Saturday, May 23, 2009

To do or not to do

Speaking of to-do lists (from my last post), here are some things that never make it to my list because I figure (perhaps erroneously) they will eventually just take care of themselves:

- Finding lost wallets and keys
- Cleaning the microwave
- Pre-registering for any event
- Getting directions somewhere
- Putting cold pizza in the oven for dinner (it's 7:58 pm - why haven't we eaten yet?)
- Scheduling fun things to do with friends
- Asking Abe about the details of his research (Abe pulling out a clipboard to show me his latest graphs and equations is one of the inevitable forces of the universe. It's just a matter of whether it happens before, after, or during dinner. Note: today it was before, probably because dinner is so late)
- Fixing my camera

Which is why this is the only personal photo you've seen on my blog in months. Thanks, Dawn, for taking it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

after writing this blog post, i think i should have taken my 15-minute reading break instead

Or, what my life experience has taught me about living life, and how I don't actually do it very well.

For the 2 weeks, I've been reading the latest Amelia Peabody book (by latest I mean the one the library happened to have stocked when I rampaged through their shelves searching for my favorite Egyptological detectival series). From the first chapter, I knew this book was below par for the series, but I'd enjoy it anyway.

Then a strange thing happened.

Every day, when thinking through my list of things to do (yoga, study scriptures, go to work, make dinner, play Ultimate, clean the house, etc, etc), I would identify every possible downtime or in-between time I could use for reading. And every day, when that time came, I thought of something else on my to-do list other than read Amelia Peabody. And I would do it. Even though it wasn't absolutely necessary. And even though I most obviously wanted, above all else, to settle into the sofa for a 10-page stint.

I think this is how I got through high school, college, and most of a master's program before I finally got my first grade below A-.

For the moment, let's set aside the psychological analysis of my masochistic behavior. The reason I got to thinking about this is because of a blog post from my friend. She was talking about how she gets stuck thinking about how much she dislikes where she is now and how much she wishes she were somewhere else.

I see 2 worlds in which this thinking exists.

In the first world, I have my Amelia Peabody book. I know what I want, I know it's on my bookshelf for the taking. But I find consistently find reason for delay. Some of those reasons are legitimate. Exercise and religious worship are both high priorities for me - that's why I do them when I first wake up. I like my job, and I want to keep it, so going to work is also important. But some reasons are more habit than personal preference. For example, making dinner as soon as I get home from work. I definitely need to make dinner. But does it have to be as soon as I get home? If I'm not too hungry, and if there's no where pressing to go in the evening, couldn't I take 15 minutes to relax with my novel. Where did I get the idea that for me to be the best Erin I can be, I have to make dinner right away?

I'm not sure, but I know a lot of these "necessities" float around in my head. Folding dish towels is another good example. Why do I fold my dish towels? Do they work better when folded? Do they really fit better in the drawer? Is there something inherently satisfying about neat, cornered stacks?

For me, the answer to dish towels is no for the first and last question, and yes for the middle question. So I keep folding my dish towels. But dish cloths are a totally different story. Trying to fold a dish cloth is like trying to pick up the last grains of rice in your teriyaki bowl with chopsticks. Slim pickings for the amount of physical dexterity it requires.

So in the first world, where there's a will there's a way, as long as the unnecessaries don't get in the way.

In the second world, Amelia Peabody isn't stocked at the library when I went to check it out to begin with. In this world, the things we want the most are the things we can't control. This is a harder world to deal with, because it often requires us changing the goal. Or at least coming up with a "meantime" goal. Sticking with the library analogy, I could check out the DVD options or maybe a nonfiction read to keep my mind sharp.

Unfortunately, on most days, I would probably search through the mystery section for a third or fourth time, hoping the book was mis-shelved.

Monday, May 4, 2009

the hello sandwich

Saying hello has never been instinctual for me. One of my goals when I started my job in February was to always greet my coworkers when I passed by their office or saw them in the hall. Still, 50% of the time I regress to the turtle smile - a flicker of eye contact while the corners of my mouth draw straight back to my ears and my lips press together tightly. The veins in my neck probably bulge a little, too, but I refuse to check that in a mirror. Either way, the turtle smile is not exactly a "top of the morning to you".

Sometimes saying hello is genuinely difficult. Two of my sisters and I discovered this while hiking at Zion's National Park a few years back. As the three of us marched single file down the one-way trail, passing or being passed by another hiker, the first person could say hello just fine. As could the last. But the middle one was stuck in the "hello sandwich". They couldn't greet right after the first person because it didn't give the other party a chance to reciprocate, but if they waited an appropriate space of time, they were cut off by the third person.

Solution? Turtle smile. And if the veins didn't bulge before, imagine what happens when you're huffing and puffing along the trail. No wonder so many people would ask just how much longer did they have to go?

You can see how all of this gets complicated when the other party has 3 people in it, too. It's like a Big Mac - the third bun wedged in the middle makes an already uncomfortable experience downright disastrous.

Another problematic greeting situation is the post-appropriate hello. Where you really should have said hello much sooner and are now in the awkward position of either ignoring someone indefinitely or admitting outright to your hello shyness.


I was at my bus stop near work the other day and saw someone I was sure I knew. But I couldn't for the life of my figure out how I knew this person, and I convinced myself that however I knew them, it was some very awkward context - like someone I had been in a group with in school but didn't get along with. We kept catching each other sneaking sideways glances, until the bus came. Saved!

Imagine my despair when he was at my stop again a few weeks later.

(conversation inside Erin's head)
Just say hello. Do it now, before it gets awkward. You can still say it, there's still time. If you don't do it now, you'll regret it. Just ... Oh, well. Now the greeting stage of social norms is over. You'll have to get his attention first if you want to say anything. Don't look now unless you're going to. You're looking! ...where's the bus?...

Eventually I decided to say hello. Just as I did, I suddenly remembered where I knew this person from, remembered his name, and realized that there wasn't anything awkward about how we knew each other. After I blurted out his name in a rush of desperate enthusiasm, the result was a good conversation, and vastly improved future encounters.

Which is what I told myself this morning, when I finally said hello to the person I've been standing next to at the bus stop near my house for the last 4 months. And which turned out to be true.