Aftermath

Amazing, isn’t it~ another Christmas, come and gone.  I must admit, I’m always a bit relieved when all the hoopla is over, particularly all the advertising and inane Christmas music.  Really, sometimes I think if I hear Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer one more time I’ll commit hari kari.

The days leading up to Christmas were chock full, and I felt as if I were in the midst of a week long stress test – you know the kind where they have you walking on the treadmill and someone keeps ramping up the speed and the incline so that before long you’re huffing and puffing for all you’re worth while your heart pounds frantically in your chest.

Yes, that was my last week exactly.

Then came Christmas Eve, and a surprise invitation to have dinner with my cousin-in-law and her family.  So we did that- Jim, I, and my mother -three only children suddenly thrust into the midst of a large family Christmas, complete with toddlers running pantless through the dining room and large dogs escaping with muzzles full of ham.

Fun.  Really it was~ I’m not being sarcastic.  Spending time with a large family reminds me just how accustomed to the quiet, reclusive life I’ve  we’ve become.  There’s nothing wrong with small families, but life as an only child is definitely lived on a much smaller, less dramatic scale.  There are fewer people to be annoyed with, for one thing, fewer personalities with which to clash, fewer grudges to bear.  

But sometimes, and most especially at holidays I think, this very tiny family of ours seems rather forlorn.  When my cousin-in-law extended the invitatation, I think she was dumbfounded at the thought of a Christmas celebration consisting of three people gathered round the kitchen table.   Sometimes I do feel a bit of a lost soul at the holidays.  And it doesn’t help that  every year our little group seems to diminish in size.  So it was good to be included in their boisterous happy family – made me feel a bit like Tiny Tim, actually.

In the aftermath of that dinner, we hurried off to church for the 10:00 candlelight communion service.  It’s one of my favorite church services of the year, nothwithstanding that I’m up and down like a jack-in-the box between the handbell tables and the choir loft.   There is a calm that descends in the moment when the lights go off and we make our way out of the choir loft, lit candles in hand, to stand round the circumference of the church and sing Silent Night.  It’s a moment out of time, as if the world has stopped spinning on its crazy 21st century axis, and we’ve all been transported 100 years backwards, when life was simple and there were no beeping cell phones, no upside down mortgages, no terrorists with bombs in their underwear.

That Christmas Eve service is steeped in tradition, and perhaps that’s what  I love most about it.  Not only is the service itself part of a long tradition in the Christian church, but attending this particular one at this particular church is the one tradition my family has maintained for the past 14 years.   Our holidays seem so fluid these days – every year, the celebration takes a little bit different shape depending on travel plans and work schedules and musical performances.  But the Christmas Eve service – well, that’s a given.  We’re quite firmly rooted to being in that church on December 24, at 10:00 p.m.  Though I’m always really tired by that time of day, the music, the crush of warm bodies, the red sea of poinsettia’s adorning the chancel -it’s all a tonic for my world-weary soul.

Ah me, if only it could last.

But there is always an aftermath – for the past three days we’ve been traveling by car to our second home  here in Naples.  It really is a second home, for this is where the rest of our little family resides…our son and daughter in law, as well as my father and his wife. 

And so we have another celebration of sorts, in the aftermath of this Christmas just passed. 

How about you?  What is the aftermath of your Christmas?

Trying My Patience

It’s been a week to try women’s souls…nothing cataclysmic, thank the gods, but a preponderance of  disturbances and upsets that seemed quite determined to eradicate all those fine feelings of comfort and joy I was boasting about so happily a while back.

Too much work, for a start, at a time when I really wasn’t all that much of a mind to work at all.  And changes at work, to boot – changes that I don’t really cotton to all that well.   People are asking me to work in ways contradictory to my personality.  I feel like I know myself pretty well after almost 54 years of rather intensive study.  I know how I work best, understand what it is I need to make my work life productive and satisfying.  I think I’ve always known it, actually, going way back to the time when I dropped my plans to be a teacher, and my father asked me what I thought I’d like to do instead.

“I’m not really sure,” I admitted.  “But I think I’d like  to have my own little office where I work around nice people, but be able to do my own work all by myself,” I replied, inwardly shuddering at the memory of my practice teaching where I’d been surrounded by clamor and confusion and the demands of two dozen six year olds.

I’ve also learned that I don’t like being the main attraction, don’t enjoy being “in charge” of anyone other than myself.  That’s why I love being an accompanist so much – I’m just slightly in the background- necessary and valuable, but not the star of the show, collaboratively following someone else’s direction. 

No one in my life has ever tried to change me, and for that I’m grateful.  My parents always accepted my personality, and my husband has continued to honor all the traits which have become very deeply engrained in my half century on earth.  My truest friends loved me the way I am otherwise we don’t stay friends for long.  You see, I’m pretty easy to get along with unless you try to make me into something I’m not.  And then, as my mother says, I get my Irish up. 

Last week, that’s exactly what my boss did.  You see, she wants to change my job so that it becomes purely administrative.  She wants to hire other people to do the work I’m currently doing, and have me be the “gatekeeper,” corralling all their work, editing it, organizing it, and distributing it.  She wants to put me in charge, have me be the manager, pull me out of my nice little corner cubicle and put me at the center of an array of workers all funneling their work to me.  Just like all those little six years olds back in my practice teaching days, vying for my attention.

“But you know I don’t work well that way,” I protested.  “I really prefer working independently, I’m much more productive that way, and a lot less stressed.”

“You need to get over that,” she says, in the way she has of thinking she knows what’s best for everyone. 

Now, when people tell me I “need” to do something, I start to feel a distinct prickle at the back of my neck.  The hackles start to rise and I go into defensive mode.  Although I like to be a follower in my professional life, I’m extremely independent when it comes to matters of my personality and behavior.  Nobody tells me what I “need” to do or be. 

No Body.

“You certainly have a perfect right to decide how you want to run your business and this department,” I told her, crossing my arms over my chest in classic closed mind posture.  “But I have the right to decide how I want to work and I don’t want to work that way.”

She was actually speechless for about three seconds (a miracle really).

“Do you mean you’d leave?”

“I might,” I answered.  “I’ve been through a lot this past year, and I know that life is too short to be in a situation where I’m constantly unhappy.  I don’t have to do that, and I won’t.”

I don’t know whether I’ll have to make that decision or not, whether she’ll come up with an alternative plan we both can life with.  I’ve wondered lately whether I might have reached my shelf life with this particular job, whether it’s time to move on to something else.  There had been niggling thoughts about this in the back of mind last spring, before all the calamities of the summer hit. 

But change is hard for me – that’s another personality trait of mine with which I’m very familiar.  I’ll put up with a lot before I willingly make drastic life changes.

I guess I’ll try to be patient a while longer and see.

How about you?  Do you feel you know yourself pretty well? Are you satisfied with your personality?  Is your current lifestyle and work in harmony with your personality?  How do you handle it when people try to change you, or put you in a position where you know you’ll be uncomfortable/unhappy?

 

I’ll Get to That In a Minute

Let’s talk for a moment about the activity in which I’m currently engaged.  You know what I’m referring to.  It’s that thing you do when you need to do something important or boring or tedious or just downright odious, and you’re just loathe to get busy and do it.

Procrastination.

I’m a master at it.

All day long – heck, all weekend long – I’ve been putting off doing a report for work.  This particular report concerns a new client, so it’s one of our inital intake reports.  The interview on which the report is based was conducted by my boss and our newest staff member.  It consists of eleven pages of scrawled, handwritten notes which overflow the neat confines of our form fields, spill over into the margins and onto the back sides of the pages, and even appear on sheets of photocopied ruled paper which appeared to have been torn from the pages of a spiral notebook.

I planned hoped needed to have this report finished by tomorrow morning when I go into the office, so it could begin the review process which I’m quite sure will be lengthy and painful.

Alas, it sits here accusingly beside me, nary a word of it having been transcribed into type.

What have I been doing instead, you might ask, what important tasks have taken precedence in the last three days?

Let me see.  Saturday there was dog walking followed by a thorough brushing because they were going to the groomer later in the day, and then there was grocery shopping and a trip to Target for essentials like shampoo and aspirin and Pepcid, and then there was the drive to the groomers (which is way out in West Bloomfield for Pete’s sake!) and it’s really too far to come home so I waited in Caribou coffee with a stop over at Kohl’s; after the groomer, it was dinner time, and then the laundry I had forgotten and left in the dryer which was of course all wrinkly so it had be tumbled an tossed a bit longer.

Whew.

Oh, forgot, stopped at the neighbor’s to pick up some photos she wanted me to scan and copy for her, had a cup of coffee while we looked at her family pictures and I heard stories about her favorite brother who was killed in the war (that’s the Big One-WW2, in case you’re wondering.)

Sunday, it was church followed by lunch followed by running home to scan and print off those photos and then back over to the neighbors who loved them SO much we had more coffee and this time talked about books -her favorites, which are Silhouette romance.  Then, just enough time to dash home, feed the dogs, and drive out to my friend’s Christmas concert (which was way out in West Bloomfield for Pete’s sake!)  After that, it was dinner and then over to my friend Mary’s house (which is actually the house my aunt and uncle who just died lived in for all of their married lives, and now my cousin Mary is living there) to pick up some mail that belonged to my aunt’s estate.  By the time I got home (we had hot chocolate and not coffee) it was just time to watch Christmas at the White House, with Oprah.

Whew.

Today, well, there was rehearsal for Winter Concert at the middle school from 8:30 until 1:30, then picking Jim up at the tire store where he’s getting his Christmas present (four brand new tires for his 2 year old car, ho ho ho), and then coming home to print the labels for his business Christmas cards, clean up the kitchen, do some laundry, and practice a bit on the songs where I ran into trouble during rehearsal today.  Oh, plus I had to run down to my mom’s and pick up dinner (chicken casserole with mushrooms, topped with almonds and crushed potato chips, yummy) which she was kind enough to make for us) return a library book, listen to Jim have a long conversation with his former boss who wants to hire him to manage a project that somebody else at the company(who did not get laid off back in July like my husband did) has fouled up (and don’t get me started on that).  Much conversation has since ensued about said project, and oh, we had to back to the tire store and pick up the car, eat dinner, clean up the kitchen, finish up the laundry which I had forgotten in the dryer (again!)

Whew.

So now it’s 8:27.  Well, it was 7:52 when I sat down here at my desk and pulled that nasty pile of papers out of my work folder.  I suppose I could still get something done tonight, if not the whole report at least part of it.

But it’s time for the dogs’ bedtime snack, and then they like to have a ball game before bed, and – uh oh, there’s the phone  – gotta go! 

Be back later…promise.

Challenge

When my son was young, there was much talk among his teachers about the best way to challenge him ~ they meant his mind of course, for he was extremely bright, a brightness that I suspect isolated rather than illuminated him at times.   Sadly, few of them ever got it right, ever discovered the magic formula that would inspire him to reach beyond himself, to push past the self-imposed boundaries, to overcome the fears.

Gwen Bell asks a similar question on her Best of 2009 Blog Challenge.  Something that really made you grow this year ~that made you go to your edge and then some. What made it the best challenge of the year for you? 

Sometimes we challenge ourselves, and sometimes life imposes its own challenges upon us.  I’m not one to embrace challenge eagerly, and I admit to a preference for the status quo.  I like things comfortable in my life, like knowing I’m can remain in control, can maintain a familiar level of competence.   But my life in the past year has been filled with one challenge after another – major ones, like the illness and sudden death of two family members, my husband’s job loss, my move to working full time – and minor ones, like a do-it-yourself home improvement project on our rental home and mastering a new set of skills in my job. 

Working my way through all these events, these changes, I was certainly brought to “my edge and then some” rather more times than I would prefer.  Sitting beside my aunt’s hospital bed, holding her hand and listening to her final  labored breaths, something I had experienced only weeks before with her husband, life felt so unreal to me, so unbelievably devastating, I couldn’t imagine a resolution.  Watching my husband, a man who has worked so hard to be the best in his field, have his job taken from him and be faced with the necessity of starting a career over again in an uncertain world, was more heartbreaking than I could believe.

 There were moments when it seemed I would be overcome by all the challenges before me,  when I felt like I was far too close to the edge to ever find my way back down to safety.  The last thing on my mind in those horrific days was whether I was “growing,” whether I was learning or becoming a better, stronger person. 

But, I was.  You see, against all odds (or so it seemed) I’ve risen to all those challenges, at least in some form or another.   Life has evened out, and though there is sadness, there are rays of hope; though I am weary, I feel a sense of satisfaction, much like a runner must feel at the end of a race.   There is peace now and gratitude for having come through not only intact, but stronger, smarter, and more sure of my life and it’s purpose.  All those days of just putting one foot in front of the other and keeping on have paid off, at least in this moment, for I feel almost secure again, almost ready to trust in the life that has always before been quite good to me.

There have been angels in my life who  encouraged me to take up challenges  – personal and professional ones – to spread my wings artistically, to explore new horizons literally and figuratively.  This past year, the angels have come in different forms, largely unseen and sometimes quite unwelcome.  But the inspiration has been there, the need to rise up and confront hard things, and in that confronting you do grow, whether you want to or not. 

There is no magic formula for challenge, for each one of us responds in our own unique manner to the gauntlets thrown down before us.  My challenges in 2009 – each and every one of them – have taught me something new about myself and about surviving. 

It’s been quite illuminating.

Comfort and Joy

Usually at this time of year, I’m a hot mess of frantic activity, running from one rehearsal to another, slogging through slush and cold, toting music bags and work bags and shopping bags from place to place.

But there’s something different about this year.

It’s rather quiet, and calm…dare I say even peaceful?   I’ve decorated the house, and done the cards.  I toyed with the idea of actually baking something (don’t laugh, I have been known to bake things on occasion), and even pulled a few cookie recipes out of magazines.  Yes, I actually sat down in a chair long enough to look through the December issue of a magazine.   In spite of all the upheaval and sadness that have characterized the past several months, this season I feel an unusual sensation of peace.

Next Tuesday, our church is having a special service entitled “Comfort and Joy.”  It’s designed for people who are having a hard time getting into the spirit of the season – for those who have suffered losses of family members, who are in the process of divorce or family troubles, who are jobless or even homeless.  When this service was first announced some weeks back, I immediately marked the date onto my calendar, for this has been a year when loss abounded for me. 

But as Tuesday approaches, it’s almost as if I no longer feel the need to go, as if comfort and joy have already found me.  Somewhere in the midst of decorating the house, placing the angel figurines on the mantel, scattering white candles around the house, and filling this Fitz and Floyd plate with golden ornaments, the spirit of Christmas has finally found me.

Comfort and joy comes to each of us in different and sometimes unexpected ways.  Often for me it comes through music – and it’s a curious thing that the avenue which sometimes causes me the most anxiety and wear during this time of year also brings me the most satisfaction and joy.  There are others who find joy in cooking and crafting, or shopping and wrapping.  Of course the time I spend with my family and my friends is a great source of comfort and joy, for what is more evocative of the spirit of Christmas than sharing happy times and memories with the ones we love.  And though it may be tinged with sadness, for always there are thoughts of days gone by when children were small and families were whole, there is still comfort in the smiles, laughter, and even the tears that come from long years of shared experiences.

Perhaps it’s simply a matter of having  taking  time this year, for I have consciously stepped back from many of the demands usually placed on me this season.  My rather small Christmas shopping list has been further diminished by a decision to make donations to charitable organizations in honor of those friends for whom I usually buy trinkets or gift cards.  Our gift to ourselves this year is a week spent in Florida with our son and daughter in law and we’ll be driving down so we can take Magic and Molly along.  But somehow, the thought of an 18 hour car ride seems relaxing rather than daunting. 

It’s quite a miracle really, this sense of golden peacefulness I’m feeling.  I half expect to wake up in the morning  my usual anxiety ridden December self.

Then again, maybe not. Maybe this year I have some extra angels watching over me, gently smoothing my furrowed brow and bringing tidings of comfort and joy just for me.

I hope so.  And I hope you have some too.

So, how about you?  What brings you comfort and joy in the midst of the holiday season?

What’s In A Name?

When I was small, one of my favorite “make-believe’s” was being a newspaper reporter.  Someone had given me an old Remington manual typewriter with keys so hard to push that it took a Herculean effort from my stubby little fingers.  Nevertheless, I soldiered on, typing away at a battered office desk tucked under the attic eaves.   I can’t remember a single “story,” but I know they were always important, and I was always on “deadline.”

As I grew, the dream grew with me.  In sixth grade, I started my own class newspaper, which my friends and I typed laboriously on the old fashioned mimeograph sheets (the kind with the blue backing which left those same stubby fingers smudged in cobalt ink).  In middle school, I went on to become the editor of the school newspaper, and began to use the written word to fight for causes I believed in -like getting our bus driver to stop looking the other way when kids smoked in the back of the bus.

When I got to high school, my keyboard of choice changed.  I began playing piano in earnest, accompanying, performing, competing, all of which left little time for writing.  But the yearning to see my name and my thoughts in print – my byline– never left.

Fast, fast forward to 2006, and the miracle of the internet which allows everyone to create their own little journalistic corner of cyberspace.  Finally, a place to write, to pound away at the keyboard to my heart’s content.  A place to stretch those long dormant writing muscles and express all the thoughts I had about life in general and my own in particular.

What better name for a place like that than Becca’s Byline?

How about you? How did you name your blog?  Ruth is collecting those stories…share yours  with her and the rest of us, won’t you?