I had a meltdown in the bathtub on Saturday.
More correctly, I had a meltdown before we all got in the bathtub, and then a very small one during, and a couple more after that.
I’ll back up.
Saturday was Life List workshop with nine of my favorite people over in Durham. Julia figured that January was a good time to get together and talk about our Life Lists, and a couple of people wanted to work on creating theirs. We brought copies to pass around, and there were props and keynote speakers and a photo shoot. We made a big chart on the wall of all of the items we’ve accomplished since we started our first lists on an epic weekend car trip back in 2010. Some things were really small. Some things were really big. All of them are important.
Last year the Life List felt out of reach. I set it aside and focused on smaller things. I checked off some big ones anyway, by surprise. Looking at the Life List again this year was fine. Until we got to the part where we each had to talk about the 5 things we’re hoping to accomplish this year.
Then we got a warning text, indicating that the weather had turned ominous and we should keep an eye on the sky. We refreshed our mimosas and took a break, just as 9 smart phones simultaneously rang panicked GET TO YOUR SAFE PLACE NOW warnings. For the second time since I started my Life List in 2010, I had to duck and cover in a small enclosed space as the sky turned black and things got kind of real. This time there were 9 of us clustered in the smallest room of the house, plus dog, plus mimosas, plus iTunes. It wasn’t as bad as being huddled on the floor of my coat closet that first time, after the emergency crews had to evacuate the station and the power went out and my battery-powered radio was intoning, “tornado to arrive at South Saunders Street at 2:40 pm. Tornado to arrive downtown Raleigh at 2:41 pm…” and things started banging into my house as that thing passed within yards of my Safe Place. This time I was with friends, and the power stayed on, and we made awkward emergency jokes about “Wow, we probably should have gotten to some of those list items sooner,” and a couple of us yelled out things we hadn’t done yet to make light of the moment, but then it didn’t feel particularly light. Because, if being sent to your Emergency Shelter in case This Is IT while you’re in the middle of a what-you-haven’t-accomplished-yet discussion doesn’t get you serious about your goals, probably nothing will.
Also, WTF January? Nine degrees on Monday? Seventy degrees and tornado warning on Saturday? Say to me that climate change isn’t happening and I will throw a drink in your face. Or something equally emphatic.
Anyway. The storm passed, the backyard was flooded in a minor way, and we soldiered on.
I didn’t feel much better, though. My big goals are thousands, thousands I tell you, thousands of dollars away from being achievable in the near term. Probably because a solid 50% of them involve international plane tickets. The ones that are financially feasible are either not that exciting right this minute, or are just chipping away at much larger goals, or seem much harder than finding thousands and thousands of extra dollars, which already seems hard enough.
Post-tornado, we made posters of our goals, big and small ones, and framed them. There were some arts and crafts, and we had a photo shoot in which people grouped together on shared goals and made a plan. Those photos are adorable. But most of my goals right now are much more solitary. I didn’t want to jump in on most of the other goals happening in groups: making a quilt, and learning to play bridge, and making a terrarium, and so forth. I didn’t even feel like much of a contributor, when it came to volunteering to help other people with their chosen 5 for the year. I tried to explain it afterward to Julia and Betty.
It wasn’t until I made it through a 90 minutes yoga class the next day, in an utterly unmindful way, that I had figured out the actual problem. It’s not so much about the money. It’s not even my frustration about the reason I have no money, ever, which is that I have made a long-term investment in education, which I will be paying back over the Very. Long. Term. At seven percent interest, thank you Department of Education, and I will endeavor not to curse about it. I don’t even care, really I don’t, that this long-term financial investment funded a transition to an industry which crashed around us just as I entered it. I’m happy as a writer, I love my job, and I don’t regret a second of my education, as expensive as it was/is/ever more shall be. I’m in a much better place than I was. I got a do-over on adulthood. Not everyone gets that chance.
What I regret is that I still have to take my fucking architecture exams.
I’ll ask you to pardon the cursing here, as I don’t do it very often in these pages, but whenever I mention my architecture exams, they will be designated “my fucking architecture exams,” because that makes me feel just a tiny bit better. I still have to take MFAE, because I Have Come Too Far Not To Finish, and It Will Only Increase My Professional Credibility, and It Will Grant Me Bragging Rights. What it does NOT get me is 1) more money, 2) more happiness, or 3) more of anything that I actually want. What it DOES get me is 1) more than a year’s worth of studying, 2) $500 worth of paperwork to get me to the first test, 3) a bunch of detailed knowledge I no longer need, and 4) expensive membership in a professional organization which will require hundreds of dollars of dues a year and untold hours of continuing education requirements. Oh, and 4) I’ll get my very own architectural seal, meaning I can stamp a document and assume liability for the rest of my life for anything which might go astray with the design. I feel like MFAE are standing between me and everything else I want. Which is not necessarily true. I’m just sharing my FEELINGS. Oversharing, in fact.
Fuck all that. I’m doing it. But I don’t have to like it. And I feel justified in resenting the time that these exams will take from the rest of my goals, REAL goals. It’s throwing good money after bad, in every sense, and I still know I have to do it. So I’m doing it. I’m not even going to talk about it. I may be glad, one day, for the experience. Right now? Not glad. Not glad, as I haven’t cracked a book yet.
I…think that constitutes Meltdown # 4.
All of that aside, I am excited about 2014. A few days after the Life List Tornado, I am starting to parse out what goes on the 2014 list, what goes on my chore list, and what Life List goals are next. I’m kind of thinking of the year in four phases.
- First quarter: Preparation. I’m making lists. I’m organizing study materials. I’m filling out paperwork, eating lots of vegetables, researching things, trying to get my finances straight for the year ahead, and doing yoga to fix whatever has gone wonky with my good knee.
- Second quarter: Balls-to-the-wall to-do list action. As in, Doing All of The Things. Serious investment in 2014 fun, ongoing chores, and long-term accomplishments. Full swing.
- Third quarter: Capitalize on the momentum of quarters One and Two. Immersion in productivity and joy and success.
- Fourth quarter: Celebrate, enjoy, reflect, keep moving.
Might work. We’ll see. It’s a good framework for the year, at any rate, and it removes some of the pressure to Go Accomplish Something Amazing right this second. It’s January. I don’t feel like being Amazing today. I feel like staying inside and finishing the Christmas candy and watching trash tv on the couch.
In the end, I was only willing to commit to one Life List goal for the year. It’s a big one, though.
I booked a writer’s retreat at an undisclosed location in a couple of weeks.