So Much To Do

MSNBC election night panel

Last night I stayed up late, anxiously watching Georgia election returns. This is what I do. Despite all the craziness of the past six years in American politics, I still put myself through the tradition of watching pundits ratchet up the anxiety about the consequential scenarios that may or may not happen in the future, depending on the night’s outcome. Last night’s result was a welcome relief for me. After I unplugged from that event, I turned my attention to the calendar and noted the date, early morning on December 7th. I immediately recalled the FDR quote about what I knew was Pearl Harbor day. I spent a few minutes thinking about the fact that it seems I’ve always known what the date signified, despite not having been born until 10 years after the attack. I wonder if that’s still a thing, to know who said what at different critical moments in U.S. history. Little benchmarks like that remind me that despite times that feel pretty swirly, I’m still me, still grounded.

I’ve felt scattered lately. The past six weeks were pretty tumultuous. I’ve taken a deep dive into the past, initiated by having found decades-old VHS tapes that I had digitized. I was vaulted into unexpected territory, actually realizing my wistful dream of coming upon new pictures of Michael. I’ve always felt that one of the hardest parts about adapting to his death is that there’s never a new photo or a newly-made memory, the ones that are so unconsciously made as we go through life. A photo is one of the little things that can feel a like mini-vacation from stress or drudgery. I’m so happy to have unearthed this stuff. They appeared in the middle of my becoming a grandmother to my son’s first child, an event I hoped I’d live to see and so wished that Michael was here to share with us. What an emotional pendulum.

That new family addition has me grandparenting a lot these days, as I help the new tired parents, while still spending time with the other grandkids who’ve been part of my life for years now. How ironic that I, who never asked or urged my children to add more people to my life, now have three young ones living right next to me. I thought I’d have a long life with my partner but instead, I’ve got what so many wish they had, being near the new generation. Life is pretty random – no one knows what will happen. Meanwhile, Thanksgiving was really big this year, the first time since 2019 that people have felt safe enough to gather. Lots of activity and conversations ensued, not leaving much time for attending to my chores list.

Meanwhile, along with those found videos, I went through the intense and unexpected surprise of receiving my long-deceased friend’s journals during this busy time. I’m just realizing how going through those partially paralyzed me. I feel as if I was so deeply submerged in sorting out my layers of feelings elicited by reading through that intensely personal history, that I haven’t been able to concentrate on almost anything else. I suspect that I’ll still be processing all those memories for a long while. But time doesn’t stop for anything. I need to get back into my current affairs.

Giant pupils

So, beginning with the basics…as the year is winding down, I’ve squeezed all my health checks into a small window. I‘ve been poked, prodded and squeezed. I’ve had updated vaccinations, skin burned and biopsied, and blood analyzed. Today I had my eyes dilated, inspected for disease and tested for a corrective prescription. Luckily for me, no problems were unearthed. I’ve been dismissed by all the doctors for another year, barring unforeseen issues which might arise. In the midst of taking care of that essential business, there’s life in the land of modern technology. A certain amount of time is spent fending off fraudulent phone calls and email scams. Yesterday, someone submitted a substantial fake invoice into my PayPal account. That attempted swindle required fast action so I wouldn’t get mired in backtracking after my money disappeared. I am constantly astonished by how many people are out there whose sole goal is to steal from others. That behavior is nothing new. The ability to perpetrate crime faster and more efficiently is certainly one of the primary problems with our internet lives. I’d talk about conspiracy theories and hatred too, but my goal right now is to refocus.

For a person who was never particularly ambitious in the career department, I certainly have big aspirations for what I’d like to do before my time on this planet is over. Although I make use of my phone and computer notes and calendars, I like to haul around an old-fashioned clipboard which is like a portable representation of my goals, both big and little. During my work life, clipboards were a thing, as they were in Michael’s. Daunting though my endless list of tasks may be, they feel kind of homey and cozy, all tucked in together on that old-school organizer, even as they bear silent witness to my progress or lack thereof. I’ve got lists broken into which I keep nearby both while I’m working or sedentary. For example, one list is titled “expensive stuff.” Since 2017, I’ve actually knocked several items off that one, like roofs and siding, a furnace/air conditioning replacement. There’s still plenty left on that one, ranging from furniture to a car to a new fence. I don’t know how much of that will get scratched off. Life is rarely linear.

Then there are life projects like completing our family history and organizing all the documents of our lives. I’ve made some headway in those areas but honestly, if you’re trying to stay engaged in real life activities, sitting still long enough to complete decades-long studies like that sometimes feels too big. I do wonder if there is such a thing as a complete family history as long as living people are still out here living, but then again, I won’t quibble with myself. The old stories are what I’m recording for posterity.

I need to review and update my garden book, a chronicle I began about twenty years ago. This journal is a permanent record of everything I’ve planted, what plants have died and what’s still thriving in my favorite sanctuary. That’s another ambitious task which doesn’t have as much detail as I’d hoped for when I started it years ago. After reading through the garden diaries of some famous people like Thomas Jefferson, I’d hoped to have more interesting narratives than just the date of planting or the demise of a young seedling. But I’ve never been able to get myself past the first line, “the snowdrops have opened,” or the “forsythia is in bloom.” I usually get distracted by actually doing the outdoor work rather than writing about it.

What about that book of favorite family recipes I’ve been wanting to assemble from Michael’s cookbooks and his expandable file of choice concoctions? As with any family, our kids always loved certain meals the best. If I could streamline those into one volume, I could partially make a dent in the downsizing chore on my list. That would make me feel that my children won’t drown in the task of going through the lifetime of accumulated stuff that they won’t want or use one of these days, when I’m not around any more. I moved my mom’s possessions five times during the latter part of her life. I think you always hope to never inflict your most unpleasant life experiences with your parents on your own kids. If I could dump at least part of the obvious reducible clutter, I’d feel better.

Partial list of unread books

I’m not reading enough. My list of books I’d love to read gets longer every few days as I scroll through lists that might pique my interest. I manage to get in some page time daily because I feel rotten if I don’t. But it’s been a long time since I’ve read a book, uninterrupted for hours. Sitting still for that long doesn’t feel great either. So far, I’ve resisted audible books except for a lengthy road trip, mostly because I still love turning pages. But maybe I have to re-think that option to get where I’d love to go in tackling my literary mountain.

There are daily mundane tasks that require my attention. Dishes and eating. Managing the dog. Cleaning and paying bills. Changing the oil in the car. The minutiae of living. But there’s also the labor-intensive stuff. Closets need emptying. So do file cabinets and desk drawers. After going through Fern’s journals, I’ve been looking at my own, some of which I’ve been dragging around for sixty years. My daughter says they’re all history which should be preserved. I’m not so sure. Maybe some thoughts should just disappear into the void. Re-reading those will take awhile.

Generally I haven’t been a person who makes New Year’s resolutions. I’m thinking of breaking that tradition. Maybe I’ll set a reasonable goal of trying to accomplish a quarter of the tasks before me by this time next year. If I’m ambitious I could try for a third. We’ll see…

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