we already share so many great friends and loved ones that it’s far from essential that all of the newly acquired ones be mutual. He knows and enjoys the company and support and good humor of plenty of friends and colleagues, many of whom I know only as names or email-senders or office acquaintances or voices on the phone, and I have my own contingent of blog friends, expedition companions, collaborators and mentors as well. If every part of life were spent together, what would we have to talk about at the end of the day?

There are so many aspects of our marriage that make it pretty easy for me to avoid worry about what-ifs when retirement comes, I almost feel guilty. But not! I appreciate that we like to do things together as often as we can, daily, hourly, and that we have a life that allows us to take advantage of it. When we worked in side-by-side buildings in years past, it meant we could meet for lunch or stop by each other’s offices or for any number of other excuses quite conveniently; now, when I’m homemaking and blogging, I have the flexibility of schedule to take the shuttle over to the campus where he now works and grab a quick supper somewhere nearby with him before a tightly scheduled evening recital or concert, or sit in on a rehearsal of one of his choirs, or tidy up his files before sitting down to write and draw while he studies a score for the next choral-orchestral extravaganza. If I’m able to get a job again, I’d like to make sure that it still allows space for our interaction, however different that will be, because we really do value time spent together, however it’s spent.

If that makes ours a little unlike the average relationship approaching retirement age, I’m just sorry for all of those out there making up the bulk of the average, let alone any who remain under the mark for any reason. I’d much rather be novel in this respect.photo

Foodie Tuesday: Quick Fixes & Peach Treats

I enjoy a good paella, when I can get my hands (and teeth) on it. But it’s not one of those things that in its truer forms can exactly be thrown together in a trice just because I happen to get an urge for it. But, being a fan of fried rice as well, I have been known to think to myself that there might be a hybrid incorporating a bit of both processes that gives me a plate full of paella-like food in a hurry and at least tide me over until the occasion for the real deal arises again. Having so often kept a batch of cooked rice at the ready in our refrigerator, not to mention the gifts of freezer, dried goods and canned foods, I had at least a reasonable chance of putting a faint facsimile of paella on the table at speed.photoPretend Paella

For this highly simplified variant, I made the batch of rice with a blend of broth and dry sherry and a pinch of saffron (should have used a bigger pinch, though). On top of it I put a very simple combination, which while it didn’t replicate paella closely, was reminiscent enough of that grand dish that it served as a reasonable place-holder until I can once more indulge in a beautiful slow-simmered paella. This time, I chose to saute a half cup of diced celeriac (celery root) and a cup of roughly chopped carrots in bacon fat, add a generous cup of sliced chorizo, heat that through, and add about a dozen or more large peeled, cleaned uncooked shrimp, adding water or broth or sherry as needed to keep everything plump and moist while cooking through and caramelizing a little. I didn’t season this further because the bacon fat and well-seasoned chorizo gave everything plenty of flavor. At the last moment, I stirred in a good three cups or so of the cooked rice and a cup of frozen peas, blending it all together just until the peas were heated through. One pot meal, with a touch of nostalgia, and as ever, infinite possible variations depending upon what’s in the kitchen waiting for me.

Having eaten this light and refreshing meal in warm weather, we didn’t need much except some cool drinks (icy water and a bit of cold sangria and chilled Sauvignon Blanc worked well for us three on the particular occasion), but we weren’t so over-filled that we weren’t of a mind to have dessert as well. A one-dish meal, after all, has a reasonable chance of not making diners feel coma-proximal. The afternoon trip to the grocery store, the one wherein I ascertained that there was no giant inspiration that steered me away from my thoughts of insta-paella, did inspire me with the produce section’s wafting scents of fresh fruit, and the image of underripe peaches made me salivate for the late-season ones not yet on hand.digital artworkSo I shamelessly fell back on preserved peaches for dessert shaping. The strawberries in the store had come into seasonal ripeness, but had clearly already been snapped up by earlier shoppers, so although the slightly over-aged ones remaining smelled sweet enough, the flies perched on them were a deterrent as well. Those, then, were substituted for by some freeze-dried strawberries. A ragtag pantry is not a problem in nearly the way that a lack of pantry would be, after all.

Coconut Soft Custard with Peach-Berry Coulis

While we sat eating our Pretend Paella, I had a cup of freeze-dried strawberry slices macerating in the liquid from a pint of canned-in-juice peach slices in the fridge. Also in the refrigerator waiting was a soft custard: one can of coconut milk, three eggs, two teaspoons of vanilla paste, and a half cup each of dark rum and dark maple syrup, and a pinch of salt, then whipped up and heated until slightly thickened, cooling and setting up in the fridge to thicken more fully. After supper, dessert finalizing was simply a matter of pureeing the strawberries in their liquid plus a cup of the peach slices into a smooth coulis, spooning the puree and custard in layers into dessert dishes, and topping them with a sprinkle of toasted sweetened coconut. In theory, this will serve five or six people, but we three are not theoretical exemplars by a long shot, so I’ll just say the dessert was as completely gone after our attacks as the rice dish had been earlier. Proper portions? You be the judge.photo

A Date with Heraclitus

We all have a certain number of fixed elements in the schedules of our lives. At least, we think we do. And most of the time, we manage to keep them in fair order and stick to them. That, in itself, is really rather near to miraculous.

Every one of you who has crashed breathlessly through the door at four seconds to ten for the 18th weekly meeting of your Steering Committee, after an epic morning battling with a cracked molar, a stuck zipper, a closed freeway exit and a sinkhole that opened directly under your reserved parking space–only to find last night’s emergency notice scrawled on the white board, informing everyone that the meeting had to be moved to the Annex back on the other side of town–you know what I’m talking about.

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Well, I know why *that* Mourning Dove was crying . . .

Best laid plans, Ha! Old Reliable, Ho-ho-ho! Change happens, endlessly. Who am I to argue against the great philosopher who says so?

No matter how wizardly we are in arranging our lives, planning and organizing and arranging to the finest and most delicate degree of control, all of the skill and dedication in the world can’t stop the flow of life’s river from going where, when and how it will.

The good news is that despite the vicissitudes of our ever-changing reality. We manage, and we do so well enough most of the time that we can maintain the illusion, perhaps even the delusion, that we can predict and control our lives’ events for the most part. The very fact that things ‘gang aft agley‘ as they do keeps us on the alert and trains us to be flexible when we must, inventive when we can, and swift to recover when all else fails. Change, as we all must finally allow, is the only true constant.

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Some days even the repair equipment is just not up to the task . . .

Now, should I post this today, I wonder? Or should I write another post and save this one for another day, when something comes up unexpectedly–and it will–and disrupts my plan for that day’s post? Always good to have a get-out-of-jail-free pass tucked in my back pocket, I should think . . .

To Find Balance: Open the Book to a New Page and Begin Again

digitally edited photoI’m never quite satisfied that I’m getting as much done as I want to do, doing it as well as I wish, improving at the rate I think I ought to manage. I’m hardly a perfectionist, nor am I particularly obsessive (at least about things that I think truly matter)–I’d guess I’m just a fairly typical person who thinks I’m always running just a bit behind the pace and always crossing things too slowly off the To Do lists. But I don’t think that’s grounds for quitting or even for not trying at all.

It just requires that I take a step back and regroup–reassess my priorities–once in a while. Hence my recurrent list-making and all of those times spent sitting and, to all outward appearances, staring off into space, when what I’m really doing is having a long hard look at what’s in front of me that I’d forgotten how to see, or what’s inside that’s not quite getting its message heard clearly enough anymore.

photoFor one thing, my time-management method, if any, is often the old familiar one of doing what appears right in front of me, often leading to that state I’ve mentioned many a time wherein I set out to do one task, get diverted from it partway through by something else that catches my attention, veer off from that toward another thing that drew my eye, and so on ad infinitum but rarely ad finitum. That’s hardly the end of the world, because of course the short and simple tasks that pop up midway do get taken to completion and crossed off the list, and eventually the original plan will recapture my attention. It’s just wonderfully inefficient and sometimes I prefer to reevaluate whether those bigger tasks aren’t better broken down into groups of manageable smaller ones, ones that might perhaps get finished if stumbled upon tangentially in this habitual way.

All of this is a rather sidelong way itself of saying that I haven’t reestablished my drawing habit as firmly and regularly as I’d like, so I’m revisiting my intention to create a specific schedule or plan that encourages me to focus better on drawing, even a little bit, more often again. I know that I will do this; I can do it and have done so before. But I must choose to do it, and how, and that’s the agenda of the day. Other things (like, oh, blogging, f’rinstance) have stolen my attention and intentions away from drawing, and I would like to rebalance my doings a bit.

Needless to say, this has led to a fairly large overhaul of my household Fix-it lists, because I always prefer that there be at least the possibility of my getting those things done that will keep a solid roof over our heads and a comfortable living environment in which to do things like drawing and blogging surrounding us. That list is as big as always, full of everything from essential repairs to the rearrangement of rooms to better reflect and accommodate how we actually use them, to long-range and perhaps highly fantastical proposals for things I might attempt to build, create or accomplish sometime down my long and wayward path of homemaking.

photo of graphite drawing in progressBut there is also this quick-fix remembrance that what I always advocated to my students had better be usable advice for me: To begin drawing again, make a mark. Waiting around for the Inspiration Fairy to appear and bonk me with a magic wand of fully fledged ideas and a baptism of heartwarming motivation makes for delightful internal pictorials, but not an iota of drawing to show for it. The best cure for a staring, empty piece of paper is A Mark. Directionless and indecipherable as any random thing, it may well be, but it’s amazing how very brief the time usually is between seeing a dark scratch on an otherwise pristine piece of paper and my hyperactive editorial mind kicking into gear and critiquing that mark as something that ought to have purpose and attempting to decipher what that purpose is, steering my hand to further scribbling or erasure, and either way, toward something specific and concrete, even if entirely abstract and nonobjective. That’s what’s going to happen, for starters. Where it goes from there, I’ll have to report back to you when it begins.graphite drawing