December 23 – New Name.Let’s meet again, for the first time. If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name for just one day, what would it be and why?
I’ve met this question in various forms over the years and I never know what to make of it. I can’t imagine having a new name. There are other names I like, and there are things I would like to change and improve in myself, but a new name? No. Names are important, and I have the name I’m meant to have. If I had another name I’d be someone else.
I’m MaryAnn. I’m content enough, being me. My greatest goal is to continue to be me, only more so. Of all the MaryAnns out there, I guess I’d like to be the MaryAnniest.
December 21 – Future Self. Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead? (Bonus: Write a note to yourself 10 years ago. What would you tell your younger self?)
Words to my current self, from the future… nothing too profound:
1. Keep walking each day. You’re establishing some patterns that’ll make life easier for me.
2. Today is their childhood.
3. Keep writing. It keeps you sane.
4. “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” -Howard Thurman
5. “I can’t give you a formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody.” Herbert Bayard Swope
6. Say no to more stuff.
7. But stay in touch with your family and friends. And keep up the date nights.
In terms of the bonus, I don’t resonate with assignments to look back and offer advice. I do wish that we had traveled more before we had kids, and I honestly don’t know what we did with our time. I’m not saying that in the sense of realizing our time was spent on trivial matters—I’m saying I really don’t remember! But other than that… I don’t look back in quite that “I wish I had known” way.
Big answer I’ve already addressed: writing a book.
Smaller answer: I really wanted to take a dance class at the rec center, and had it narrowed down to belly dancing and salsa. (Why not?) But the schedules and locations were not ideal. I’d still like to do this, and Tiny Church is light enough on evening meetings that I think I could pull it off, but it’s a disruption to the family rhythms. I do a lot of self-care stuff already; I don’t feel a lack of me-time. So maybe it’s a matter of letting some more intellectual me-stuff go to make room for a more embodied experience.
December 19 – Healing. What healed you this year? Was it sudden, or a drip-by-drip evolution? How would you like to be healed in 2011?
I wrote a lot about my dad this year, and that was healing. Dad died suddenly almost 8 years ago, and I have always felt cheated out of saying goodbye. I think I’d convinced myself that the long goodbye was better, because at least there could be closure.
Well, I still think the sudden death sucks in a lot of ways, but I’ve walked with enough people this year to see how very agonizing it is to see someone linger for a long time. The truth is, the human body is damn stubborn, and sometimes keeps on trying to live past the point of mercy. I also think I had put more faith in the power of palliative care than is really appropriate.
Maybe the best we can do is to live as if each day could end with a goodbye. I’m not saying we tearfully pour our hearts out to our loved ones—every day—but that we live and love such that, if the unthinkable happened, we would at least have the peace of knowing that our dear one knew he or she was deeply loved.
In 2011 I would like to do my best to avoid drama and rank negativity, whether it’s in Internet blog comments, cable news (which I don’t watch anyway) or in person.
December 20 – Beyond Avoidance. What should you have done this year but didn’t because you were too scared, worried, unsure, busy or otherwise deterred from doing? (Bonus: Will you do it?)
Aside from the dance classes, I actually can’t think of anything I avoided… which may say less about my courage and more about the modest nature of my dreams.
This is a little off-topic to the question, but I’m going to do a lot more writing on paper next year, as opposed to the computer. I’m curious to see how the experience of writing is different this way. I’ve bought a couple of journals for specific purposes. One is for Sabbath book stuff. The other is a new thing I’m trying in which I’m going to write one sentence about each of the kids each day. Just one sentence. I’ve already started this and it’s very fun. It takes five minutes before bed and I think it’ll be fascinating to look at the course of a year. (Like many of my ideas these days, this one comes from Gretchen Rubin.)
It’s also a place to put my kid one-liners so that Facebook doesn’t have to be the default.
December 13 Prompt: Action. When it comes to aspirations, its not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. What’s your next step?
My aspiration is to write a book next year, and my next 13,455 steps are: write it.
I’ve been writing and noodling about Sabbath for many years, in sermons and articles and on blogs. It’s a practice that’s grounded in specific religious traditions, yet is expansive enough to appeal to lots of people. I think it is one of the keys to a fruitful life. So I put together a proposal many months ago that’s been accepted. You’ve heard of The Year of Living Biblically? This will be The Sabbath Year—12 months of disciplined, intentional Sabbath observance by a two-career, three-kids-with-activities family. The “human guinea pig” conceit will be a structure in which I will also put general ideas, research, and interviews.
So I have a number of next steps set up, some of which are triggered automatically. Every Monday, my to-do list prompts me to take notes about the previous weekend’s Sabbath time—what went well, what was disastrous, snippets of conversations or images I want to remember. I also will schedule a writing/thinking day every so often—several uninterrupted hours to make more headway, push through problems, etc.
As many of you know—because I can’t shut up about it—I am a big Getting Things Done disciple, and David Allen is very big on next actions. You can make forward progress on even the most daunting projects by taking small actions; in fact, the more specific you can be on a to-do list, the better. This is very true in my experience, with one caveat: you can trick yourself into seeming productive by coming up with “next actions” that really don’t move yourself forward, but keep you busy. (You’ve been on e-mail chains with the endless back-and-forth volleys of “I don’t know… when can YOU meet?” Stuff like that.)
That is to say, the weekly note-taking is relatively easy and painless, and necessary right now; but I know the time will come when the work will get more difficult and taxing and will require more than just bite-sized pieces. But for now, I’m enjoying the nibbles.