1/06/2013

More Bucket List Thoughts - New Year's Resolutions

My mother went shopping on the day of her mother's funeral. This is no lie; I was there. As soon as we put poor old granny into the freezing winter ground, folks started clearing off, driving away, and mom turned to me and said,"Let's go to the outlet mall. I want to get some of them dollar panties." It was 40 degrees, raining, a cold gray January day. I'd just driven 7 hours to be at the burial, not to mention I was bereft with sadness. I declined. We ate lunch together, with little to say, a somber group in a small east Texas cafe. Then I drove home.

My own mother passed away this fall, and while I didn't go shopping on the day of her funeral - long story - I have been filled with an urgent sense of changing my life in many ways. To live more intentionally. To complete my bucket list - not just to travel, but to reconstruct HOW I spend my days. My mom dealt with every crisis of her life, real or imagined, by shopping. My plan is to find some other source of pleasure; to try to shop less and de-clutter my life of things I find no longer useful or fitting. I hope that by tweaking various aspects of my life I can line things up with my core values, how I want to spend time, and with whom. Reduce stress and increase happiness. I want to reshape my life - the rest of the life I have left. I'm not being morbid, dwelling on death, but I do have a new realization that I may have only 20 ? more or less? good years left. Think about how quickly the previous twenty years have flown by. Did you live them in accordance with your values, your hopes, your dreams, your goals for your life? Did you accomplish what you thought you would ? Did you have fun? What do you have left to experience? What do you wish you had done differently? I want to be more intentional for the next 20 years. Lord knows, for the last 20 years I was just putting out fires, raising my kids, not thinking about "me".

I'm just starting to explore this mid-life crisis, like running your tongue constantly over a sore tooth. All around I see pain and suffering. Friends and family members are quitting their jobs, getting divorced, trying to find meaning, joy, and pleasure where they still can. Buying sports cars, symbolically, in whatever form that takes. Some are sad because they never had children, but wanted to. Some have looked at their spouse and thought, "I really don't like this person, and never did, " or, "We have grown apart and no longer want the same things." While successful in their careers, some have felt their jobs have lost their meaning now that financial stability has been achieved. It is ironic that folks I know who didn't have children wish they had, and those who did have kids are tired not only from all the work involved, but from the loss of personal identity that comes from giving your all in shaping the identities of others. The grass is always greener somewhere else. Many baby boomers I know, myself included, feel like we've been slogging along the past 20-30+ years, showing up at work, fixing other people's problems, bringing home a paycheck, paying the bills, denying ourselves, doing the mundane chores at home, and all for what? Once you raise your kids they leave you . Once you have given your company your years of energy, they jettison you when you become old and tired. Where is the meaning in life? Where is the fun? This sense of weariness is shared by many I know at mid-life. A tromp-tromp-tromp march through our responsibilities.....is that all there is ?How do I remember who I once was? It's a cliche, but an important life stage, too- just as important as finding your own way, the first time, as a young adult. Reassessment.



The answer lies, I believe, in the Transcendentalist American writers Emerson and Thoreau. I always end up teaching this literary unit in January; it coincidentally falls around the time of making New Year's Resolutions. There have been years I focused on losing weight, exercising, and eating more healthfully. Years of working on the last two have failed to produce any results in the first category, and I need to try something different for a change. I have revisited my notion of a bucket list, but this time, not focusing on places I want to travel. I am re-thinking how I want to LIVE. What are my values? Am I living in accordance with them? What is giving me stress (that I can control ) and how can I re-arrange my life to live simpler, have less stress, more happiness? What do I want to do? How do I want to be? What will make me happy? I am fortunate that hubster and I still have good jobs and enjoy each other ( in spite of all the squabbling!) My health is not great but watching two dear friends go through chemo and cancer this past year has made me grateful my problems are not as severe. I've been reading a lot of blogs and books and done some research on this idea that getting rid of things no longer needed- whether cleaning out the attic of old baby furniture, or cleaning out my mind of negative thoughts - will help me in my goal.Simplifying. I know these choices are so conventional these days as to be cliche.....but where I live, deep in the heart of a red state where people trade up to a new monster SUVs every other year then complain about car payments and gas prices, I am taking a stand. This is what I've decided, so far:

1)De-clutter, embrace minimalism, focus on the few material things I value. Get rid of what I don't need, stop buying/accumulating. Make careful choices if I do buy. Do I really need any more kitchen gadgets? No I do not. I learned to cook in college when all I had was one large bowl and a big spoon, and I can make nearly anything with just those two items. Never use all the fancy gizmos, anyways. My house is filled to the brim with crap. Husband is an ADHD hoarder, my mother-in-law constantly "gifts" us with junk she doesn't want, either, and once you have kids, you've basically signed up for a 20 year period of acquiring impedimenta - toys, shoes, outgrown baby equipment, sports equipment, books, backpacks, video games, junker old cars.....the list just keeps growing. In my home, I have 3800 square feet, 16 rooms, a dozen closets - all filled to the brim. I feel like I'm in a nightmare where the more I try to straighten, clean, organize, sort- the more it just keeps accumulating. This is a reality, not an exaggeration. I used to spend every summer, holiday, and weekend tidying up , and I'm sick of it. Something in me has snapped, and I just can't do it any more. So my new year's resolution this year is to go through it all - once last time- and get rid of most of  it. This is more challenging than it sounds, not just for the sheer quantity of it all, but because hubster fights me every step of the way. I have to do it when he is not around; can't have garage sales. Have to haul it to Goodwill or the city dump. (As I recently did for 6 of the 11 couches we had.) An example: I was hauling down several large, empty boxes from the upstairs hallway. They'd never been used, been there for years. Hubster got all upset, dragged them back in. "You can't take those!" he said. "Why ?" I asked."We might need them- in case we move... someday." I replied, "Dear, we're not leaving this house till we go to the nursing home or the cemetery. At that point, we won't be packing up every thing we own and putting them in these boxes." He refused to relent. Boxes still in upstairs hallway. I'm waiting till he goes out of town, and will try again.

 A few blogs I really enjoy on these topics:
 http://www.becomingminimalist.com/
 http://thedecorologist.com/?s=decorate+with+what+you+have


2)Live according to your values; figure out what they are. After years of being guilt-tripped into attending a mainstream church, all from my mother nagging me, even as an adult, I have now given myself permission to stop. My kids are grown, they have been "raised in the faith". My mother is now dead. As an ancient history major in college, specializing in the history of near- eastern religions, I don't believe in any of  the traditional mainstream western religions, anyways. It's a huge relief, a burden off my shoulders. Always "the good girl". When you give up conventional religion, you have to find something else of value to you. People can't live happily in a void. I had a friend, years ago, who identified herself as a Jewish Buddhist. I think you can take what is of value, what works, for you, and piece it all together like a quilt. The important thing is to think about it, read, study, and be intentional. We all need to find areas of one's life where we are not living authentically, whether that be religion, friends, work, materialism, hobbies, or whatever, and re-adjust our lives to line up with who we truly are. How many people buy exercise bikes, use them for a month, then consign them to the back room where they hang clothes on them? How many people try to dress, talk, socialize, or buy things to put forth an image that is not truly themselves? Along with Transcendentalist literature, I show my students Tom Shadyak's film "I Am." Powerful ideas. My students loved it.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
Henry David Thoreau


3)Don't sweat the small stuff. It's all small stuff. What's the most important thing?  What is all that truly matters? After long months in therapy where I deposited my work related anxiety and woes onto my shrink, she said to me one day, "What's the worst that can happen?" Suddenly, it was as if a light was shining down from above- the worst that could happen to me was tolerable. I've decided that I can only do my best and let the chips fall where they may. I refuse to worry about things beyond my control.

No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.
Buddha


4)Let go, and let be. 

For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

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